Thor’s back, but he’s pissed because someone’s forgotten the plot.
Okay that isn’t completely fair, but Thor: The Dark World (henceforth T:TDW) spends much of its slim running time getting by on the Hiddleston factor, using a hugely charismatic actor to do the emotional heavy lifting when there isn’t much else to do. The film noticeably improves whenever he’s on the screen, and the director realises that he’s both the star and the villain everyone wants to see, effectively reducing Christopher Ecclestone (clearly in “Cheque Please!” mode or being given very short shrift by the director) to a series of walk on cameos as he tries to progress the meagre plot.
Plot? Something to do with a McGuffin that needs to be stopped from getting into the wrong hands – essentially the same as the plot of the first film (with a red McGuffin instead of a blue McGuffin this time) without the charm that the first one had with the fish-out-of-water element. Yes, the dialogue feels a little snappier this time, there are certainly more one liners, but it losses something along the way. And there’s a moment of fridge logic near the end (involving the location of breeches between worlds) that is so staggeringly contrived it defies description (and geography) that it prompted guffaws from the audience.
For me the biggest reason for the change is the loss of Branagh as director. Branagh bought a sense of physical scale to the proceedings, but here Taylor (a long time TV director, but first time film director) replaces much of that with green screen and effects work. Whilst it never looks less than wonderful (the production design is nothing short of superb) it feels as if the focus has been taken away from the foreground to a larger picture – no doubt to tie in with some larger on going plot element of the Marvel Universe. It’s not quite the “forthcoming events” trailer that Iron Man 2 was, but it is clearly a sequel playing it safe rather than an attempt to further or develop the story (the shout outs to the wider universe – one superb joke aside – are left till after the credits).
Fortunately Hiddleston is superb, all guile and easy charm he clearly knows he’s the star of the show. The problem is that much of what he’s asked to do feels so signposted that there’s never the sense of him manipulating things on a cosmic scale, so no matter how good he is the character feels a little under-developed. Chris Hemsworth is clearly more comfortable this time around, but on the back of seeing Rush (which showed he clearly could carry the emotional weight of the story) it feels a little disappointing. The problem is that beyond Portman, no one else really gets the time to do anything or expand – it’s rare to complain that a film is too short, but at less than two hours this never really gets time to breathe. The supporting cast is superb, but they’re simply not around enough to get their teeth into anything.
Despite these shortcomings the films saving grace is enough to mean it’s worth a look (whether it’s worth a look on the big screen is debatable, it looks very pretty, but not ground breaking). The production design is superb, with each race given enough of an identity to make them visually distinct. The film treads a fine line between fantasy and sci-fi, taking the strongest elements of both genre and fusing them together to make something interesting. If the film had spent as much time developing the characters beyond the central trio as it on the production design then this would be very nearly top flight summer entertainment (there’s no underlying message, no matter how subtle and thus avoids the very top) rather than an interesting diversion.