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Thor: The Dark World… wait it already has a subtitle.

November 9, 2013

Thor is one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel universe. Not because the actual character is particularly interesting, he is certainly unique but the role he serves in most stories is fairly straightforward. What makes him interesting is how different writers will make use of him and how much they develop him. Most simply use him as a flying brick, a term to reference a tough/strong character who can fly, and his eccentricities (in the comics he speaks like an actor in a Shakespearean play) are just there to differentiate him.

Occasionally though someone will come along and be like, “Let’s talk about Asgard,” or say, “Let’s grapple with the fact that both Thor and Hercules are a part of the Marvel Universe and define what Gods are.” These forays are what has given us a lot of the mythology that forms the basis of the movie version of Thor. Namely the idea that the Asgardians are essentially hyper-advanced aliens of some kind, and their God-hood is more of a misunderstanding by humans and less an attempt to actually rule. They ride Clarke’s Third Law so hard that it’s practically fetishized (or depending on the writer, they actually have both highly advanced technology and highly advanced magic).

All of this is why I was kind of curious how Thor would be handled in the films. I enjoyed the first movie, it wasn’t particularly complex or mind-blowing but it didn’t need to be. Actually the fact that it essentially was a very simple character piece with a very clear arc, a clear cut villain, and only a couple of other important characters is what made it good. After all, the very premise of the film, that Asgardians are real and hyper-advanced aliens, is a lot of science fiction/comic book nonsense for most people to swallow. The straight story made for a movie that while not astoundingly amazing, was at the end of the day, a good use of your ninety or so minutes.

Thor: The Dark World digs a bit deeper into the mythos of Thor, and spends a lot more time dealing with the Realms that aren’t Earth. The story focuses around another Doomsday Device known as the Ether which apparently can destroy all of existence. Like all Doomsday Devices relating to Thor this one is actually supremely ancient and long thought destroyed when in reality it was simply locked away somewhere where no one would ever find it.

After some very wonderfully shot action sequences that remind us of just how awesome Thor is at beating people up, we jump to Natalie Portman on a date with Chris O’Dowd (Roy from The IT Crowd) which is a fantastic scene. From this strange but hilarious moment the story on Earth quickly expands bringing back the other important humans from the last film (Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard) who are all trying to understand recent physics phenomenon that ultimately relate to the final showdown at the end of the film. Things heat up when Portman becomes injected with the Ether after accidentally getting sucked into a Theoretical Physics Hole.

Thor comes to save the day, the villain arrives, and the real plot and action sequences ramp up along with the pacing. I will admit that when this movie started I wasn’t exactly enthralled. It felt like it was going in every direction at once while trying to cram in jokes because Marvel movies must have jokes regardless of how much the world is in danger. However, once the actual plot begins in earnest, the action and story take us along for a fairly enjoyable ride.

I think the main problem with this film comes from a lack of a particularly strong villain. Loki’s shadow, and fan favoritism, looms heavy over the whole thing but he’s stuck playing second fiddle to Malekith (Christopher Eccleston in heavy make up spewing gibberish). While Malekith’s desire to destroy everything is established in the first five minutes of the movie, I never really got a sense of why he wants to destroy everything other than he is a Dark Elf and that is what Dark Elves do. I mean, come on, they have the word Dark right in their name!

Overall though the movie is saved by an all star cast playing characters that are well written and can make going to the bathroom sound as epic as fighting waves upon waves of men while bleeding internally. The other key thing that makes this movie great is the art direction. Everything looks distinct and amazing. You get a sense of the different cultures and factions through their clothing and equipment. The fact that the plot is once again fairly simple, the villain a tad cliché, and the hero slightly less so, can all be forgiven.

Especially when you remember that you’re only really watching this because it’s a part of something larger. Or because it’s the only family friendly action movie out in November besides Ender’s Game, which you probably saw last week because it was a family friendly action movie that came out the day after Halloween. It’s definitely worth the price of admission but you won’t kick yourself for missing it in theaters.

Read on for spoilers and nitpicking!

**********************************

Chariots! Chariots! How are you doing, superfans?!

I think the first thing that I really want to talk about, because I’ve seen this idea being floated around, is the concept of accessibility. Some people are wondering if Marvel’s shared universe experiment will eventually start to harm them because everything will become too truncated to actually make sense. Thor: The Dark World dismisses that notion fairly well because it is essentially a closed film. Yes, it is still a sequel and thus Loki’s previous actions as well as the romance between Thor and Foster (Portman) are both a part of this film. However, there’s little to no references to any of the Iron Man movies or Marvel Agents of SHIELD or any of the other facets of this infinitely expanding universe. Perhaps one day this question might be valid but I have a feeling that by the time that happens we’ll be hearing words like reboot being flung around.

Like I said above, the main problem here is actually that this is a sequel to both Thor and The Avengers. Loki is here but he is not actively scheming, the film reveals at the end that he uses the ongoing events to free himself and steal the throne of Asgard but he isn’t the villain here. Christopher Eccleston is and while Eccleston is a fine actor this part clearly could have been performed by anyone halfway decent.

He barely speaks in a real language for any length in the film, and the fake language they’re speaking does seem to just be gibberish. I don’t want to believe that they literally just had the actors saying nonsense to each other but I tried to listen for reoccurring words or sentence structure and it was all in vain. Maybe my ears are just not well trained enough to pick it up or maybe they really just didn’t care but for some reason this bothered me throughout the entirety of the movie.

So the villain doesn’t really have a voice in this movie, and his only goal is to destroy everything which while that certainly raises the stakes and puts things on the line, it’s fairly simplistic and silly. It’s a weak motivation especially following Loki’s various antics in the previous films, and Thor’s struggle for character growth in the first movie. I don’t know what they could have done instead but as I said, the action is shot well enough that it makes you forget.

Even when it’s not particularly threatening action. I’ve talked about the lack of tension in Marvel movies when discussing Iron Man 3 and I felt it again here. In any scene where Thor is fighting someone that hasn’t already been established as a nigh unstoppable killing machine you know he is going to win and it’s just a matter of watching the process (like an episode of House). The other thing is that in this movie we see a lot of ‘normal’ Asgardians fighting Dark Elves and it’s often just a slaughter. Why? Because we know that in Asgard the more of a badass you are the higher you rank in society. If you’re just some nameless guard, you are just a delaying tactic till one of the heroes who has songs written about them shows up (and there are plenty of those in Asgard). This does ensure that every secondary character has plenty of moments to be amazing (Idris Elba fights an invisible spaceship like it’s nothing) but it means that there are a lot of scenes that are just there to show us action of no consequence.

Also, Eccleston’s character was established as not-a-badass which severely lowered his threat level, at least until he obtains his Doomsday Device that also makes him more of a force to be reckoned with because this is an action movie. Still though, his plan hinges on being in the right place at the right time, and all the heroes have to do is delay him (they basically even say this at one point). The only reason he starts to succeed is because Thor ends up in the London Underground and rather than walking out, summoning Mjilnor and flying back, he decides to take the damn tube to the battle site (the fact that the tube is still running shocks me in retrospect). While it was funny, I thought it more than a little silly what with the fate of the universe as we know it hanging by a thread.

These of course are the complications that are starting to occur with Marvel movies. We need to up the stakes after The Avengers. We need to make things more impressive looking. We need to have humor because we’re known for injecting humor into our movies (quick aside: it’s really a shame Marvel let Spider-Man slip from their grasp because that’s a character whose franchise could use more of it). All of this and other factors combines to create high bars for these movies. The strain of living up to these expectations is starting to hurt them and I hate to say it but I’m starting to get excited with the idea of moving past these characters.

Leave the big guys for when you want to do a big movie, and bring us newer fare that builds and expands the world. In other words, the more of these post-Avengers films I watch the more I’m ready for Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and of course Ant-Man (I have been waiting on Ant-Man for several years now). Given the news about Netflix making a deal with Disney to host several television series relating to the ‘street-level heroes’ of Marvel, including two of my favorites Luke Cage and Iron Fist*, it sounds like Marvel is ready to move on too.

For now though, these movies aren’t bad and I don’t think they ever will be. Thor: The Dark World is fun and it’s great for a cold day. I also can’t praise the visuals and art direction enough. Still, it’s just not The Avengers and that can be problematic.

*: Fun fact- a friend and I once dressed as them for a costume party.

Update: The language being spoken is an actually constructed language, so the answer was I just couldn’t hear any repeating phrases.  Good to know, see the comment below for explanation.

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From → Movies

One Comment
  1. A couple of minor quibbles —

    1) The elves are said to have lived in the darkness that existed before the current universe, and they’re trying to bring back that darkness so that their society can live again. It’s still kind of a silly, poorly-defined motivation, but I think it’s at least a little more substantial than you’ve described it here.

    2) The language the elves are speaking is an “actual” language rather than gibberish. (Actual in quotes because as a conlang it’s obviously still artificial.) David J. Peterson, the same linguist who designed Dothraki for Game of Thrones and the various languages on SyFy’s Defiance, is the one who came up with the grammar. If you’re curious about it, he’s usually pretty good about responding to questions on his tumblr, http://dedalvs.tumblr.com/

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