The Pitch: Meet The Parents.
The Review: It’s a luxurious position to be in, but when you’ve gone from being an organisation that could barely get one of its comic properties made less than twenty years ago to being a studio bankrolled by one of the biggest organisations in the world it’s also a double-edged sword. With each success comes a higher expectation: Iron Man Three proved that The Avengers wasn’t just a flash in the pan, but it could only take one failure to derail the Marvel Universe train which has stops mapped out for another three to five years already. It could also be a risk that familiarity might breed apathy rather than contentment, with dedicated Thor fans a lock for his adventures but fans of the other characters maybe needing more to tempt them back for subsequent adventures. Where Marvel appears to be attempting to strike a specific balance is in keeping familiar elements to reassure audiences, but also introducing new aspects to keep the series fresh and alive.
It’s the familiar elements of this instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that undoubtedly work best. The Avengers worked as a sequel to a number of the first phase Marvel movies, Thor included, and now the situation is reversed as a number of characters make their third film appearance. Chief among them are the demigod of thunder, the swagger still intact but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor now finally showing some maturity. That doesn’t save him from a slap or two from his Earth-bound sweetheart Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) when the two are reunited and Thor has to explain where he’s been and why he didn’t call. The two are brought together when a threat from before the dawn of the universe, lord of the Elves Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is revived and poses a threat so big, Thor’s only option is to turn to disgraced brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to find the answer to defeating this new threat. Meanwhile, Jane has to get to grips with the culture clash of meeting Thor’s disapproving parents, especially the All-Father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Everyone from the original gets a moment here, with second tier players from last time of the likes of Kat Dennings, Idris Elba and Rene Russo all given more to do this time around. That does make proceedings a touch congested, especially when attempting to service the plot at the same time. Marvel’s willingness to keep shaking things up has seen a revolving door of directors across their franchises, and Alan Taylor has been imported from Game Of Thrones because presumably some Disney executive can’t distinguish between that literary fantasy and Norse legend. Game Of Thrones often relies on lots of short interplay between a large roster of characters, some getting very little screen time, and so that plays to Taylor’s strengths, but the big battle episodes of the HBO series are actually being picked up by British director Neil Marshall, and it’s not always clear what’s going on in some of Thor’s exceptionally brown battle sequences. His strengths do come to the fore at some of the darker, more poignant moments, but his Asgard never quite has the epic feel that Kenneth Branagh’s did in the original.
What there is a lot of is humour, with Joss Whedon contributing to the script, and this Thor sequel isn’t afraid to throw in some big laughs, playing up the backstory of the universe it’s set in and even mixing humour into the epic final battle, once again showcasing London’s easily destroyed monuments. Thor: The Dark World works well as spectacle and comedy, but you can’t help wishing for a little more threat, not only because Loki is sidelined for much of the film after his Avengers antics but also because Elvish dialogue and a heavy prosthetic smother Christopher Eccleston’s performance more effectively than a crowd rush at a Doctor Who convention. His performance could have also done with some of the ninth Doctor’s impish cheekiness and robust threat, but when the Thor / Loki double act is allowed into high gear, there’s just about enough moments to make up for the lack of a decent antagonist. Thor: The Dark World is a serviceable entry in the Marvel universe, but is more intriguing at times for the promise it holds for the future than what’s actually on screen.
Why see it at the cinema? It’s not short on spectacle, and it’s up there with The Avengers and Iron Man 3 in terms of zingers and general comedy. Plenty to enjoy on a large screen with a large audience.
Should I stay through the credits? Having its cake and eating it, there’s not only a sequence in the middle of the credits, but also one at the very end. For those just wanting to see where the story goes next, you can leave in the middle (probably to Google what you’ve just seen, as only comic book aficionados will make any sense of it first time round); for the true completist, stay to the end.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for moderate fantasy violence. You have to love the BBFC’s Insight section, which includes the likes of the following:There are also mild sex references, such as a man saying he found out his ex-girlfriend was “sleeping with other dudes”.
My cinema experience: Took Mrs Evangelist to see this at the Cineworld in Bury St Edmunds. She didn’t thank me for having to sit through all the credits for the second time this year at a Marvel movie; I think I might have to catch the Captain America 2 credits on my own next year.
The Score: 7/10
Life, sadly, can’t revolve entirely around the cinema, much as I would like it to. But there are things that can be almost as rewarding on TV. One of them comes to an end this weekend after six years packed with detail and intrigue, and it’s one that, almost more than anything on TV, I now feel I should have watched but didn’t.
The reason for not getting into Lost when it started, apart from watching ten minutes of the pilot episode and not really engaging with it, was that I’d been burned with previous mythology based stories, most notable The X Files. And I just had this feeling at the time that Lost was going to set up years and years of mythology, and like The X Files wouldn’t know how to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
The Review: 2008 was fairly unsuccessful for the summer blockbusters, at least in terms of quality, but one movie stood out above the rest of the poor quality crop, and it wasn’t Indiana Jones. Iron Man started a trend which seems to be running through a lot of this year’s offerings, by remembering to be fun, as well as having some smarts and a certain amount of dramatic tension. So it’s a shame that a certain amount of that sense of fun has been lost here.
The standard progression for the first two comic book movies, including pretty much all of those with ‘man’ in the title, is to have a first movie to explain the origins and to set the tone, and then a second which darkens that tone slightly but is free to get straight on with the plot. Iron Man 2 fails slightly on the first count, as the tone gets more serious, but if anything there is less actual feeling of threat, apart from in the movie’s best set piece early on, set in the middle of the Monaco Grand Prix.
There’s also a problem on the second count, in that it’s been made well known that this forms part of a larger sequence, this and other Marvel movies building to their superhero team up ‘The Avengers’ in a year or two. There’s such a smattering of references to the set-up for that, from a prop here to a character there, that the overall feeling is of more exposition, not less, than the first movie, not helped by the fact that there’s no major action set piece between the Monaco set piece and the climactic battles. You can’t escape the feeling that knowing where this is heading has served to remove some of the jeopardy and also some of that crucial fun.
There is still a fair amount to enjoy, just not as much as the first time around. Robert Downey Jr again dominates the film and comes out on top of plenty of verbal sparring. Those others returning from the first movie are also good value, and Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke and even Scarlett Johansson fill in characters that fit well into this world and that we’d be happy to see again. Only Don Cheadle loses out, coming off as slightly more worthy than Terence Howard’s earlier incarnation, but still enjoying his own chance in the suit. But the hope has to be that the next film in this series, whether its with or without other Avengers, gets some of the lost enjoyment back.
Why see it at the cinema: Both of the major set pieces feature an awful lot going on on screen, so the bigger the screen, the easier to make it all out. And let’s face it, this kind of movie is what the big screen was made for.
The Score: 6/10