Thor: The Dark World

Thor is back, and the God of Thunder’s got a new gang. Lady Sif and the Warriors Three are still about, but (courtesy of the increasingly confused Marvel Cinematic Universe) Thor’s now attended by some new celestial hangers-on. Say hello to the Muse of Stilted Dialogue, the Sibyl of Utterly Predictable Action Sequences and the Demon of Irrelevant Villains, coming together to make a film so grotesquely misshapen that it’ll actually make you look forward to all the plagiarised bits. Sort of. Imagine that Anakin, Arwen and Hellboy had a dirty weekend away in Brighton and then Arwen smoked a lot of Longbottom Leaf to help with her ‘mysterious stomach cramps’, and nine months later you’ve got Thor: The Dark World – the deformed child of multiple fantasy fathers, all of whom were using CGI to make it look like they were wearing condoms. And had bigger cocks.

A year after the events of Marvel Avengers Assemble (which was set a year after Thor, continuity fans), the Prince of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth) has finally finished bringing peace to the Nine Realms – by which he, and his increasingly doddery father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), mean ‘just keep killing until they kneel’. Meanwhile, Thor’s forgotten bit of skirt Jane (Natalie Portman) is continuing to waltz about with clearly made-up scientific equipment, looking for a way to contact her divine boyf and/or make her name as a Mystictripeologist, now her mentor Erik (Stellan Skarsgård) is in a mental hospital. Yep. In other news, surely Odin wouldn’t have bothered to do a whole voiceover bit about those bastard Dark Elves who want to destroy the universe if they weren’t going to be back soon? Wait for it… wait for it…

…and here come the Elves. After millennia in stasis waiting to recover their ultimate weapon, the Aether (it’s like an evil lava lamp without the lamp bit), Malekith the Accursed and his remaining soldiers are roused when Natalie Portman accidentally absorbs the bloody thing. Conveniently, they wake up in a sort of cross between a B-Wing and Nero’s ship from Star Trek, which can also turn invisible and fly through wormholes and, ooh, all sorts of good stuff. Meanwhile, Jane is swiftly turning into Jean Grey/The Phoenix, but with none of the sass and a fondness for falling asleep all the time, and Thor’s worried about her but also about Asgard getting battered by cast-off Warhammer characters, and I haven’t even MENTIONED Loki. And then it just goes on and on like that for two hours, and then you can go home.

Don’t get me wrong; I liked Thor, both the character and the film. Director Ken Branagh was the perfect choice for a story that needed to bridge the gap between superheroic action and Shakespearean drama, and the combination of epic themes, fish-out-of-water comedy and Anthony Hopkins roaring in an eyepatch was undeniably satisfying. Would that Thor: The Dark World had a tenth of its predecessor’s verve or originality. Modelling Asgard on the unmistakable visual styles of Naboo and Rivendell, whilst borrowing the Dark Elves’ aesthetic from Hellboy 2, the Trade Federation and (as mentioned above) the Star Trek reboot’s Romulan renegades, this is a film that would be tediously familiar even if the sound was turned off. And oh, that’s the dream.

All your ears can offer you is an increasingly overwhelming sense of confusion, as you remember that Joss Whedon polished this bloody script and it’s still as subtle and finely wrought as a great big tree blowing through your windscreen at eighty miles an hour. “Anyone else?”, asks Thor after vanquishing the hulking hero of some army or other in the first act, as if we’re supposed to have just forgotten Brad Pitt in Troy (to be fair, it might be best to forget it). Oscar-winner Natalie Portman dithers and quivers and whinges throughout, AGAIN, and the legendary Anthony Hopkins is reduced to weird puns about butter. Loki remains the only draw for fans of half-decent dialogue, and even then it’s hard to ignore that a badly-written line is still bad no matter how much greasily villainous topspin you put on it.

Thor continues to split his time between being half-heartedly emotional and battering people with Mjolnir, which now chases him through the Nine Realms like some sort of limbless version of the Luggage from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and his Asgardian sidekicks continue to be ruthlessly sidelined despite the early promise of a Sif-shaped love interest (please, PLEASE, anyone but Jane Foster). Meanwhile, Christopher Eccleston is unrecognisable under a reported six hours’ worth of make up, and whether he’s grating in English or in some bullshit Elvish, he’s entirely unremarkable – the producers should have saved their money and hired a sharp-cheekboned twat fresh out of RADA. It ought to be literally – literally – impossible to make a boring film about someone trying to destroy the universe, but the identikit misdemeanours of Malekith and his blank-eyed drones start to grate before the end of the pre-title sequence and go downhill from there.

Still, surely the plot, script and characterisation aren’t everything? Much of last night’s post-screening dissection of the film centred on its humour, and it’s certainly a topic worth discussing. Marvel has been nervous of going too funny ever since the practically slapstick Iron Man 2, but there are a few bolder flashes of humour in Thor: The Dark World. Most of them, inevitably, centre around the deadpan Loki, who feels very much like the real villain despite the fact that a) there’s an actual villain, b) Loki’s not so bad this time and c) he spends two thirds of the film in a cage. It’s something, and both Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are so confident and comfortable in their characters that Thor and Loki’s interactions feel more rewarding than in previous films, but if I want to watch mismatched brothers bonding I’ll see if Twins is on Netflix.

Apart from Thor and Loki, the performances are forgettable – the irrepressible Kat Dennings continues to be good value, but Hopkins mumbles, Skarsgård burbles and Chris O’Dowd is as utterly, utterly useless as only he knows how to be. Why is Chris O’Dowd in this film, Marvel? Did someone tell you that Graham Linehan has his finger on the pulse? He doesn’t; it’s on the block button, because he’s an idiot and so is Chris O’Dowd and so is Alan Taylor, the TV director who was inexplicably torn from obscurity to helm this rubbish. Not even a promising Guardians of the Galaxy mid-credits stinger can mitigate his apparent efforts to make Thor: The Dark World the most unbalanced, inconsistent, unoriginal, hackneyed, overproduced, underwritten, gaudy, lazy, DULL Marvel film I can remember. You have to see it, obviously, or The Avengers: Age of Ultron won’t make sense, but I’d think of it more as a necessary evil than a treat. Want a poster quote, guys? “Thor: The Dark World – less a trip to the zoo, more a smear test.” You’re welcome.

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