Phantasmagoria and a touch of whimsy

 Thor: The Dark World (12A)
There’s no gainsaying the visual splendour of would-be epics like this, even if they tend to resemble little more than sophisticated video games betimes, but the makers rarely seem to bother inserting any subtleties in the plotlines or characterisations, as if the kind of people who go to films like this won’t care unduly about such details.

This is both patronising and shortsighted thinking. The result is often a conflation of clichés buttressed by jaw-dropping conflagrations and scientific mumbo-jumbo, and so it proves here.

Matters are complicated by the fact that Alan Taylor, directing, has juggled scenes of his prehistoric cosmos of Asgard with contemporary Earth, presumably to attract the younger set. Again I feel this kind of gimmickry is counterproductive. It militates against our involvement with both worlds, the commitment to each of them being, by definition, severely compromised.

The present venture has the screen’s latest hunk Christopher Hemsworth as our resident superhero Thor, doing all for love and glory as he postpones succeeding his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to the Asgard  throne to save Earth and romance Natalie Portman (roughly in that order).

Portman plays an astrophysicist even though she looks more like a supermodel. She unleashes a force of destruction caused Aether and this is where most of the fun begins. She’s always watchable, even when she’s delivering cringeworthy lines, or engaging in shape-changing technological wizardry, but she strains credibility here. (Though the film is, on its own terms, an unashamedly escapist frolic).

Hemsworth’s modern look makes him strangely more suitable for the London scenes than the Asgard ones. It would have been better if it was the other way round. We wouldn’t have minded the incongruity of the ‘Tube’ scene near the end, but there’s been so much tongue-in-cheek humour up to this point it hardly matters.  I also felt the death of Hemsworth’s mother Frigga, a feisty Rene Russo, happened too soon in the film for us to be moved by it, though her dispatch to Valhalla is admittedly one of its most powerful scenes.

We could have done with more of this but the makers have opted for an overtly whimsical approach which, allied with the cast of stock characters – patriarchal one-eyed father (Hopkins), untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), token ruthless villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) – fail to raise the film onto the empathetic level its special effects deserve.

We also have Portman’s kooky assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), Darcy’s over-enthusiastic boyfriend Ian (Jonathan Howard) and the increasingly manic Dr Erik (Stellan Skarsgard), each of them bumping up the comic mood at the expense of the drama which to my mind was yet another example of the film shooting itself repeatedly in the foot.

Was it made to cash in on the likes of Lord of the Flies and its ilk? If so it’s a pale imitation, a confused medley of hackneyed themes and predictable set-pieces. No doubt it will make a packet at the box office, and we may even have to suffer Thor 2 in a year or so as well for our troubles.

In my view the people who dream up these kinds of concepts need to either decide what kind of film they’re making – spoof or tribute – or give us some 3D characters to go some way towards emulating their 3D effects.

Or both. Fair *