Thor: The Dark World

Despite a great deal of noise being made about its successful opening week, Thor: The Dark World felt like a bit of a disappointment. I really enjoyed the first film and thought that Thor himself was one of the better characters in The Avengers, but the latest Marvel release failed to capitalise on the Norse god’s appeal (in my humble opinion).

Marvel have become very good at weaving effortless moments of comedy between their huge set-pieces, my favourite example being when the Hulk punches Thor during a brief break in the action in the final battle scene in The Avengers. But in The Dark World, there seem to be entire scenes written solely as ground work for weak gags later in the film. One example would be a blind date between Natalie Portman and Chris O’Dowd. The scene felt a lot like the date from The IT Crowd when Roy is stuck with a woman who wears far too much makeup and won’t stop crying, which would have been fine, if I’d been watching an episode of The IT Crowd and not a blockbuster superhero movie about the Norse god of thunder… Portman doesn’t cry, she just says “Sea Bass” over and over again as if there’s something intrinsically funny about the words (which I don’t think there is). There’s also a whole sub-plot involving Portman’s nerdy intern Darcy, whereby she employs an intern of her own and orders him around before throwing herself at him at the end. And there’s an alternate-dimension shoe teleportation joke (don’t ask) which is used, or overused, to set up the big finale. All of these bits and pieces might be mildly amusing to some, but to me they just felt like weak material used to pad out the script. I would have enjoyed the movie more if it had been shorter and had less jokes. There is some genuine, organic humour that grows out of Thor and Loki’s strained relationship, but by the time I’d sat through the blind date, the floating truck, the intern and naked Stellan Skarsgard I was less inclined to laugh. At first I thought maybe I was just being a miserable bastard and not getting into the spirit of things. But then there was a recurring joke about Natalie Portman’s ringtone…

Enough about the laughs. After all, this film isn’t meant to be a comedy (if only someone had told the writers that). What you really want to ask me at this point is; “But does Thor hit stuff with his hammer?” Yes. Yes, he does. He hits a lot of stuff very hard with his hammer. He hammers away at cars, man-shaped rocks, the ground and a whole bunch of elves. Wait, did I just say elves? Yes. The bad guys in The Dark World are elves. From outer space. Space elves. Thor is fighting dark space elves. Unless you’re somehow unimpressed by the magnitude of this threat, the dark space elves are attempting to make the entire universe dark. Presumably so they’ll fit in. It doesn’t stop there though; the dark space elves have a dark red magical cloud. That’s pretty much it. No wonder the rest of the Avengers didn’t feel the need to weigh in on this one…

The dark space elves look pretty much like your generic alien bad guy types; pointy features and white, veiny skin. In fact it’s difficult to see where they got their dark reputation from. The dark elf army are so white, they make Tilda Swinton look like Bernie Mac. But wait, there is this one black elf. Yeah, he’s the guy who gets picked to become ‘the Kursed.’ The elf king basically turns his only black soldier into a bigger, angrier and blacker soldier whose sole reason for existing is to kill everyone... And then the dark elf king inexplicably turns black for no apparent reason halfway through the movie. And becomes a lot more badass. So the message here seems to be that black guys are more angry and more violent… but they still always lose to white guys with blonde hair and blue eyes… I’m not saying The Dark World is racist. No. I’m just wondering aloud why this is even an issue. Maybe, in an effort at equality, the casting director decided black people should have the right to be evil space elves too. And quite right. Although it might have been less obvious if they’d had more than one evil black space elf. As it stands, it just looks like the evil space elf king has a massive boner for positive discrimination... he only has one black soldier in his whole army, so he damn well better make him a General.

Of course, Stringer Bell’s there to show us that black people are good; at one point he takes down a massive spaceship using only a tiny knife. And then he risks his neck to do the right thing against Odin’s orders. And also, he has orange eyes. Which are cool. Maybe the fact that Idris Elba is the only black person in Asgard somehow explains the fact there’s only one black elf in the evil space elf army… It’s almost like the producers realised there aren’t any African gods in Norse mythology and thought they’d better crowbar a black guy into the first movie so no one could call them racist. And then in the second movie they realised they might be inadvertently implying that black people are all good, so they thought they’d better stick in an evil one to balance it out… but I’m probably just reading too much into this. Movie producers aren’t really that cynical, are they? I’m going to assume that Idris Elba and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gained their respective parts by being the best actors that auditioned, and leave it at that. Actually, I’ll just add that Elba’s fantastic in his second appearance as Heimdall, and Akinnuoye-Agbaje does as well as he possibly can with the expendable character of Algrim.

My biggest gripe with Thor was that Kenneth Branagh and co. woefully underused the brilliant Tadanobu Asano. For those of you who don’t know Asano, you need to watch Ichi the Killer, Mongol and Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi. Asano is my favourite Japanese actor after the great Beat Takeshi himself. No other actor could make the psychotic, sadomasochistic gangster Kakihara in Ichi the Killer as terrifying, or as endearing, as Tadanobu Asano did. So the one thing I was most looking forward to in The Dark World proved to be the biggest disappointment; Asano’s role was even smaller. He was left behind on another world for most of the film and only delivered a few lines altogether. Why bother bringing the guy all the way from Japan if you’re going to leave him on the subs bench? Next time I want to see Asano, as Hogun, at the very least mercilessly slaughtering a few space elves. Or some moon pixies, or intergalactic trolls or whoever the hell Thor has to fight in future. Or just give Hogun his own film. With Heimdall as his sidekick.

Anyway, Christopher Eccleston plays King Malekith of the dark elves, who, somewhat ironically looks a lot like a bad guy from Doctor Who. There isn’t a whole lot of substance to Malekith, he’s just another misguided and racially confused king. An elven Michael Jackson if you will. Chris O’Dowd comes across like an actor who’s counting his blessings because he knows his part was a terrible accident on behalf of the writers. Darcy the intern is even more irritating than she was in the first film. And her intern is even more irritating than her. Natalie Portman isn’t given much to do other than suffer through a series of terrible gags about her ringtone. And constantly make eyes at Thor, who doesn’t seem all that bothered about her. Thankfully Rene Russo is there to represent womankind. Russo kicks the crap out of evil Doctor Who for a whole half-minute, bringing fond memories of Lethal Weapon 3 flooding back. Anthony Hopkins again brings gravitas to the role of Odin. Although, considering Odin’s nickname is the Allfather, he doesn’t appear all that wise or authoritative here. Hopkins makes the best of what the script gives him. Chris Hemsworth is still Thor. That’s all I can say about his performance. He embodies Thor as much as anyone could. He takes his shirt off for the ladies. He hits things with a big hammer for the men. His armour is spotless and gleaming throughout.

Despite everything I’ve said, Thor: The Dark World isn’t horrible. But it’s definitely not amazing. It’s not as good as the first one. It’s bigger. It’s more expensive. It’s got more characters. It’s got more armies. It’s got more spaceships and elves and darkness. And it’s got exactly twice the number of black people. But it’s not as good. Because the script is a mess. If we take a look at the credits, we can see that five writers worked on the film. And two directors… a case of too many cooks maybe? However, if you take a peek at the credits for the first Thor, you’ll see that it also had five writers. I don’t want to jump to conclusions but I’ll take a wild stab in the dark (probably hitting a wayward space elf) and say that Kenneth Branagh may have meant the difference between the carefully crafted first film and the inconsistent muddle of Thor: The Dark World.

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