Friday 21 September 2018

Comic book codswallop that's in a Dark World all of its own

Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor
Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor

THOR : THE DARK WORLD Fantasy: Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston and Kat Dennings. Director: Alan Taylor. Cert: 12A.

ONE would like to believe that once Marvel finally tied their various franchises together with Avengers Assemble, they'd do the decent thing and roll out an ensemble piece every two or three years.

But no, corporate greed is as corporate greed does, so in addition to the admittedly decent enough Iron Man 3 we've another instalment in the Captain America saga to come, preceded by this jumbled jigsaw of patched-together Norse mythology and comic book codswallop.

The first Thor movie was, in fairness, entertaining as these things go.

The fish-out-of water idea of having a god from Asgard wandering around the Earth doing battle with nasty aliens worked well up to a certain point.

But all was lost whenever director Kenneth Branagh resorted to moving the action to said mythical realm and we wound up with ridiculously clunky dialogue played out against what looked like a revolving backdrop of early 70s prog rock album covers. And, alas, it's the latter which predominates here.

Malevolent

A lengthy prologue tells us how back in the dim and distant past, a bunch of bad lads called the Dark Elves, led by Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston but really it could have been anyone under that get-up) sought to plunge the universe into darkness using some class of malevolent energy source called the Aether but were defeated by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Malekith was imprisoned for eternity.

Anyway, this sub-Lord of the Rings balderdash sets us up for the inevitable return of Malekith, whose Aether has somehow found a way of possessing scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), which leads to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returning from pacifying the Nine Realms to stop Earth being destroyed by the forces of the Dark Elves.

In doing so he's forced to enlist the help of his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the arch-trickster who's the only vaguely interesting character in the whole saga.

Even by Marvel's internal logic The Dark World is wildly inconsistent. Where are Thor's other Avengers pals?

As was the case with Iron Man 3, the events of Avengers Assemble are mentioned in the dialogue, so surely Bruce Banner, Tony Stark and the rest of the superheroes can see on their tellys that there's a bit of bother going down in old London town and give their hammer-wielding mate a bit of a dig-out?

Not a chance, it seems. Explain that to me, fanboys.

Admittedly there are a handful of mildly amusing moments to be enjoyed, particularly in the second half.

But by that stage we've been worn down and out by hammy acting – particularly from Hopkins – and endless exposition about a plot which differs little from that of the first film or, indeed, the aforementioned Avengers Assemble. God, will these things ever end?

2 STARS

PHILOMENA Drama: Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham, Michelle Fairley, Ruth McCabe, Sean Mahon, Sophie Kennedy-Clark. Director: Stephen Frears. Cert: 12A.

BASED on Martin Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Le, Philomena tells one aspect of a true story which resonates to this day, casting shame on the way in which the Catholic Church in Ireland colluded in the sale of 'unwanted' children to wealthy Americans in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

In this case the title character (played as a young woman by Sophie Kennedy-Clark) becomes pregnant out of wedlock and is sent to have her child with nuns in Roscrea in 1952 only for her son, Anthony, to be taken away at the age of three, never to be seen again.

Fast-forward to 2003 and the former BBC foreign correspondent Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is at a loose end having been sacked as a spin doctor for New Labour when he happens upon Philomena's story and eventually agrees to help her try and find out what happened to Anthony after he was taken away from her.

As the older Philomena, Judi Dench is in tremendous form, giving a performance that ranks among her best without ever showboating or over-egging a marvellously written part.

The screenplay that Coogan and Jeff Pope have come up with manages to combine elements of an odd couple road movie – as the unlikely pair travel to America to trace Anthony's life – with a genuine and righteous anger at the wrongs perpetrated by the Church.

It's a difficult balancing act to pull off, but with a director as unobtrusive as Stephen Frears behind the camera, the story is allowed to breathe and captivate the viewer, which it does with a deceptive and powerful punch.

4 STARS

THE NUN Drama: Starring Pauline Etienne, Isabelle Huppert, Francoise Lebrun, Louise Bourgoin, Martina Gedeck, Gilles Cohen. Director: Guillame Nicloux. Cert: 12A.

IT'S not a good week for portrayals of nuns in movies, with the anger most viewers will feel at their behaviour in Philomena matched here in this fetching adaptation of Denis Diderot's 1796 novel, a classic of the French Enlightenment.

Rising star Pauline Etienne is mesmerising as Suzanne Simonin, a 16-year-old sent to a nunnery by her parents who can't afford to marry her off but are shocked when their fervently religious daughter feels she doesn't have the necessary faith to dedicate her life to God.

What ensues is escalating abuse at the hands of a sadistic mother superior (Louise Bourgoin) before she's moved to another convent where that cloisters' mother superior (Isabelle Huppert) is more friendly, albeit with a rather unsaintly motive in mind. Beautifully shot and nicely paced, The Nun is a quality piece of work.

3 STARS

GLORIA Drama: Starring Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fonocilla, Fabiola Zamora, Hugo Moraga. Director: Sebastian Leilo. Cert: 15A.

THE latest offering from Chile's blossoming film industry is a thoughtful story about a divorced woman coming to terms with life in her mid-50s. Paulina Garcia is excellent in the title role as we see her devoted to her adult children and embarking on a relationship with fellow divorcee Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), albeit one he doesn't seem as committed to. One for the grown-ups.

3 STARS

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