Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Alan Taylor
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release Date: 30th October 2013 (UK), 8th November 2013 (USA)
Matt C: Just three years ago Marvel Studios were in the midst of a risky gamble. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 had both proven to be huge successes and, with an Avengers movie being the main goal, they were set to deliver two films that, if not handled correctly, could easily derail the whole enterprise. One was a period picture featuring a flag-waving throwback battling Hitler's henchmen, and that was more of a likely hit than the other, a tale of a Norse God with a flowing blonde mane finding himself thrown to Earth in exile. A guy in a tin suit was one thing, this was something else entirely. If Marvel could pull it off without it descending into camp embarrassment, surely anything was possible? The confidence was there, and against the odds, under the surprising but assured stewardship of Kenneth Branagh, Thor was a success, introducing the Asgardian pantheon into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with wit, charm and no small measure of excitement. Captain America: The First Avenger followed to similar approval and then The Avengers arrived to topple box office records left right and centre. The gamble had paid off. And then some.
For Thor: The Dark World the confidence is back but it feels like it's been amplified tenfold. In the action stakes the scale is comparable to The Avengers, with huge displays of superpowered antics that dwarf most of what we saw in the first film. Does that make it a better movie? Not quite, as it lacks a certain plucky charm, but it's not too far off either. As before, the key ingredient is the set of actors Branagh brought in and the chemistry they have with each other, particularly the all-important sibling rivalry between Chris Hemsworth's titular hero and the scene-stealing Tom Hiddleston as his bitter but mischievous brother, Loki. It's a great cast, and even though some of them get sidelined (pity poor Tadanobu Asano as Hogun!) there's enough combined charisma, offset by some genuinely funny moments, to keep the thrills coming for entire duration of the movie without it ever succumbing to its flaws.
Yes, it's not perfect, Christopher Eccelston isn't given much to work with as main villain Malekith (that, or a lot has been cut) meaning he comes across as another individual hellbent on revenge without any edge to give him a little more depth (in some ways the Dark Elves are a more capable variation on the Frost Giants from the original film). Consequently the main plotline is a bit muddled and relies on a lot of pseudo-scientific/mythical nonsense that will lose you if you try too hard to figure it all out. It all comes back to that confidence though. There's a broader canvas being utilised, and the inventive action set-pieces are handled with gusto by director Alan Taylor (who cut his teeth on, amongst other things, Game Of Thrones), making great use of not only the various magical realms explored but also the London setting. Respect is given to the enduring brilliance of the source material without becoming too beholden to it, and the sheer thrill of watching these characters either engage in physics-defying acrobatics or humorous banter elevates this far above some of the mindless popcorn fare that has cluttered the multiplexes this year.
The law of averages says that Marvel are bound to make a misstep sooner or later but judging by Thor: The Dark World we're a long way off that point. It's not on a par with The Avengers but it's a funny, exhilarating and enormously likeable entry into Marvel's cinematic canon that guarantees its audience a thunderously good time. 8/10