Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark's most recent adventure, Iron Man 3 left many a hardcore fan grumbling, due to filmmaker Shane Black's subversive take on the superhero-verse. Nonetheless, the film was well-received by the general public and grossed over a $1 billion in theaters around the globe (thus starting "Phase 2" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in style). Now, it's the God of Thunder's turn to pick up the baton from his fellow Avenger and carry it forward, with the sequel Thor: The Dark World readying to invade overseas markets around Halloween - a week before it launches in U.S. theaters, that is.
As such, the first wave of reviews for the Thor sequel has crashed online, providing everyone with an early taste of the general critical response to the latest MCU installment. Thus far, director Alan Taylor's more Game of Thrones-esque version of the Nine Realms - compared to the Jack Kirby-style fantasyland established in director Kenneth Branagh's Thor - has collectively earned an imperfect, yet still very much admirable score from the judges - with (no surprise) Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston once agin earning high marks for their performances as Thor and Loki, in the sequel.
[NOTE: The Thor: The Dark World review excerpts are all SPOILER-FREE, but those who are wary of knowing too much about the film in advance might want to pass on reading the full reviews linked below.]
To start us off, here are what the most positive reviews for Thor: The Dark World have to say about the film (so far):
[Thor: The Dark World] finally delivers the big Thor movie we've been waiting for. This movie is completely off-the-wall bonkers. There are action sequences that won't make sense and a villain who you probably won't completely understand, but holy crap is this movie exciting to watch when the going gets, well, going.
“Thor: The Dark World” delivers the goods — action, otherworldly grandiosity, romance, humor — above and beyond its predecessor. That doesn’t necessarily launch it into the pantheon of greatness, but it’s at least a reassuring sign that the Marvel juggernaut is remaining firmly on the rails. Or the Rainbow Bridge. Whatever.
Despite its occasionally bipolar quality, Thor: The Dark World is a hugely entertaining and sharply written continuation of Marvel's Phase 2, combining heart, spectacle and a shrewd lightness of touch.
A number of the supporting cast members in The Dark World have already gotten their fair share of critical praise - in particular, both Idris Elba as the Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall and Rene Russo as Thor's mother Frigga get to flesh out their characters (and kick some butt in the process). Unfortunately, it sounds as though Natalie Portman as Jane Foster is once again one of the weak aspects of the story, since multiple reviews claim that she is stuck playing the bland damsel-in-distress role for most of her screen time.
Similarly, although Hiddleston is said to make the most of his beefed up screen time as Loki, the Troublemaking God's heightened presence in the sequel has also been criticized by some for being a little unnecessary (read: larger than needed), with respect to the greater plot. More importantly, it may've come at the expense of development time for the main antagonist, Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston).
However, the complaints don't stop there...
Read the following mixed-to-positive review excerpts and then you'll see what we mean:
The proper villain just doesn’t make much of an impression, and the heart and soul of the film are just far enough removed from the actual hero that – in the end – it doesn’t feel like Thor went through as much as he should have to fully justify another whole movie dedicated to him. But if you still love Thor, and especially if you still love Loki, Thor: The Dark World more-or-less satisfies.
Thanks to Hiddleston and Hemsworth's impressive collective charisma, Thor: The Dark World is far from a franchise killer. Yet the film is missing Branagh's delicacy of touch: there are numerous comedic interludes, but nothing to match the ingenious cutaway scene from the first film in which Thor walks into a pet shop and cheerfully demands a horse. Taylor provides plenty of weepy material – but there is not a single segue to compare with the brief, pathos-laden shot from Thor of the power-deprived Asgardian hero ignoring his woes to serve a simple breakfast to his human comrades.
Still, as helmed by Alan Taylor, this robust, impersonal visual-effects showpiece proves buoyant and unpretentious enough to offset its stew of otherwise derivative fantasy/action elements... In the end, that humorous approach is largely the film’s saving grace, keeping the action sufficiently lively and diverting that audiences won’t recognize how recycled the material is, or how low the stakes feel.
Taylor, on his end, has earned kudos for bringing a greater sense of tangible and organic detail to the fantasy set pieces in Thor: The Dark World. In addition, critics have praised Taylor for executing the mostly straightforward narrative - featured in the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Christopher Yost (The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes) - with occasional bursts of visual splendor and cinematic panache, especially during the dramatic events in the third act.
In fact, some have argued that Taylor's superhero movie is the most true-in-spirit to its source material out of the MCU installments to date:
In many ways, Thor: The Dark World is the most comic book reverent superhero film since the Avengers assembled. Little touches such as Odin’s birds and references to Bor are welcome nods, but most impressive is the deepening of the mythology and the exploration of (some of) the Nine Realms (Asgard is far more layered this time round too).
Others, however, are not so impressed by the comic book-inspired qualities and feel that Thor: The Dark World bears too much of a resemblance to a glorified TV show; which is to say, Tayor's background as a TV director shows, much in the same way that Joss Whedon's (arguably) did when he worked on The Avengers.
Here are choice quotes from the naysayers, at this stage:
The result is a film that is enjoyable in spots, but haphazard and ultimately unsatisfying. As with "Iron Man 3," these films are increasingly feeling like episodes of TV shows or, perhaps more appropriately, issues of comic books.
The movie needed more grandeur and less dim attitude – above all, it needed a vision. Entrusted to director Alan Taylor, best-known for multiple episodes of The Sopranos, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, it feels entirely made by committee – the definition of house style, without a personal stamp in sight.
In conclusion, the initial consensus is that Thor: The Dark World isn't a home run, but represents another solid hit for Marvel Studios. And unlike Iron Man 3, it doesn't sound as though the geekiest of comic book geeks will be left shaking their heads about huge deviations from the source material by the time the Thor sequel draws to a close (at least, not complaining as much, anyway).
Look for Screen Rant's own review of Thor: The Dark World, when the film opens in the U.S. (in just over two weeks)!
Thor: The Dark World opens in U.S. theaters on November 8th, 2013.
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