"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review: Alan Taylor: Thor: The Dark World

Another Epinions foundling.

In spite of what you may have heard, sequels aren’t always bad. Indeed, sometimes they are better than the originals. Case in point: Alan Taylor’s take on the Thor franchise for Marvel, The Dark World.

Once, before the time of the Nine Realms, Dark Elves held sway in a dark Universe under their lord, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Then came the Universe we know, and the creatures of Light, and the Dark Elves were defeated and their deadliest weapon, the Aether, taken from them and hidden in the darkest, deepest dungeon of Asgard by King Bor.

The next Convergence approaches, and astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is falling behind the curve: she’s mooning over Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who has disappeared for two years. He has an excuse – the peace of the Nine Realms has been shattered and he’s been fighting to restore it. (And somehow, that makes perfect sense to an Asgardian.) Thor’s father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), has also started dropping very broad hints that it’s time Thor stopped mooning over this very same Jane Foster and think about insuring the succession – humans don’t really last very long, by Asgardian standards. (That discussion didn’t go well.) Jane’s intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) has finally persuaded her that she needs to pay attention to the weird readings that her instruments are giving off. Of course she gets sucked into an anomaly she’s investigating – and just happens to wind up next to the Aether’s prison. The Aether is not about to miss this opportunity, and takes up residence in Jane. The die is cast.

I think the thing that has impressed me most favorably about the Avengers-related films coming out over the past several years is that they don’t take themselves too seriously – there are elements of humor, from snappy dialogue to near slapstick, that contribute to the general lightness of tone, no matter how dire the circumstances. The Dark World is no different.

Alan Taylor’s directorial credits seem to be mostly in television, including work on The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones. He’s put that experience to good use here -- The Dark World is a good, tight blend of adventure, drama, action, and humor, and every element, every scene, drives the momentum. Even the funeral scene (yes, there’s a funeral scene), which could have brought everything to a screeching halt, maintains the flow.

The Dark World leaves the realm of comic book superhero flicks thanks to the cast. There’s a good strong human story here, and the actors bring in a good amount of depth and a fair degree of subtlety – we’re getting subtext, loud and clear. The cast is superb -- even Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has a human dimension. We’re treated to some excellent ensemble work, too, and there are places the dialogue takes on a real edge.

Visually, The Dark World is remarkable. Aside from the visual effects and the tight control of action sequences, there are scenes that are so perfectly composed that they could easily stand alone as stills. Particularly striking are some of the panorama shots on Svartalfheim, the realm of the Dark Elves. Shot on location in Iceland, it’s an eerie landscape, and one is often stumped in trying to determine where the actual scenery leaves off and the effects begin. It’s also very beautiful.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss this one, I urge you to rectify that error as soon as possible.

(Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures,, 2013) Rated PG 13, 112 minutes. For full credits, see the listing at IMDb.

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