We all live in a post-Avengers world, a fact that must surely give Marvel confidence as it strides through the second phase of its blockbuster masterplan. As the sequels mount up, though, there is a choice to be made on which way to go, a decision to reach on the right tone to take. One might even say there’s a Thork in the road.
Do you go the big and ballsy route like Iron Man 3, upping the ante – more bangs, more villains, more metal suits – to stratospheric levels? Or should you follow the sombre path forged by The Dark Knight, Empire and their ilk – more gloom, more doom and the occasional bout of tragedy?
Duh! Ok, so The Dark World tag rather gives the game away on that front. Pleasingly, Alan Taylor’s follow-up to Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 original retains its predecessor’s sense of fun, lacing its Tolkiensque plot (evil elves plotting the Nine Realms’ destruction with the help of ancient space goo) and sober interludes (a mass funeral) with some witty gags (Thor takes the Tube! Stellan Skarsgard naked at Stonehenge!) and a delicious flock of cameos (one inevitable, the other delightfully unexpected).
Sure, Game Of Thrones director Taylor adds mud, grime and glowering skies, not least when the action decamps to rainy old London. Ultimately, however, such shadings are as cosmetic as the prosthetics used to morph Christopher Eccleston into elf leader Malekith: eye-catching, yes, but also kind of distracting.
Because try as it might to introduce elements of pain, loss and dynastic tension, Thor 2 can’t get away from Thor himself – an unvanquishable deity from outer space who wields lightning with a flying hammer. This is not, in short, a character to be taken overly seriously, and Chris Hemsworth has played him long enough to know there’s a balance to be struck between rock-jawed heroism and winking knowingness, even when he’s reeling from a crisis (an aerial attack on Asgard bearing unmistakeable shades of 9/11) or railing against the parental dictates of Anthony Hopkins’ Odin.
In truth Hemsworth feels a tad sidelined this time around, a bit of a passenger in his own star vehicle. Yet it could hardly be otherwise once Tom Hiddleston rejoins the party. The Brit returns to deliver all the best lines as a live-wire Loki who, having used up all his bad-guy credit in Avengers Assemble, now has a go at being his adoptive brother’s reluctant ally.
The scenes in which the squabbling siblings stage a jailbreak with the help of Thor’s pals (the only meaningful contribution made by Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi and Jaimie Alexander) or fight Malekith and his Male-kin on the black dunes of Svartalfheim have a zip and brio that heaves the picture out of its second-act doldrums. Shame there’s isn’t half as much energy in Hemsworth’s dealings with astrophysicist squeeze Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), whose only function is to a) happen upon the ‘Aether’ Eccleston’s been after for millennia and b) give Thor grief for not calling.
(Portman, reportedly, was none too thrilled when first-choice helmer Patty Jenkins was ousted in favour of Taylor. We bet she wasn’t too happy either when she found out her contractually enforced participation amounted to little more than being a damsel in distress, lumbered with cumbersome dialogue like “physics are going to go ballistic!”, a drippy dinner date with Chris O’Dowd, and a sarcastic assistant – Kat Dennings’ Darcy – whose every word’s a wisecrack.)
It turns out that Malekith has his eyes on The Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms that will allow him to take them all out in one fell swoop. The odd thing is that there is so little else here that’s in similar sync. The film lurches from spectacular battle scene to comedic encounter to familial reconciliation with little concern for how it all adds up (evidence of re-shoots ahoy…).
The big finale, which involves Hemsworth and Eccleston pursuing each other through multiple dimensions, is a case in point: a barrage of effects-fuelled activity that’s as exciting to watch as it’s impossible to follow. But who’s complaining? We’re already looking forward to Guardians Of The Galaxy...
Marvel’s man with the mallet does all that’s required of him in a breakneck sequel that’s never dark for long. Next time, though, we’ll have more Loki and fewer elves.