Review: Thor: The Dark World
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Stellen Skarrsgard, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levy, Idris Elba, and Ray Stevenson
Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (and a little help from Joss Whedon)
Directed by Alan Taylor
Marvel has certainly taken other comic-based film properties to school in the last 6 years (I’m looking at you DC) in terms of product, marketing, and a focused long term goal. As a fan of this world of characters, I’m astonished that Marvel has successfully developed their brand into a cinematic Juggernaut and basically dared every other company out there to try and compete with them. This trend happily continues in the disjointed but more often-than-not satisfying second entry in the series starring our favorite Norse God, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Thor: The Dark World follows the prototype that Marvel has used in every film they’ve produced, misses the mark on a few key targets, polarizes a limited amount of their audience with needless 3-D, but delivers the thrills and spectacle that you’ve come to expect from the Marvel universe.
I don’t feel any need to summarize the narrative for “Thor: The Dark World” as it is no different from the other films in this serialized Marvel universe. They all have the same generalized story and are merely a continuation of one another, the EXACT cinematic manifestation of the comics many of us read when we were young and expected to see onscreen. The story is quite simple: Continuing after the events of the first film and the superhero orgy that was “The Avengers”, we catch up with all the characters we missed, a new villain with simple motives is introduced, a McGuffin is presented that will grant unlimited power to the wrong individual who can harness it, a secondary conflict between our protagonist is briefly touched upon, death is foreshadowed, and away we go! It doesn’t get any more difficult than that and frankly it doesn’t need to.
Much like Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth has come to a point where he is synonymous with the titular character and not such a douche this time around. Although his performance in September’s “Rush” is vastly superior, I attribute his performance in T:TDW to script doctoring and an un-interesting central conflict. He still fully embodies the Norse God with the biggest guns around, and plays well off every other performance in the film, it’s just his only conflict of the film is one we have already explored (Loki) and his philosophical musings on the prospect of being King of Asgard. The simple plot keeps us from really exploring the psychology of these personal struggles, but then again we didn’t come here for a lesson in Psychology, we came for Hammer Time!
Tom Hiddleston once again acts circles around every other talent in this film. H’s the most interesting character in the series, by a wide margin, and an argument can certainly be made that he is the lynchpin to the entire Marvel cinematic universe. Once he or Robert Downey Jr. inevitably steps away from this world for greener pastures, there will be a dimensional-portal sized hole that will need to be filled.
I feel as though Natalie Portman’s Oscar-level talent is again wasted in this series. Much like the first entry, there are a few genuine moments that convince me there is effort being given, but I have deduced she wasn’t too pleased with her story arc this time around. For the majority of the film, her world-renowned astro-physicist is relegated to “Damsel in Distress” clichés instead of using her scientific knowledge to rationalize the more fantastical elements of the narrative. There is an attempt at this very point on a few occasions, but it’s merely for moments of comedic relief and to give the audience a reason for her place in the final set piece.
Due to the lack of thematic balance in “T:TDW” we are left with a very one dimensional villain who could’ve used said additional supportive exposition to strengthen his motivation, as opposed to beating us over the head with basic information when multiple characters all state what we already know…”Malekith is evil, Malekith wants to return the universe to darkness, Malekith is very cool looking, and did we mention he’s evil?”
His motivations are never fleshed out or understood, his small army of minions are nothing more than cannon fodder as dangerous a threat as the single henchman Michael Caine deliciously monologues into submission in the third Austin Powers entry, and his biggest weapon is his accent. His primary henchman Algrim, who becomes the last Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) illicits modest enjoyment, but this is a rare instance where I would have enjoyed the use of CG to make him larger and more imposing, instead of the practical effects that made him more NFL Defensive End then otherworldly killing-machine. He honestly could’ve been Detroit Lion Ndamakong Suh and I wouldn’t have been the wiser! I enjoyed watching Malekith’s CG effects, practical make-up, and actions unfold on-screen, but he is nothing more than a second-rate Bond villain in this film. Larry David is a more convincing villain than Malekith and his army.
With the criminal exception of Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), a member of the Warrior’s Three, the secondary characters in T:TDW are still underused, but a concerted effort is made this time around to include everyone and that effort services the narrative well. All are given moments to stand out and leave an impact on the story, just some more than others. If the titular hero had any sort of personal struggle or conflict aside from those I mentioned before, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the under-usage of such a fine cast. But I digress, the film gets more than enough right, or just enough to distract my inner child that my minor nit-pickings subside.
Aside from the opening battle that feels disjointed, rushed and frankly more of an excuse to remove 3 important secondary characters for much of the first half, there were several action-oriented moments of awe in “Thor” that I’ve only felt a handful of times in the Marvel films. The special-effects driven sequences are clear and easy to follow, and really serve the direction of the narrative, instead of being a distraction. The last 35 minutes of the film moves at breakneck pace and not only helps the viewer forget the middling first act, but provides grand spectacle in showcasing Thor’s different combat abilities and power of flight. I knew they had nailed Thor’s many comic-rooted action beats by the excited fanfare in the form of dozens of fan-boys behind us in attendance. Because just like them, I’ve been reading and imagining a cinematic world in my head for almost 25 years where superheroes like Thor, and to a lesser extent Iron Man, use the power of flight only seen on paper and ink. We’re in a golden age folks, so enjoy it!
Although there is much to like in T:TDW, the weakest point this time around is the script. It seems some of the production controversy and gossip surrounding the Marvel’s lack of confidence in the director seems warranted, no more obvious then the multiple moments in the film that forcibly tie “Thor” into the Marvel Wheelhouse. There are just far too many tongue-in-cheek moments where I KNOW Joss Whedon doctored the script and inserted dialogue to keep a film that could have presented a more dramatic and serious tone. This time around I would have preferred that tonal shift as a direct continuation of the events of “the Avengers”, much like the third Iron Man touched upon a handful of times throughout the film before finally being wrestled into the prototypical Marvel film we’ve come to expect.
Not much else needs to be said concerning the direction from Alan Taylor. His debut feature proves he can make a functional action film from lesser writing talent using the experience he learned from his many years directing several cable series on HBO. I like his work on the smaller screen much more, but did appreciate the few call-backs he made to his work on “Game of Thrones” (Flaming arrows!). From a technical standpoint, I was neutral in the look, sound, and feel. At this point, there are a few certainties in this universe we can look past. Marvel films look fantastic. The glossy look of Asgard was missing this time around, but it didn’t bother me. Marvel films also have great rousing scores that’s use of horns and crescendos slighter differ based on which fighter’s corner we happened to be standing in. My favorites to date are still the scores from “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3”, but I’m a sucker for Alan Silvestri. The music and sound in T:TDW is operatic and theatrical in nature, and it served the film well.
I watched T:TDW in IMAX-3D and in several instances removed my glasses and noticed almost no difference in image. The 3D in T:TDW was never intended, the film wasn’t shot with it in mind, and the director himself openly stated his distaste in its use. That being said, strong advocates of 3-D will be happy to know the brightness has been cranked up to support the loss that occurs in the 3-D transfer but aside from that, I will only recommend the extra cost for the privilege of seeing an extended sequence from the upcoming “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. I’m still salivating from that scene and next April can’t come soon enough.
To briefly touch on what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel Film, the teaser scenes in the credits do their best to both set up the future story-lines for all Marvel properties, and offer a humorous finish much like “The Avengers”. Tying up plot holes is something we as an audience are rarely treated to in this particular world and it was a nice touch.
While I’ve made it clear that T:TDW does have its fair share of issues, it’s an ultimately satisfying entry in the Marvel series and successfully captures everything that’s great about the character. A badly foreshadowed but highly entertaining ending leaves the series on sure footing, making me excited for the inevitable third entry. Till next time…