Marvel Comics’ brawny Norse deity Thor returns for more intergalactic brawling in his second solo adventure, Thor: The Dark World, which finds Chris Hemsworth following up his recent turn as James Hunt in Rush with another bout of hammer heaving.
And it looks as though a little of the Formula 1 ace’s suavity has rubbed off on Hemsworth’s thunder god since his last outing. His sly scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) may still describe him as ‘a witless oaf’, but to us he’s a lot less oafish than before. Indeed, the film’s barely got into its stride before he’s topping his single-blow demolition of a massive opponent with a nifty zinger.
But a hero who’s now cool means there’s no room for the blundering fish-out-of-water comedy that was such an entertaining feature of 2011’s Thor, and, for a while, it looks as though the plot of Thor: The Dark World is going to be a far more ponderous affair.
The story’s prime mover is vengeful dark elf Malekith (a pointy-eared, unrecognisable Christopher Eccleston), an old foe of the Norse gods who wants to plunge the cosmic Nine Realms into everlasting darkness. First, though, he must lay his hands on a force called the Aether, a gloopy red substance that somehow winds up inside the body of Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist Jane Foster, Thor’s mortal love, who gets whisked up to the gods’ realm of Asgard for safety.
Titanic scraps inevitably ensue when Malekith and his minions turn up, but much of the battling seems disappointingly generic, while the jarring sight of the Asgardian equivalent of ack-ack guns trying to shoot down Dark Elf spacecraft seems to belong to an altogether different movie. The action down on Earth, which mostly takes place in touristy parts of London, takes a while to get into gear, too. And with the magnetic Hiddleston’s wily Loki languishing in an Asgard cell, while Anthony Hopkins’ troop-rallying Odin turns on the bombast, it’s no wonder the film’s middle section drags.
Fortunately, TV series stalwart Alan Taylor (The Sopranos, Mad Men, Game of Thrones), taking over the directing reins from Kenneth Branagh, provides sufficient flashes of wit to keep us engaged, from a fleeting cameo by another Marvel superhero to the sight of Thor hanging up mighty hammer Mjölnir on a coat peg. Elsewhere, a mass Viking funeral proves unexpectedly moving, while the scenes between Thor and the now-freed Loki have an enjoyable spark.
And Taylor really pulls out all the stops for the film’s climax, an epic dustup in which the antagonists whiz back and forth between different realms through wormholes in space. One instant Thor and Malekith are scrapping away on a dusty alien planet, the next they’re sliding down the side of the Gherkin. Fast moving, fun, and deftly edited, it ensures Thor: The Dark World goes out on a high.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 120 mins. Director Alan Taylor.