Thor: The Dark World: A Beyond the Bunker review

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BTB Reviews Movie

Marvel’s got a hell of a challenge ahead of it, particularly with Thor. With Robert Downey Jr hanging up his french waiter moustache and goatee until Avengers: Age of Ultron, the weight of convincing crowds that Marvel has what it takes to make us deal out the dosh to see Captain America: Winter Soldier, Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy before the next team building exercise and universe bending threat to humanity falls on the not insignificany shoulders of the God of Thunder himself, this time directed by Game of Thrones' and first time blockbuster movie director; Alan Taylor.

Of the three (four) big hitters in the Avengers, Thor's films are by far the broadest in setting and effectively most responsible for setting the outer limits of the Marvel Universe, presenting a massive challenge. It was the villain of Thor (Tom Hiddleston's Loki) that represented the threat in the showcase movie Avengers (we don't call it Avengers Assemble here) after all – so while Thor is the least profitable (by a small margin) and arguably the slightest of the original three movie franchises that lead to Avengers in spite of capable direction from Shakespearite Kenneth Branagh – it carries with it the burden of being potentially the most influential. This film is no different, with Iron Man 3 resolving Tony Stark's story arc until the new Avengers film and the trailer for Captain America making it clear that it's focus is one of internal conflict and very human warfare, the onus is on Thor to kick the excitement for Avengers: Age of Ultron up a notch. This it does with absolute aplomb, a wry sense of humour and a sense of it’s audience rarely seen in an established franchise.

We find a cast very much changed by the events of Avengers, some of which finally have the opportunity to be developed more effectively with a plot that deals much more with the nine realms of which Earth (Midgard) and Thor's home (Asgard) are only two. Most improved are the formerly peripheral and comic book mainstays otherwise known as the Warriors Three (Hogun, Fandral and a slightly less voluminous Volstagg) and Thor's female interest in Asgard, Sif. Though Tadanobu Asano's Hogun is out pretty early on. The film pauses deliberately to present these characters a little better, Volstagg now better realised by the brilliant Ray Stevenson (Rome, Punisher: War Zone) and Zachary Levi as dashing Fandral stirs memories of old Robin Hood movies. Sif's clear love for Thor as a subplot is an interesting and welcome development in Sif's character, though she is used sparingly in action sequences and the first to be removed from the equation when the action begins to heat up, something regrettable as Jaimie Alexander is such a capable actress, Sif an interesting character and both are such bona fide hotties.

Rene Russo's Frigga, as Thor's mother takes a more prominent role in proceedings as well, as the influence she has over her husband Odin (Anthony Hopkins), her real son, Thor and step son, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the linking subplot that allows three warring characters to find any common ground.

But, hilariously, it's the master stroke of Stellan Skarsgård's Dr. Erik Selvig and his burgeoning mental illness that wins the film over. Rather than sideline him as a result of him being driven mad because he 'had a god in my head', Selvig becomes welcome relief from earnest and worthy moments threatening to become too overbearing and tipping the plot into farce by taking itself too seriously. Kat Dennings' assistant Darcy Lewis and her 'interns intern Ian Boothby played by Jonathan Howard create very neat comic moments and IT Crowd's Chris O' Dowd as Dr Jane Foster's (still ably played by Natalie Portman) doomed alternative love interest rounds out a very well used set of side characters.

Playing Doctors and Norses: Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meet up in a pub car park....

Playing Doctors and Norses: Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meet up in a pub car park….

If I haven’t mentioned the primary cast of Hemsworth, Portman, Hiddleston and Hopkins (and Idris Elba as all-seeing Heimdall) it is because there is little change amongst any of them. They are uniformly great, with only Hopkins seemingly phoning it in a little at the very beginning. They occupy the centre of the plot brilliantly, each fulfilling the potential of the characters well. Hemsworth himself proves himself a generous and humble actor in scenes with others, giving a the god of thunder the depth of storm clouds in quieter moments and allowing other characters to share the limelight in one on one scenes.

It is perhaps the familiarity of the archetypes that causes the film to slightly dip in the centre however. Away from the cast of unusual and offbeat side characters the course the characters take is almost unavoidably predictable. Not boring at any point, and peppered with nice moments which will make you laugh unexpectedly. However, the main tract of the tale take second place to the decidedly enjoyable character moments. When the main plot takes over, it can’t help but become a slightly predictable, if exceptionally well paced and directed, fantasy fare.

Aside from occasional hiccups in the edit the film is littered with curiousities and odd decisions that are later satisfactorily resolved, which highlights how this film isn’t being written by template. It can be argued it under utilises a cast capable of greater emotional depth but it does so in order to remind itself that it is a superhero yarn and one that demands a heavy dose of fun and would suffer from too much hand-wringing. Never the less the relationship between Odin and Thor at loggerheads in the first film as a loving father and son incapable of agreeing on anything is satisfyingly realised here. The writing of a character as unpredictable as Loki leaves you guessing how many bluffs and double bluffs you’re seeing with red herrings subtle and layered as the God of Mischief tries to justify his actions enough to disappoint everyone all over again – a highly enjoyable tight rope walk for a sympathetic character – and one that pays off nicely.

Portman’s involvement draws parallels with the Star Wars franchise and there are touches of Padme Amidala in her appearance, but it is the blend between mythology and science fiction, well realised in this case, that makes Thor: The Dark World the film the Phantom Menace and Clone Wars should have been. The idea that technological advancement creates worlds reminiscent of fantasy epics works because secretly it’s an ideal existence, a comfortable blend between nature, control of physics (advanced science giving rise to magic that utilises great power) and balance. Here, the Marvel universe draws together the ideas that the Star Wars saga failed to and it’s exciting and impressive to behold.

Perhaps most notably for a resident of the denizens of London, it looked (with only one exception) like the city we know well, a refreshing change from interesting global landmarks used as interchangable backdrops for unintelligible action sequences or the foppish, lamp lit London of Richard Curtis romantic comedies. Neither does it rely on overly recognisable landmarks, this film is brave enough to put the action away from the obvious tourist track and for that it deserves credit – though recognisable landmarks to Londoners are used briefly and effectively to raise a smile. Having said that, those with a clear knowledge of the underground will definitely take umbridge with one otherwise well placed London Transport gag. Put simply, without showing the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s, the O2, The London Eye or Trafalgar Square this film manages to depict a city both recognisable to Londoners and attractive to tourists. Something it’d be good to see in other films.

Enormous ideas are realised with effective visual shorthand and a recurring light touch. Happily, having watched a film that involved alien starships, multiple dimensions and gods the thing I admire most about it, particularly after the seemingly pointless carnage of Star Trek: Into Darkness and Man of Steel, is it’s self control. Thor maintains the Marvel tradition of understanding that devastation doesn’t have to be global, total or even city wide. With effective set pieces the final battle, while grand, is geographically contained (at least while limited to this dimension) but is more engaging as a result.

This an incredibly assured debut to mainstream film making, with the risks that Marvel are taking paying off film after film. If any of you are waiting for Marvel to falter, this film most certainly isn’t it. Based on the trailer of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the now traditional title sequence clips, Marvel isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Unexpectedly, perhaps, the concern over the end of Downey Jr’s run as Iron Man as a franchise in it’s own right was misplaced, his absence now allowing focus to fall on extremely worthy elements of the Marvel Universe. We say more of this and Marvel will secure its place with one of the finest legacies in movie history.

BTB Awards: Best Film

Winner – Senna

ts limited release will mean that Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and death of Ayrton Senna is unlikely to be topping may film of the year polls and at face value that seems sensible. A feature length documentary about the career of a Formula One driver who died nearly 20 years ago doesn’t exactly scream ‘mass appeal’ but nonetheless Senna is easily one of the most remarkable films of the year.
Utilising only archive footage and Voice-over, Kapadia creates a narrative which manages to be stronger and more engaging than most dramas. The decision not to include any talking heads segments means that the film feels more like a story being told first hand than a reflection on past events and the in-car footage (which looks mind blowing on a cinema screen) enhances this even further.
While the insights into the notoriously secretive world of F1 will be a treat for racing fans, the film’s greatest strength is its ability to appeal to people who don’t have the first idea about the sport. More than anything else Senna is a heart stopping, tear inducing story about an utterly unique individual. Whether you spend weekends pouring over lap times or you’re someone who thinks pole position is a thing that strippers do, there is a tonne of things to love about this film and you will be doing yourself a genuine disservice if you don’t seek out the DVD.

Runner up – Drive

For the runner up we go from a real life man in a car who is unable to stop to a fictional man in a car with no choice but to go on. The stylish, neon lit, meticulously shot Drive follows the story of Ryan Gosling’s driver as he makes ends meet on the streets of Hollywood – beautifully captured in various skyline, helicopter and stylistically careful ground shots creating a fantastical, idealistic and visceral stage for the action to take place on. In many ways the cinematography is the story as the central character – known only as Driver – enters into a tentative and touching relationship with his neighbour Irene (a flawlessly American accented Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who’s husband is incarcerated. Lingering silences and long, unbroken takes give the scenes involving these characters an assured intimacy that lingers with the viewer and plays realistically.

This is punctuated by acts of unspeakable violence, some of which admittedly come close to destabilising the careful balance that Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears to be looking for. The film could have played out as successfully as a 15 certificate on first viewing making the violence seem gratuitous and unecessary, however, I suspect that on repeat viewings the brutality and ludicrous violence will permeate more strongly and be powerful reminders of a thoughtful and energised movie and certainly a step up into the big time for both Winding Refn and Gosling.

The involvement of Simpsons regular Albert Brooks as deceptively chipper gang boss Bernie Rose and Ron Perlman has his apparently more savage and sweary partner Nino doesn’t hurt either.

Effectively Tarantino-lite, this is much less cartoonish, stylised and self consciously scripted. It also seems, accidentally or not, to be lifting directly from the GTA game series – with the theme and the look harking back to both Liberty and Vice City. This only adds to the fun in this subtle shocker.

Best remake / prequel – The Thing (2011)

To the arctic circle now for the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing. More than anything else it’s the choice to set the scene back in 1982 rather than reboot that has placed this film so high in our rankings. Following very much the same line as the original, it centres on the events leading up to the beginning of the first film in which two members of a Norwegian science team our found by an American research group.

The new film manages to mimic perfectly the light touch and claustrophobic lighting and setting, even going so far as to almost directly lifting moments from the original. But this is because the creature is doing what it did in the first place. The joy is in it’s appearance. The plot even deliberately curves at anticipated plot moments to both acknowledge and defy the original.

While it loses some of its appeal as the scale increases towards the end of the film, revealing perhaps a little too much of the origin this film scores highly for introducing a realistic female lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and tip toeing the line perfectly between homage and producing an original piece of cinema.

Best foreign language – Troll Hunter (2011)

Made off putting by the idiotic UK Trailer (below) this film by André Øvredal and Håvard S. Johansen (supporting writer) follows a group of hapless students in search of a hunter deemed illegal by fellow bear hunters. Determined to uncover who he is for the sake of an interesting film, they uncover a wide government cover up beyond anything they could anticipate.

Essentially, a Blair Witch Project that pays off the film manages to lull you into simply watching the ‘found footage’ of the students, constantly having to remind yourself that things are going to increase in scale exponentially at some point. And increase they do. However, the film maintains its roots until it’s finale on snowy Nordic tundra, maintaining a calm and careful pace that US blockbusters will never master.

The Norwegian mountains and countryside are really the great treat of the film at times (when there’s no monsters to hunt) as, for instance in one short sequence, sheer mountainsides and a glacial lake are filmed out of a car window as one of the students calls to another taking a whizz as nonchalantly as Sam Mendes filmed a brick wall with a plastic bag floating around in front of it. It becomes clear that what the world finds magnificent, Norwegians can take for granted and that the filmmakers are acutely aware that half their work is done merely filming on location in their beautiful country.

But it’s the monsters themselves that take centre stage. The decisions in the way that each is introduced is masterful, each uniquely different in pacing, reveal and environment. One is viewed finally from a great distance through a window of a shack which serves only to increase its impressiveness. With an enigmatic, monosyllabic central Troll Hunter, grimly wandering into harms way on behalf of the Norwegian government with the hapless batch of determined and stunned students along for the ride, it’s spectacular, engrossing and fun.

A stark change in tone in the middle of the film does threaten to scupper it slightly but the even pacing and anticipation of the unknown final Troll at the heart of the problem keeps things moving to impressive effect. They will try to remake it. I’m sure they’ll fail. Take the Norwegian out of Norway and it’s knackered.

Best Comic Book Movie: X-Men: First Class

In a year in which at least three highly entertaining and thoroughly exciting comic book adaptations were released it was the one not made by Marvel that edged it for us – however marginally. It was the X-Men that clinched the title.

Easily the strongest of the X-Men films, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman along with woefully under acknowledged screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz brought the X-Men back to the 20th Century. Like Captain America, Vaughn and Goldman (the creative team behind Stardust and Kick-ass) the decision was taken to go to the roots of the title, seeing the original X-Men line-up changed to deal with those already revealed. Only, instead of merely laying comic book events over historical ones, Vaughn and Goldman interlace them directly with historical events.

We find an arrogant and slightly unlikable Professor Francis Xavier (played by James McAvoy) in the swinging sixties looking to extend his theory of evolution on to any girl with a discoloured eye or wonky toe. It’s clear that the X-Men are born from Xavier’s arrogance and it fills beautifully an absent detail in the inception of the X-Men. Brought into it is Erik Lenseherr (Michael Fassbender) who is hunting Jew killers and Nazi conspiritors around the world. Thinking that control of his power is fuelled only by anger and fury it makes Lenseherr – soon to become Magneto – a more well rounded character, as a cyclical psychology has formed in which Lensherr has to generate these feelings to tap into his power, only further perpetuating his anger and violent behaviour. All of the characters carry inherent (and human flaws) that make them accessible and offer a tone of inevitable doom to the proceedings.

Well realised set piece after well realised set piece is laced through the plot as the X-Men are pulled into conflict between both the Russian and US Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a bid to avert Nuclear War. Something that could easily have been a cynical plot device is so neatly realised that it makes sense (and, winningly, illustrates the absurd nature of the Cold War in a language understandable to younger audiences).

So close in fact were the runners up for Best Comic Adaptation that featured below are the trailers for both Thor and Captain America. We thoroughly recommend both and can’t wait for the Avengers movie next year….

Runner-up – Thor

While pipped at the post by First Class, Thor was overwhelmingly the surprise of the year, guided effortlessly to be an entertaining romp by Royal Shakespeare Company founder, Kenneth Branagh, offering up laughs, pathos, energy and a star turn by Chris Hemsworth as the titular character. Tom Hiddleston as his half-brother Loki stood out only slightly among a frankly incredible cast featuring Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgard (most likely drawn in particular to Branagh’s banner).

Thor tips the balance beautifully between fish-out-of-water comedy, fantasy epic and Superhero movie. Marvel’s incredible run of success to the Avenger’s movie next year seems to be unstoppable and Thor, as a potential tripping point has proven a nice surprise as a watchable, stand alone movie.

Runner-up – Captain America: The First Avenger

After being deemed unfit for Miltary service, Steve Rogers volunteers fora top secret research project that turns him into Captain America. We all know the story, however old school Director Joe Johnston achieved the implausible and made Captain America cool again. Borrowing heavily from Mark Millar’s Ultimates (effectively, in hindsight, a love letter to Hollywood and a considered development of the Avengers brand to become more audience friendly outside of comics) Cap still retains most of his gosh, shucks charm.

The decision to set the entire film in World War 2 is a bold and clever move, giving the audience credit where there may have been none with a more cynical film company. Featuring Hugo Weaving as arch Nemesis, the Red Skull, Stanley Tucci as Cap’s creator Dr. Abraham Erskine, Toby Jones as Dr Arnim Zola and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips it has a touch of class as well as being a crowd pleasing actioner. It also has the best villain diversionary tactic gag in comic book history as a Nazi assassin (Richard Armitage) escapes across the docks from the newly created Cap, he grabs a young boy and throws him in the dock. Cap, stopping to help the boy in time honoured fashion is greeted with the sight of the boy paddling away, shouting ‘Go! It’s okay. I can Swim.’ A wry sensibility that runs through the whole film.

Thor Will Be At Kapow Comic Con – Buy Your Tickets NOW!

We’ve known for a while that Mark Millar was holding back some surprises for next week’s Kapow Comic Con, but even I’m a little shocked by this one. Chris (plays Thor) Hemsworth, Tom (plays Loki, looks too much like Alan Cumming) Hiddleston and Kenneth (f*ing) Branagh have just been announced as surprise guests at the convention!

The trio of stars will be heading up a panel on Saturday in which they will be taking questions about the film as well as screening a selection of never before seen footage. Hopefully Hemsworth will also smash a coffee cup for our amusement.

Understandably, given the announcement, ticket sales for Kapow have just gone cosmic and they’re down to about 200 tickets for Saturday and 400 for Sunday (though bear in mind that I’m taking this from the Millarworld forum post which was updated several hours ago so that number may have gone down by now). If you want to go to Kapow and you don’t have a ticket YOU NEED TO BOOK ONE NOW!

Look out for this stand while you're at Kapow and be rewarded with sweet Moon merch!

With guests from shows like Misfits, Being Human, Attack The Block as well as the first screening of a currently-still-secret-summer-superhero-movie, Kapow honestly looks like it could be the geek event of the year. Most importantly of all (astronomically speaking) Moon will be there as well, tearing up the stands with his big Mooney goodness. If you want to see Steve and I running around like headless chickens and attempting to force Jonathan Ross into a Moon head, then this is about your only chance.

You can buy tickets for the event HERE!

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