Film Review: Thor: The Dark World

 

Via Papyrus

 
I’m a little late to the Thor: The Dark World party, having only seen it yesterday for the first time. But I’m going to throw in my tuppence, anyway, just because I have some thoughts to share with you.

Thor: The Dark World, or Thor 2, is the much anticipated sequel to Thor, the Marvel phase one movie that set up the origins of the Asgardian hammer wielder for the Avengers collective. I won’t go much into the background of the film, because I suspect most of you know it already, but it’s important to note that Thor 2 along with Iron Man 3 represent the first part of Marvel’s phase two, which will ultimately lead to Avengers 2.

I was excited to see Thor 2, but I have to admit leaving the cinema a little unsure of what to think. I definitely enjoyed the film, some parts were especially awesome, but I can’t say that it was the best film I’ve ever seen. Not that you’d necessarily expect it to be, and if you went in expecting purest art then I don’t think you really understand the point of comic book movies, but that’s another discussion for another time. Thor 2 doesn’t quite deliver in the same way as its series predecessor, Thor, and doesn’t anywhere near approach Avengers in quality. But let’s have a look at what went right with it.

The casting is much the same as Thor, with most of the original characters returning. I’m not going to lavish extensive praise on each actor individually, but everyone who was a returning character did a great job and really added to the feel of the movie. If I had to pick out two actors that did really good jobs, I’d be hard pressed, but I’d probably go for Rene Russo as Queen Frigga and Idris Elba as Heimdall. A special mention also to Jaimie Alexander who plays the Lady Sif, but there’s a bugbear I have with that character that I’ll come to later.

Overall the film looks very pretty, (spoiler alert) particularly the funeral following the death of Frigga, which is really beautiful, even if mostly computer generated. Asgard still looks as amazing as ever and the honeycomb style shields and prison cells fit perfectly with the bronze coloured buildings. There are some excellent visual set pieces and good use of CGI that doesn’t hurt the eyes and brain too much. I particularly liked the part where Thor casually throws aside a cloak, hurls himself off a balcony, twisting to catch Mjolnir in his hand and fly away. Stepping into Branagh’s shoes is not necessarily an easy job, but Alan Taylor makes a reasonable go of it. Asgard retains its epic look and there are some nice uses of the London locations as well.

Humour was important to the first film, along with that epic Viking saga feel, and that hasn’t changed since the first one. Humour pervades the film, most of it centring around Thor and Loki’s interactions, arguing like siblings, but there are one liners aplenty from most characters. Stellan Skarsgård also makes up the bulk of the farcical comedy, with some interesting visual set pieces.

The film is reasonably well paced, keeping focus on character rather than outright action and there wasn’t a moment where I felt bored or that the film was dragging even at its quite long length.

Okay, so that was the good stuff, what went wrong?

For me the biggest let down is the script. Whilst the humour has been retained, I struggled to find it as witty as the original or as well written. It certainly doesn’t measure up to the original Thor’s standard and it’s miles away from the standard of Avengers. The bantering between Loki and Thor is funny, but at times a bit weak and it seems like the massive spaceship escape plan was only done so there could be this humourous back and forth to give Tom Hiddlestone lots of new quips. Sadly, they’re not as good as they could be. But it’s not just the humour, the whole script feels clunky in places and it’s almost as if the scriptwriters don’t want you to know anything about anything for long chunks and then dump some exposition on you all in one garbled line.

Characterisation was fine for the big hitters, but though we get more of the Warriors Three and Lady Sif, these characters are underused and just not really needed. One of them, Hogun, appears only in an opening sequence on Vanaheim, introducing Thor once more, and then decides to stay there, so we only see him look on in concern as some missiles jump through a portal and blow up there. I can understand the downplaying of Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral – after all, they’re Thor’s buddies, but they’re not themselves directly concerned with Earth, but Sif is so underused it’s criminal. Jaimie Alexander is a fantastic actor and I really think she ought to have been made more of. There’s clearly a plot going on where Odin feels she would be a better companion for Thor than Jane, and she also seems to have a similar feeling. There’s a great moment where Sif passes Jane in a corridor on Asgard and there follows a tense and emotive stare between them, but nothing’s made of it really. It’s a shame, because it could have moved the plot in a completely different direction.

Which is another problem. The plot. Well, it’s okay and it’s enough to hold you in, but everything feels a bit rushed. Characters make decisions for very stupid reasons (not in a believable way). We don’t really get to grips with things. I thought, and maybe this was just my poor understanding, that the dark world the title referred to would be the world on which the aether was hidden by Thor’s grandfather following the defeat of the Dark Elves, but it seems actually to refer to Svartalfheim. We never see where the aether was stored or why that was a good place to put it. Thor’s grandfather is seen giving the explicit instruction to hide it somewhere no one would find it, but if there are portals to this place that open up around the time of the convergence then what does it matter where you hide it, particularly when your enemy can sense it? I’d say that the Asgardians believed all the Dark Elves dead, but then why hide it at all? To keep the Asgardians from using it? Well, Asgard seems to have a number of secret vaults and secure places, why can’t they just keep it there if the main people who wanted its power are dead and gone? Since the aether is the primary mcguffin of the film and the whole plot centres around it, I’d have liked a bit more information about where and why it was stored, and how Jane came to be there and so on and so forth. It seems glossed over.

Personally, I think it should have been stored on earth, which would have made sense I think. At the time the Asgardians were mostly influential on our culture, humanity was less widespread and more easily influenced away from remote areas. Similarly, it would have given the Asgardians reason to draw away from Earth (explaining their absence since the ninth/tenth centuries AD), so that no one would think to look there for said aether, presuming anyone wanted it, and also would give Odin more of a reason to worry about Thor’s engagement and interaction with Midgard. It then gives an actual reason why Jane might find it (rather than elaborate coincidence) and a reason for Malekith, the chief villain, to come to Earth to set about his evil master plan at the time of the convergence.

That brings us on to one of my other dislikes about the movie: the villain. It’s not that the villain is a bad one, far from it, and Christopher Ecclestone does a great job, but it’s that we don’t actually see him for most of the movie. Each section on the Dark Elf ship seems to take 30 seconds of film time and then we’re back to Thor and the gang doing whatever it is they’re doing. We never see any particular development for Malekith, he’s just set up as a de facto bad guy, much in the same way that Red Skull is in Captain America. He’s sort of a Nazi and therefore bad. Malekith wants to destroy the nine realms because…because he does. It’s said that it’s because the nine realms are in the light and the Dark Elves came in darkness, but so? They seem to be perfectly able to function in light and possibly able to visit the nine realms. What difference does it make to them? Why do they want the light realms gone? What impact does it have on them as a culture or race that they so need to wipe out the nine realms in totality? We don’t know. They just do and no one at any point argues with Malekith about this, even when he destroys almost all his race just to live to see the next convergence. Malekith feels a bit like Nero from Star Trek (2012); things happened to his planet and he’s waiting for his revenge on the perpetrators – the Asgardians. But it seems like the Asgardians seem only to have intervened to stop the nine realms being destroyed. There is no record or report of why this all kicked off in the first place.

To offer a personal thought again, I think maybe it would have made more sense if Asgard and the other nine realms had done something particularly major to the Dark Elves which made them hate them. Something that gave them a bit more reason to hate the light and those who live in it. Otherwise, it’s just wanton destruction for no good reason. That too could have tied in to the plot point about Thor rejecting the throne because of what it turns you into: it makes you do fairly morally ambiguous things to keep people safe. Exterminating a whole race of Dark Elves, for example, just because you’re at war with them and they own a super-weapon, which you can just take from them in 3 seconds and at the cost of 3 soldiers because you have the Bifrost. It’s all a bit stitched together and I don’t think it’s that believable. I’d also like to know a bit more about the Kursed and what that means and why people volunteer for it. Villains need to be 3D or defeating them seems a bit foregone and unsatisfying.

Similarly, the aether is not a particularly strong mcguffin. It doesn’t really do anything of much use. we get the idea that it is a thing of awesome power, but all we see it do is protect Jane/itself from harm whenever someone but Thor touches her. That, incidentally, is never explained. Why can Thor touch her? Is it because of their relationship? Because of his power? Or is it because he is the only one not trying to hurt her? It’s never really explained and I think that’s one thing the whole film lacks – enough explanation of what and why.

Minor nitpicking, but I didn’t like the character of the intern – Ian – whose role could clearly have been taken up by Chris O’Dowd’s underused character, which I think would have been better. Not only is Chris O’Dowd a much funnier and better actor, but it just makes more sense with the set up. The intern just wanders about having very poor dialogue and though he saves Darcy’s life, there’s no real build up to that point or sign that he cares at all. It’s also never resolved. Similarly, despite the use of iconic locations in London, there’s no real nod to Britain at all. An alien invasion prompts the response of only 2 fighter jets and the police only appear in a scene early on in the movie trying to arrest Jane for trespassing, which isn’t a criminal offence in England and Wales anyway. It’s disappointing that Avengers gave NYPD such a key role in helping remove civilians from the Chitauri invasion (and deservedly so, given the emergency service response to incidents in real life New York), but it was a shame that British emergency services didn’t get a look in to a full on alien attack on the nation’s capital.

There are a lot of plot holes, that I’m not going to go into, (Frigga has powers that were never mentioned before, for example) but there was a lot where I thought this could be different and it would make a hell of a lot more sense. One thing, I will wrap this up on is to say that all the way through the movie I was expecting Jane Foster to pick up Mjolnir. I think that would have been a nice way to wrap up a few storylines – it proves Jane’s worthiness to be Thor’s companion, despite other’s negative view of her humanity, which should resolve things for Odin and Sif. Second it would be a good way to tie Thor to Earth more and make her more of a target and so on. It didn’t happen, but it would’ve been awesome.

Marvel, if you need me, you know where I am.

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