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Review: Thor: The Dark World

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The latest in the never-ending march of the Marvel Studios films was released in the UK last Wednesday after what seemed like an age since the first trailers and leaked posters. And it’s landed with a clap of thunder.

A lot of familiar faces are back from the first Thor film as well as Avengers Assemble including Chris Hemsworth & Tom Hiddleston as the titular God and his tricksy half-Brother Loki, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings & Stellan Skarsgård return as the group of scientists who are always on the lookout for the return of the extra-terrestrial Norse deities. The other Asgaardians are also back in the shape of Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo as Odin and Frigga, Thor and Loki’s parents; Idris Elba as the gatekeeper, Heimdall and the Warriors Four; Sif, Fandral, Volstagg & Hogun played by Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson & Tadanobu Asano respectively.

In fact, the only notable new face is one you probably wouldn’t recognise at first glance as he is hidden under quite a lot of make up and speaks the majority of his lines in Elvish & with quite a deep voice modulation: Christopher Eccleston plays the Dark Elf leader, Malekith, whose race ruled the universe under a dark veil before the Asgaardians defeated them and brought light back the Nine Realms. All sound a bit sword-and-sandals and less super hero-y? That’s because Kenneth Branagh has been replaced by Alan Taylor as director. Taylor has most recently directed the ultimate fantasy TV series, Game of Thrones, which may explain the change in setting and tone.

In fact, the opening 30 minutes or so of Thor: The Dark World are a bit bleak and low on energy, even though Thor and his band of warriors are off battling evil across the Nine Realms while Jane Foster (Portman) and Darcy Lewis (Dennings) are trying to find both Thor and their professor, Erik Selvig, who has gone AWOL.

It’s only when things have gone really bad and Thor releases Loki from his cell in the dungeons (for his crimes against the universe in Avengers Assemble) that the film really picks up speed. Tom Hiddleston really does steal the entire film from everyone; the interplay between his character and Thor, who is limited by the character’s emotional range, is really funny but also highlights the fact that it’s easier to write for a slimy villain than for a benevolent character.

However, there are some comedy Thor moments, such as him having to ask for directions while in the Tube in London (where all the plot set on Earth is based). Though the directions he is given by the commuter are probably more laughable, if you know London! The majority of the laughs come from Loki though; as the God of Mischief he is the one able to let go and have real fun with his character, especially in the scene where he shape-shifts both himself and Thor a number of times. Darcy is there for comedic effect as well, but I found her injections somewhat forced and her character grated on me very quickly.

It was good to see both Natalie Portman and Idris Elba having more to do in their roles this time round as both their stars have risen since the first film. Elba has even become so famous outside the UK that they let Heimdall take his helmet off! He also has one of the more bad-ass action sequences as he single-handedly takes down a cloaked Elvish ship with nothing but his bare hands and a couple of daggers.

The action sequences are what make this film as the plot can be a little hard to keep up with if you aren’t ‘au fait’ with the Nordic character and place names, not to mention the plot about dimensions aligning and Malekith’s plan to bring darkness to the universe again using ‘The Aether’, a strange, almost sentient, fluid that infects a host body and wields untold power. The final fight sequence leaves you breathless but, thanks to the fact Taylor has kept the film under two hours, doesn’t drag on and on like quite a few of the big super hero films of late – even if it does span dimensions.

All in all the plot is a bit all-over-the-place (but this is a sci-fi/fantasy film after all); the costume, set and world designs are spell-binding and the action sequences are thrilling and tense. This is a worthy sequel, not better than the original, but different enough that it doesn’t matter. Who knows how far the character can be taken, but judging by the two post-credit sequences he will be back in at least the next Avengers film.

P.S. The first of the two post-credit scenes stars Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, who is tasked with looking after The Aether. He will be a main villain in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film due for release next year.  This film will be a mix of live action and animation with characters like Rocket Racoon (whose name speaks for itself) and Groot, a living tree. This has worried me since I heard about it as the whole universe started off based in semi-realism and seems to be heading in a very cartoonish direction. I will try to reserve judgement until a trailer is posted – but things are starting to look and sound a bit weird.

Roll on Captain America: Winter Soldier.

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Brand new UK trailer for Thor: The Dark World

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The new trailer for Thor: The Dark World was released today and this time we get more! More plot, more characters, a better look at the locations including London and Asgaard, Idris Elba has taken off his mask as Heimdall, Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki and seems to be playing everyone against each other as usual, the voice-over is done by Anthony Hopkins.

Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman are all back, the latter seemingly transported with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Asgaard and put in danger by the protagonist Malekith, whose face you can’t see in this trailer, but is played by Christopher Ecclestone. It looks like it’s going to be big. Very big!

Review: Thor

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Thor is the latest in the slew of Marvel films leading up to ‘The Avengers’, coming out next year, and the first of the massive budget blockbusters of the Summer.

This is a slightly different beast than its superhero predecessors in that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) isn’t actually a superhero; he is the eponymous Norse God with the magic hammer, Mjöllnir. Though rather than Conan-style loin cloths or Hagar the Horrible furs and horned hats, these Norse Gods wear futuristic fantasy armour and chainmail. Thor even manages to get away with wearing a cape.

The premise is that Thor is banished to Earth from Asgard after invoking the wrath of a race of Ice Giants from another realm, Jotunheim,  by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Upon his arrival he is hit by a car carrying a group of scientists who have been studying strange weather patterns in the desert near the U.S./Mexican border. Now lost and hospitalised Thor has to redeem himself to regain his powers, which have also been stripped from him.

Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents find Mjöllnir in the desert and begin to confiscate the work of the scientists who ran him over. This team is led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who is having a very busy year), or possibly Erik Selvig (Stellen Skarsgård) and accompanied by, for no obvious reason, Darcey Lewis (Kat Dennings). Portman becomes the love interest in a tender scene on top of the building she works and lives in where Thor explains where he comes from.

So Thor helps them to get their work back just as the rest of his pals (whose names I didn’t catch and weren’t repeated enough for you to remember them, which was a shame) from Asgard beam down to Earth to warn him of foul play back home involving his mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleson). Loki has sent a behemoth down to smite them all and the obligatory ridiculous giant robot fight scene starts with Thor eventually regaining his powers after seemingly giving his life for the fate of the world…or the shit-splat desert town he has found himself stranded in.

The Gods and Goddesses beam back to Asgard to face-off against Loki who has taken the throne, and whose motivations become slightly blurred at this point. But after a fist-fight and destroying the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Asgard to the other realms, and therefore from Jane, the film ends with both of them trying to find a way back to each other (Jane having been recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D.) which will obviously happen as it is stated in the credits that “Thor will return in The Avengers”.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film’s visual style is breathtaking. The quality of the landscapes of Asgard and the Ice Giant’s world of Jotunheim are incredibly well detailed and textured. The costumes are worthy of note as well, though if the acting wasn’t as good as it is they could have run the risk of looking camper than Christmas.

The acting isn’t so serious that the film loses sight of the fact it’s a comic book adaptation; there are some genuinely funny moments of slapstick where Thor is hit by a car, tasered and sedated by a large group of doctors while trying to escape a hospital. The scene-stealer though is Anthony Hopkins as Odin: he is a larger-than-life actor who clearly relishes hamming it up to play the king of the Gods unlike Stellen Skarsgård, who barely manages to conceal his bewilderment with the storyline. But top marks to Hemsworth who resembles and acts like a more muscular Brad Pitt circa ‘Troy’ with a real knack at comedic acting like later career Pitt.

This is a big, big blockbuster where everyone involved in the film is having a lot of fun and this genuinely rubs off on the audience. After a slow start, with a lot of back story explanation, you find yourself getting more involved as the story kicks off and unfolds. By the end you realise you’re having a brilliant time as is everyone else. Instead of feeling like a prequel to ‘The Avengers’ I feel this film stands up well on its own alongside the likes of its Marvel counterparts.