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If I Had A Hammer - Thor: The Dark World Reviewed
Mat Colegate , October 30th, 2013 08:16

Thor-midable or merely Thor-mulaic? Mat Colegate casts his cycloptic single eye over the latest in the Marvel superheroes franchise

By the Beard of Odin, what a mess. What a massive, blustery, bellowing, head-scratching mess. Thor: The Dark World marks the moment where the Marvel film franchise finally splats head first into the sheer daftness of the characters invented by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and a host of others and tumbles into outright insanity. Thankfully it comes up grinning, because thankfully it's brilliant fun.

Hopes were not high, it must be said. The Kenneth Branagh-directed prequel remains one of the most satisfying of the whole franchise so far, and early trailers seemed to suggest that this instalment had forsaken some of the humour of its predecessor and committed itself to being a straight-ish fantasy film. The introduction of the Dark Elf Malekith as the main aggressor (a character invented by Walt Simonson in what remains one of the greatest single-creator runs in comics history) also hinted that this was going to be a largely swords and sandals affair, with little of the God-out-of-water slapstick that lifted the first film. The trailers suggested a muddy brown riot of CGI battles and earnest yelling and to an extent that's what we get, but one that is leavened by likeable performances, heartening stabs at humour and a last third that goes from earnest to hammer-in-the-face mental in the time it takes you to say “Mjolnir”.

But first the drawbacks. And, my friends, they are many. I love Christopher Eccleston, I really do. He's great in pretty much everything. But have you noticed that he's really not very good at interacting with CGI? When confronted with it he makes this face that seems to be attempting to encompass 'cosmic fear' and 'blinding wonderment' and that ends up selling me 'looking at some weird porn'. To be honest, his performance wasn't helped by a storyline that had his character, Malekith, getting thrashed on numerous occasions and having to go and have a rest in a baby harness with his head under a big cosmic flannel. We'll put it down to bad luck. And Anthony Hopkins... Oh, Hopkins, you really weren't enjoying this were you? Personally, I'd love a chance to play Odin Allfather. It would be awesome. You'd get to yell a lot, wave a big stick around and command serious gravitas and respect. One can only presume that Hopkins has had enough of all those things in his distinguished career because he barely looks present here. The only sign that he's still conscious for much of the film is the fact that he keeps banging his big stick on the ground and making a loud booming noise with it, which I presume is what he's using to keep himself awake.

Picking on personal performances is a bit unfair as the script is simply not that good. The humour wheezes out lamely and the dialogue is stilted and unwieldy. The only characters that get away with it are Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) whose charisma and easy charm pretty much float the whole movie and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who, as in the prequel and The Avengers, steals the show every time he's on screen with his mix of emo boy sensitive and wiley trickster. A large proportion of the film is set on Asgard, which has had its Nordic Studio 54 look toned down since the first instalment and has simply become yet another generic fantasy location, complete with ale houses, wenches and trolls. This bogs the film down in the second act, as a rampaging maguffin runs riot through the court, then doesn't, then comes back for more again. This tricky pacing makes the film feel episodic, but where Shane Black's similarly paced script for Iron Man 3 was lifted by its wit and lightness of touch there is little of that to be had in Thor: The Dark World and the result drags.

But, hang on to your seats, True Believers, because some of that Mighty Marvel Magic is waiting just down the line. As soon as the film leaves its cosmic location (ending up in, of all places, Greenwich – or “Green-witch” as one character pronounces it, much to the hilarity of the London audience I watched it with) all bets are off and we are entertained with a ludicrous and sustained final act. It feels like everyone involved breathes a massive sigh of relief: the jokes get funnier, the characters become easier to care about, the stakes rocket to ludicrous levels and the whole film barrels toward fun territory like a clown car piling into a fireworks factory. You want to see Thor riding the underground? Then, by Odin, you shall have it! Locked in battle and sliding comically down the Gherkin? Praise his ravens, so mote it be! Displaced F16 fighters zooming over alien landscapes? Hand me my big fucking axe, there's fun to be had here! The experience is much like reading six months of Marvel comics whilst riding a roller-coaster. Baffling, dumb and ludicrously enjoyable.

It's this final act that marks the film out as such a treat and also as the first Marvel movie to really capture the cosmic insanity of the comics. The feeling one gets when reading Simonson's Thor run, or Jim Starlin's Warlock is well captured. A feeling of wonderment and joy mixed with peril and humour and always, always leavened with an inventive streak the size of the Thames. For all its cosmic grandstanding and bellowed pronouncements, its when the film remembers that it's meant to be taking us on a fun ride that it hits its peak and reflects the strengths of its always fresh, four-colour source material.

Thor: The Dark World is out in cinemas today