It’s hammer time once again as the Marvel juggernaut rolls into town for a universe-ending epic of god-like proportions that’s more akin to Lord Of The Rings on party pills.
This sequel had an awful lot to live up to, not only in light of the surprisingly enjoyable Thor, but also following the box office dynamite of Avengers Assembled (as it was called in these here parts) and this summer’s Iron Man 3.
A major factor behind Thor‘s success was the tongue-in-cheek approach it took towards what’s, let’s face it, is pretty ridiculous material. It also struck gold with the chemistry between Thor (Chris Hemsworth), astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and, in particular, Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Loki stole the show in both Thor and Avengers Assembled, so it should come as no surprise to see him front and centre here. However, not even the wonderful Hiddleston can save The Dark World from ending up as an unengaging and leaden experience and the worst film in the Marvel canon since Iron Man 2.
In trying so hard to rekindle the spark that brought Thor so brightly to life and build on the world that was so imaginatively created first time around, the sequel gets bogged down in unnecessary exposition, a confusing narrative and a mind-boggling amount of special effects.
The hiring of Game Of Thrones director Alan Taylor, who replaced Sir Kenneth Branagh, makes sense when watching the film as it has a distinctly Tolkienesque look and feel, from the long, flowing costumes to the Howard Shore-inflected score and the presence of elves.
The elves in question here are The Dark World‘s chief baddies, led by Dark Elf overlord Malekith (a barely recognisable Christopher Eccleston). Malekith was thwarted by the Asgardians in his last attempt to bring darkness to the universe by taking possession of the all-powerful Aether. Centuries later, however, he’s given another chance when Jane, who’s now living in London, enters another realm (don’t ask) and unwittingly becomes the Aether’s vessel. Thor takes Jane to Asgard for her own protection and must turn to the imprisoned Loki for help when Malekith unleashes his forces on the city.
When Hiddleston’s on screen, the film springs to life and thrives on the mischief the Brit thesp brings to the part. The scenes he shares with Hemsworth are head and shoulders above anything else in and when he’s not around you find yourself counting the minutes until his next appearance.
This rather speaks volumes about the film as a whole, as the scenes without Loki fail to grab the audience in spite of the valiant attempts of the cast. Anthony Hopkins is given more to do this time around as Odin, while Idris Elba’s all-seeing, all-hearing gatekeeper Heimdall gets to take off his helmet and have a drink with Thor.
However, Portman’s Foster is nothing more than a distressed damsel to be rescued and is so underwritten it brings to mind her turn as Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequels. She’s saddled with a couple of irritating sidekicks in the form of Kat Dennings’ teeth-grinding Darcy (whose role was expanded from the first film for some reason) and nice-but-dim Ian (Jonathan Howard), although the scenes she shares with Stellan Skarsgård’s eccentric Dr Erik Selvig make for some nice comic relief.
Hemsworth, meanwhile, does his best to bring some depth to the semi-omnipotent superhero and gets a few moments to play up the ridiculousness of the character, most notably when he’s sans hammer and must make his way to Greenwich to stop Malekith’s evil plans via the London Underground. Alas, these are not nearly frequent enough to lift proceedings.
After watching The Dark World, one wonders where the franchise can go from here. There’s nothing Thor-some this time around and not even Loki can change that.