Thor: The Dark World – Review And Director Q&A

Thor: The Dark World

Review

It’s been two years since Jane (Natalie Portman) last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The Bifrost was destroyed at the end of Thor, and she had only seen glimpses of him on television battling the alien invasion of New York in The Avengers. She now spends her time studying gravity waves and anomalies, hoping to find some evidence that Thor has once again travelled to Earth via the Bifrost.

Thor, meanwhile, has his own quest. With Loki (Tom Hiddleston) now imprisoned on Asgard and Odin pushing him to take over the throne, there is a new danger to The Nine Realms as Malekith, leader of the dark elves, seeks out the aether.

All this makes for various conflicts, from brotherly feuds to seeking world domination. Thor: The Dark World brings us several storylines and the next chapter in the lives of each character.

There are some intense battles, and moments of hilarity and humour. Some of the humour might be a matter of personal choice, but Loki remains true to his self as the god of mischief and annoys Thor in the most entertaining of ways, and in so-doing, foreshadows the next appearance of Marvel’s characters.

The production value will certainly not disspaoint, the action and special effects will keep fans on the edge of their seats, and those members of the audience who prefer the more personal side of life will get to see the further development of all the various relationships between the characters.

Thor: The Dark World has a bit less action, and a bit more story than Thor, but it does feel at times that there is a little too much happening on-screen. Some personal choice in the matter by the audience, but it’s sure to make for an entertaining ride as we join the heroes on their latest quest for justice.

Thor: The Dark World opens on South African screens, Friday 8 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Q&A With Director Alan Taylor

Acclaimed Emmy®-winning director Alan Taylor, known for his work on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” brings his style and love of “epic language” to Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Taylor admits he was excited by the prospect of helming the film, saying, “I’d come to love having one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. All of those things were coming together in this. Thor is a unique Super Hero because he carries so much weight of history and he carries a mythology. Those things gave him the kind of stature that I found exciting.”

From the beginning of his involvement, Taylor was keen on grounding the film in a sense of reality as the story takes place not only on Earth but on Asgard and other worlds of the Nine Realms as well. It was important for the director to never let the film depart from feeling both real and emotionally connected. “We’re making a big effort to ground it in a sense of ‘history,’ despite the fact that it is a made up world, “ explains Taylor. “It was important to me that Asgard feel like it had been there for centuries, millennia even, that it has its own culture and that it really be a place that you could believe in.”

Although Alan Taylor was not a comic book fan growing up, he became acquainted with the genre’s storytelling ethos with a little help from Marvel. “When I first came into Marvel and was introduced to everybody, they delivered three tomes of the Thor universe on my desk, and I started thinking ‘Oh, God, that’s a lot of homework.’ I started reading through them and by the time I got to the point where Loki was a woman and Thor was a frog, I realized that you can find almost anything in this comic mythology and it was okay to sort of push it aside and decide what movie we were making.”

It was the later Thor imagery in the comics that was the most compelling to Taylor and where he found his direction. “Towards the end it really started developing a real richness and it felt like a saga,” notes Taylor. “It felt like it had one foot firmly in Norse mythology. Trying to balance that with the wacky earlier stuff is one of the balancing challenges of any Thor movie. But for me, it’s pretty obvious that I responded mostly to the material that invoked the mythology.”

Creating the worlds of the film and the beings that inhabit them was a challenge that Taylor looked forward to taking on. “Having a chance to create not just Asgard but Vanaheim and Svartalfheim as well was great. The names are hard to say but the worlds are wonderful to try and envision,” enthuses the director.

“We had to create a race of marauders, which are sort of all-purpose bad guys, and that was very collaborative. Our costume person was working on it; our concept artists were working on it,” states Taylor. “Marvel had very evolved ideas about what was appropriate. But the biggest challenge for the film was the Dark Elves and that’s the part that I feel happiest with and most proud of. Finding Malekith’s look and finding the basic imagery of the Dark Elves was a really fun collaboration.”

Taylor knew the team had succeeded with the look of the Dark Elves when he saw the actors in full costumes and makeup on a shoot in Iceland. “They were walking on the black volcanic sand with some snowcapped peaks in the background and their costumes just felt like they were born in this place. It was great,” recalls Taylor.

The new villain in Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” is the dark elf Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston. Describing Malekith, Taylor says, “Thor is not just a Super Hero; he has the weight of history behind him. We needed a villain that had scale and was epic as well, so Malekith’s backstory goes back at least 5,000 years. He and his people have been gone for 5,000 years and they’re coming back, in their minds, to right a terrible wrong. They’re driven by vengeance. But Malekith is a noble creature and he’s committed to his purpose above all. He’s sacrificed absolutely everything to achieve his end. Basically, all he wants is the universe.”

The Marvel Super Hero films always feature building the arc of a reprised character from one film to the next. Taylor explains, “In ‘Thor’ we saw Thor go from an impetuous prince to taking the first steps towards maturing and growing up. In our film that life story continues and he’s maturing, he’s moving closer to actually claiming the power that goes with Odin.”

The director continues, “When we started we knew that Loki was going to be an important part of it because of the brother relationship that was created in the first film and is one of the main engines of the Thor movies. We’ve always been aware of his vulnerability and the fact that he is evil. But there is a conflict in him, so now we get to see that other side of him emerge more fully.”

For Alan Taylor, working on a film with the scale and scope of Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” was an entrance into uncharted territory, but working with Marvel proved to be a very positive experience for the director. “Coming in, I thought the effect would be daunting and overwhelming, but the Marvel experience was not what I expected,” says Taylor. “Marvel is unique. When you make the decisions, you’re making them with filmmakers who are really excited about the characters and the worlds, so in a way it feels like a very intimate creative process.”

What enticed you to take on the project?
When I was first approached about Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World,” I thought they had made a mistake and were calling the wrong guy, because I was very ensconced in television. I was doing “Game of Thrones” at the time. Then the more I heard about it, once we got over the confusion, I realized it was me they were trying to talk to. I’ve never been a comic book guy. I didn’t grow up loving comics, so that sets me apart from a bunch of the people I’ve been working with. But I loved the scale of it.

I had come to love epic language; that’s something I got to experiment with in “Game of Thrones” and some other things that I’d been doing, so that was enticing. But I could say a million things. The cast that had been assembled on “Thor” by Kenneth Branagh was a dream cast and I welcomed the chance to work with people like that. I’d come to love having one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. All of those things were coming together in this. Thor is a unique Super Hero because he carries so much weight of history and he carries a mythology. Those things gave him the kind of stature that I found exciting.

How are you grounding this cosmic storyline?
A lot of the work we’ve been doing on “Thor: The Dark World” has been to try and ground it, and even though we are traveling nine realms in the universe, to never depart from it feeling real and emotionally connecting. So, it is partly the performances that we’re getting out of this amazing cast that make you actually relate to what’s going on, even when what’s going on is very strange. But also in the look of the film, we’re making a big effort to ground it in a sense of “history,” despite the fact that it is a made up world.

It was important to me that Asgard feel like it had been there for centuries, millennia even, that it has its own culture and that it really be a place that you could believe in. We had a new approach to the costumes, too, in the same way that carried through the texture of lived life and history.

Was that part of the appeal, coming from “Game of Thrones”?
Having done “Game of Thrones” made me more relaxed about what I was going into, and I’m sure that was part of why they were willing to take a risk with me. The Marvel folks were fans of “Game of Thrones” and the challenge on that show was very much to make magic seem real and grounded, and not like never-never land. So there were some of the same challenges on this, but it’s obviously also a very, very different world.

Please talk about what Chris Hemsworth brings to the role of Thor.
Chris Hemsworth was born to play this role. People say that about many characters and many actors, but I’ve never been so aware of it being true. To be a young man who carries the weight of godliness is challenging. Chris, besides being physically perfect, has a voice that carries such weight. He’s got such an amazing vocal instrument that you actually can believe that this young man has the stature of something that’s more than human. I’ve also been blown away by his acting; he’s not just a pretty face.

Where do we find his character emotionally at the beginning of the film?
The Marvel movies, like most of the good Super Hero movies these days, are not just episodes; they actually are building the arc of a character that carries from one to the next. In “Thor” we saw him go from an impetuous prince to taking the first steps towards maturing and growing up. In our film that life story continues and he’s maturing, he’s moving closer to actually claiming the power that goes with Odin. He’s becoming not just a man but also a king potentially, and that’s a coming-of-age story but it’s also a kind of darkening, which is one reason why we have the title that we do. Our title is partly about the dark elves and the worlds that we go to, but I also thought that adulthood is kind of a dark world, and we see Thor mature and deepen, but he also has to give some things up and he has to suffer.

Discuss the evolution of Thor and Jane’s relationship. Would you say that it’s the emotional core of the film?
There are times when you could certainly view the film and see it as being a love story about these people who have been kept apart and trying to contend with that and where their love fits into the universe. But there are other relationships that are incredibly powerful in the film too. It’s also a story about these two brothers, Thor and Loki. I think there’s a balance between which of those relationships is the most defining one of the movie. But the arc of the relationship with Jane carries from the first movie and is moved forward and completed in this one.

Talk about Jane going through the “fish-out-of-water” story arc. How do you think people are going to react to her going to Asgard?
In the first story, people got a lot of joy out of the fish-out-of-water story of Thor coming to Earth and the natural thing to do seemed to be reverse it and take a human up to the Nine Realms and into Asgard. It’s sort of comedic, in the fish-out-of-water classic way, but it’s also one of the tones of the film because it’s wondering awe of what it would really be like to be able to set foot in a place like Asgard. So, Jane goes there and she actually becomes part of that community; you get to see her wear Asgardian clothing.

What is Thor’s relationship with humans going to be like this time around?
I’m imagining that forever Thor’s story will be split between Asgard, the Nine Realms, and Earth. He has a real bond with Earth partly discovered through Jane, but in the classical mythology his mother was from Earth. We dispense with that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there’s something about Thor where he’s really connected to Midgard [Earth] and will always be. Part of the challenge is to balance Thor’s godliness and the humanity we feel in him. So the story will always revolve tightly around Midgard, I think.

What is his relationship with Loki? Was there a need to have him redeem himself?
We get to see Loki in a different light. When we started, we knew that Loki was going to be an important part of it because of the brother relationship that was created in the first film and is one of the main engines of the Thor movies. Tom [Hiddleston] has done such a great performance that we’ve always been aware of his vulnerability and the fact that he is evil. But there is a conflict in him, so now we get to see that other side of him emerge more fully.

Where is Thor’s relationship with Odin in this film?
Odin is called the All Father but is one of the worst parents I have ever met! The two boys, Loki and Thor, are interesting because their father so completely screwed up their childhood. You don’t tell two boys that they’re both meant to be king but only one will actually be king. But in this film we see Odin’s character progressing as well. He’s lived for millennia but he’s getting on in years even in Asgardian terms. He’s starting to falter as a king and make some mistakes and he’s starting to react to things emotionally. In a way it’s an interesting inversion from the first movie where he was the rock solid man of principle and certainty and his son Thor was impetuous; in this one we start to see that Thor may be emerging as the stronger ruler in a way.

Are you focusing on any particular runs from the comics? Will we see more Norse mythology?
When I first came into Marvel and was introduced to everybody, they delivered three tomes of the Thor universe on my desk, and I started thinking “Oh, God, that’s a lot of homework.” I started reading through them and by the time I got to the point where Loki was a woman and Thor was a frog, I realized that you can find almost anything in this comic mythology and it was okay to sort of push it aside and decide what movie we were making.

The later Thor imagery was the most compelling for me. Towards the end it really started developing a real richness and it felt like a saga; it felt like it had one foot firmly in Norse mythology. Trying to balance that with the wacky earlier stuff is one of the balancing challenges of any Thor movie. But for me, it’s pretty obvious that I responded mostly to the material that invoked the mythology.

Do you prefer shooting in practical locations?
Yes! I love shooting on location. I lean away from shooting in green screen environments. We shot a scene with Tom Hiddleston, where he is on Svartalfheim, that we shot in Iceland. Later on shooting other scenes, we were lamenting the fact that we were in a parking lot with green screen and he was trying to conjure up the adrenaline he was feeling when the wind was in his hair and he could look at the vista and really be there. That’s the effect that practical locations have on actors; it’s a great way to work.

What was the challenge in creating these different realms and species? They could be anything or look like anything.
The challenging part, but also the great fun, is creating these creatures and the worlds they come from. David Lynch was one of my favorite filmmakers and he had a quote once where he said that for him the future of filmmaking would not be so much about telling stories but more about creating worlds, and he’s always been a wonderful world creator, and that’s the part of it that appeals to me the most. So, having a chance to create not just Asgard but Vanaheim and Svartalfheim as well was great.

The names are hard to say but the worlds are wonderful to try and envision. We had to create a race of marauders, which are sort of all-purpose bad guys, and that was very collaborative. Our costume person was working on it; our concept artists were working on it. Marvel had very evolved ideas about what was appropriate. But the biggest challenge for the film was the Dark Elves and that’s the part that I feel happiest with and most proud of.

Partly you’re drawing on the comics but there’s a limit to what you pull from them. Malekith, in the comics, looks like a court jester at Carnival or a rock star or something. It was great in its world in its period but for us we had to find something darker and more threatening. So, finding Malekith’s look and finding the basic imagery of the Dark Elves was a really fun collaboration.

How did you know that you nailed the look?
One of the things that drove it home and made it feel like we had done the right thing was when we first saw them in Iceland. They were walking on the black volcanic sand with some snowcapped peaks in the background and their costumes just felt like they were born in this place. It was great.

Talk about Christopher Eccleston as Malekith and the character Kurse.
Our major villain for this is Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston. Thor is not just a Super Hero; he has the weight of history behind him. We needed a villain that had scale and was epic as well, so Malekith’s backstory goes back at least 5,000 years. He and his people have been gone for 5,000 years and they’re coming back, in their minds, to right a terrible wrong. They’re driven by vengeance. But Malekith is a noble creature and he’s committed to his purpose above all.

He’s sacrificed absolutely everything to achieve his end. Basically, all he wants is the universe. He is sort of an absolutist. We were inspired by various fanatics who plague our world right now; who believe there is no grey area. There is either absolute defeat or absolute victory and Malekith is bent on absolute victory. He is assisted by a very devoted lieutenant whose name is Algrim. Algrim is already powerful at the beginning of the story, but later on partway through, he transforms into a creature called Kurse who is sort of weaponized and unstoppable. The two of them drive the action.

The Warriors Three…what are their roles this time around?
In “Thor” we met the Warriors Three, who are in the comics in a big way. Sometimes I think of them as the Warriors Four because Sif is also sort of an honorary member.

We thought it was important this time to make sure they weren’t grouped together as a kind of chorus, so that we got to know them each in specific ways. Maybe the strongest version of that was that we decided to go to Hogun’s home world and see the culture he comes from. That was part of making the characters feel alive and deep.

We also wanted to give them some time as actual serious warriors. There are some comic moments that come with them too, which are important, but we wanted to see just how lethal they can be and get into their characters a little more. Seeing Volstagg’s family and pursuing the relationship a little bit with Sif and Thor was important to us too. Basically, each of the Warriors “Four” gets time on screen where it is just about them.

What was your experience like working with Marvel on a film with such scope and scale?
Coming in, I thought the effect would be daunting and overwhelming, but the Marvel experience was not what I expected. Marvel is unique. When you make the decisions, you’re making them with filmmakers who are really excited about the characters and the worlds, so in a way it feels like a very intimate creative process.

Published by Andrew Germishuys

Founder of SAMDB, Andrew has worked full time in the film industry since the early 2000's. He has trained as an actor, completing his LAMDA Gold Medal, and attending many courses in Cape Town acting studios, with masterclasses with some of the international industries top directors, producers and filmmakers. Working as an actor and armourer in the film and television industry have given Andrew a great balance of skills across the board when it comes to the entertainment industry. Catch him on Twitter: twitter.com/andrewgerm_za And IMDb: www.imdb.com/name/nm5390453/

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