Sunday 17 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

I was a little reluctant to write about this film because I've been singing the praises of so many Marvel movies lately that I'm concerned I'll come across as an undiscriminating fan. Luckily there are a few aspects of The Dark World which I can comment on critically.

For me, it had a dull opening. Sure, there are two big battles. But the makers of blockbuster movies just can't seem to grasp the fact that action sequences are potentially boring if we aren't engaged with the characters: this is just a bunch of stuff happening to a bunch of people we don't care about... yet. Nor have they learned William Goldman's lesson that films should start small and low-key, and build.

Enough carping, after the boring battles, The Dark World hits its stride with the London sequences where we're reintroduced to an excellent trio of characters from the first Thor movie: Jane (Natalie Portman), Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Erik (Stellan Skarsgard). They are amusing and engaging.

Then we're really off to the races back in Asgard where the celestial realm comes under attack. It's such a smug, shiny place that it's great to see it getting trashed. Plus this action sequence is structured around a prison break, which is a trope that everyone can understand.

The rest of the movie is outstanding, particularly the final big action setpiece where the thrills and violence are cleverly interleaved with humour, and the characters of Darcy and Erik are particularly well used. As ever Tom Hiddleston is great as the nefarious Loki, Chris Hemsworth is impressive as Thor, and the supporting cast is to die for (Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson).

The script of the movie makes a lot of smart moves. For a start, the writers have realised that if you're going to be saddled with a McGuffin then it's vital to somehow embed that McGuffin in a character. For example, if your McGuffin is a computer memory stick, then have someone swallow the stick so you're chasing a person and not just an object. Or have a vital code or piece of information memorised by a child. (A variation on this is when someone witnesses a crime, as in the classic Witness.)

Anyway, The Dark World literally embodies its McGuffin, some evil energy called the Ether, when it actually invades Natalie Portman.

The script also has a strong line of humour and good use of minor characters. There are five names on the writing credits for the film. The screenplay is attributed to Christopher Yost (who has an extensive background in television, mostly on animated Marvel superhero series) plus the writing team of Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (the ampersand signifies a writing partnership in the cryptic world of screenplay credits) who wrote the Narnia films and the first Captain America movie. 

The 'story' credit (which means an early draft of the screenplay) is shared by Don Payne (who contributed to the script of the first Thor movie and has worked extensively on The Simpsons) and Robert Rodat who wrote Saving Private Ryan, co-wrote the excellent film Fly Away Home (about an orphaned Canada Goose... sob) and more recently has been writing episodes of the SF television series Falling Skies.

Nice work, boys. 

(Image credits: All the posters are from the ever reliable Ace Show Biz. Many thanks for making the picture research so simple.)

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