The Marvel Cinematic Universe ventures boldly forward, with a work aligned in the Cosmic!
Where Shane Black’s Iron Man Three responded to the intimidating shadow of The Avengers by looking inward, and chose to focus on the internal, and the character side of things, Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World looks to the stars and expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe significantly. Kenneth Branagh, the series’ initial director chose not to return for this sequel to 2011’s Thor, instead passing the mantle on to Alan Taylor, a filmmaker who honed his craft on a number of HBO television series’ including The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, as well as the show which no doubt garnered him this post, Game Of Thrones. As such, Thor: The Dark World carries with it the sort of aesthetic palette one might expect; it’s not particularly visually groundbreaking, but it doesn’t really need to be. “Serviceable” is a word that comes to mind, although admittedly that does sound a little like faint praise. Alas, one doesn’t turn to the Marvel franchise for groundbreaking shifts and revolutions in cinematic language, and as a work within their precisely defined remit it slots in in satisfying fashion.
At the centre of Taylor’s movie stands the relationship between Chris Hemsworth’s eponymous Thor and his half-brother Loki, portrayed by Tom Hiddleston with what is possibly the most endearing performance in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. The chemistry between the pair drives the plot, with a broad humour subsidising the journey. The film is generally very funny, placing the picture very firmly in the tradition of the great family-fantasy picture. While Branagh’s film, with its grand mythologising and fish-out-of-water strand brought to mind thoughts of literature and Amblin, the sequel is more Star Wars than Shakespeare, and feels more defined within itself. A pleasing hybrid of science fiction and fantasy ensures that this is work very much in the key of Marvel’s Cosmic tradition*, with it’s combination of magic, space and the outlandish being defining traits of the Marvel Universe’s most ambitious cousin.
Antes are upped in terms of scale and set-piece, with the third act given over to a prolonged and large scale action sequence that crosses cities, worlds and plains thanks to the film’s MacGuffin, a weapon which blurs the lines between space and time. Themes of mortality run through the picture, with the disparity between man and god brought to the fore throughout. It’s a surprisingly heavy slant for a character like Thor, but one that helps to anchor the fantastical, ensuring it doesn’t veer too wildly out of control. The relationship between Thor and Jane Foster, again played by a returning Natalie Portman, is given an extra sense of urgency, while, most strangely perhaps considering that this is a major franchise with actors tied in to multi-film contracts, there’s a real sense of danger.
With Thor: The Dark World we venture in to a brave new world for the Marvel franchise. It’s the first non-Iron Man sequel to reach cinemas, with that an important distinction: While Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is very much a sure thing, we’re now reaching the stage where the more peripheral characters of the Avengers series are breaking out to that level of ubiquity. This brings with it a feeling of infinite possibility, and an air of uncertainty as to how positive a thing that actually is. To paraphrase another figure from the Marvel stable, albeit one that doesn’t feature under the in-house banner for film production, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. With no end in sight to to the Marvel juggernaut, one might begin to feel a tad overwhelmed by the position afforded one company across the blockbuster spectrum.
*Marvel’s Cosmic line is a space-bound extension of the Universe seen in the existing Marvel movies. Characters such as Adam Warlock, the Silver Surfer and Thanos appear in this strand of comic-books, while next year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy movie looks set to bring this area to the fore in the movies.