By Benjamin Lane
Thor: The Dark World. (2013). Run Time:120 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content). Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins. Written by Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, and Steven McFeely. Directed by Alan Taylor.
It’s the year of comic book movies. No, wait. That’s every year now. Since 2008 we’ve gotten numbers two and three of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, three X-Men movies (two of which were Wolverine centered), two Kick-Ass movies, a Spider-Man reboot, a Superman reboot, and seven entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe which started in 2008 with Iron Man. Needless to say, business is a boomin’ for comic book material. 2013 has been a strong year for comic book films, what with Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine and Kick-Ass 2 (and a few others I won’t mention because they, well, weren’t that good.) And while those movies (with the exception of The Wolverine) stayed in the Amazing Spider-Man range (really good, but not great) and none of them reached the level of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises last year, it doesn’t change the fact that this year has provided comic book fans and movie fans with a year of solid, enjoyable entries. Now, though, when the superhero movie season should be over, we get Thor: The Dark World, right smack dab in the middle of Oscar season. It’s odd. But it got me pumped. I started thinking, “Maybe the studio saw greatness in it and thought it could fit in with the big boys of Oscar.” I expected greatness. I was wrong. Thor: The Dark World is not great. At all. But I love the headline of the review by Wired: “Thor: The Dark World isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be: it’s awesome.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Thor: The Dark World picks up a little while after The Avengers leaves off, Thor now back on Asgard, doing the things Thor is good at (flying through the nine realms, defending them with his magic hammer, etc. We know all about this.) Oh, but it’s a superhero movie, and not only that but a Marvel superhero movie so that means a baddie is sure to come onto the scene with plans to rule and/or destroy the universe. His name is Malekith, whom we learn about through an opening monologue by Odin, father of Thor, who discusses the battle between his ancestors’ forces against the evil Malekith. Usually, that tactic is a stale way of providing backstory, but it’s actually one of the best aspects of this movie. I loved the opening and found the story to be intriguing and it set up what was sure to be a terrific villain in the Marvel cannon. But how does that saying go? “Things don’t always turn out as you plan.” We’ll talk about it later. Basically, Malekith wants the Aether, a magic fluid/liquid/gas/vapor/thingy that can bring darkness to the universe. You know, Marvel stuff. Something happens that involves Jane, Thor’s human girlfriend of sorts, Loki steps into the picture, Stellan Skarsgard is running around naked on the news, Kat Dennings is her annoying self, and Thor hammers things. It’s all here in Thor 2.
I really enjoyed the first Thor movie, and even though it’s nowhere near Iron Man or The Avengers it still managed to be a thorough take on a difficult to adapt Marvel character, despite the saddening absence of Thor’s hammer throughout the movie’ run time. So, since the movie wasn’t great at all and it suffered lots of problems (the hammer absence was one for me, and also Kenneth Branagh’s diagonally focused camera shots got a bit annoying), all I really wanted going into this sequel of sorts was for it to be better than the first, and I really have no complaints. Not only does this movie have more action which feature stellar scenes of Thor throwing the hammer down, but it has a bit of a better story also, and acting, and directing. Selections of directors for these Marvel movies left some people scratching their heads. Jon Favreau, the guy who did Elf, is doing Iron Man? Weird. Joe Johnston of Jumanji to do Captain America? Weird! Shane Black to direct Iron Man 3? Strange choice Marvel. But when Joss Whedon was announced for The Avengers, everyone was on board, because Whedon is a fanboy. In the same way, when it was announced Alan Taylor was set to direct this Thor sequel, it gave lots of people lots of hope. Having previously directed numerous episodes of the fantastic fantasy series Game of Thrones on HBO, Taylor certainly has an eye for this kind of movie: fantasy, action packed, and full of Elizabethan-like dialect. It pays off. Taylor directs the action sequences with flare and delicacy, and he proves he was right choice for donning this film.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role for the third time as the hulking brute of a god Thor, son of Odin, who is sure to once again have the girls drooling themselves out of their seats. He’s great as Thor, and at this point it’s impossible to picture anyone else in the role. He’s just awesome. But, for us guys, we have Natalie Portman to stare at. She’s an incredibly sexy actress, incredibly talented as well, which makes it unfortunate that she is given so little to do here. I don’t want to say the film wastes her, but it comes close to to doing so. Get Kat Dennings out of here. Seriously. She’s annoying and no one likes her. That is all. Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin and he gives a good performance, as expected, along with Rene Russo and Jaime Alexander. I was glad to see Idris Elba get more screen time as Heimdall because, well, it’s Idris Elba. “We are canceling the apocalypse!” Stellan Skarsgard gives a sometimes laugh out loud funny performance as Erik, whom we’ve all grown to love I think. But, as everyone is already saying, the show stealing performance is that of Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The guy is just freaking awesome. It’s Loki! He’s one of the best villains out there in terms of movies, and he just rips apart every scene he’s in, whether he be emotionally wrenching, hilariously engaging, or just plain awesome. It’s interesting to see he and Thor team up here, and the interplay, which is credited to not only Hemsworth and Hiddleston’s chemisty but the writing as well, and those conversations are perhaps the best part of the entire movie. Some of the conversations they have are so, so, so funny and they sound like Whedon himself wrote them. It’s probably the funniest movie ever made with “Dark” in its title.
But the movie isn’t flawless, and it’s main flaw lies where movies like this tend to excel: the villain. Malekith is one of the weakest villains I’ve seen in a movie in years. After the awesome opening monologue, almost any threat he previously posed comes close to diminishing. It’s as if the writers got halfway through the script and forgot they should make the villain menacing because, well, he’s a villain for God’s sake! But nope. There’s nothing. Christopher Eccleston, whom I love from one of my favorite shows Doctor Who, is actually wasted, and it was a shame to see him unrecognizable, physically and vocally. I swear the only purpose he served in this movie was for an excuse to have the epic climax in which Thor does what Thor does best, and while it does leave you a bit cold, when you’re watching it, all you’re thoughts on the film’s flaws vanish. It’s just awesome to behold. But, the film is littered with other problems, involving an intern and his relationship with Kat Denning’s character and a new relationship between Jane and some guy. Both of those little side plots could have been eradicated and the film would have not only been unaffected, but maybe better. Other little things are scattered throughout, including a death scene that really doesn’t reach the emotional heights the filmmakers expected it too, but you know what? This is Thor 2. There is no room, rhyme, or reason for complaining. This is just nerdtastic movie making that is sure to please. (By the way, be sure to stay for the mid credits scene… and after credits. It’s strange, but it’s a glimpse of how big this franchise is going to get. I’m stoked.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Thor: The Dark World isn’t as good as, say The Wolverine, Iron Man 3, or Man of Steel, but who ever said it had to be? It’s Thor in a stand alone movie. He isn’t a character than can be expected to be in a movie as well done as some of the other stand alones of The Avengers, but of the two released so far, this one exceeds it for sure. Thanks to Tom Hiddleston being the best he’s been in the role of Loki, Chris Hemsworth’s awesome portrayal of the titular character, the interplay between the two, awesome action scenes, and it all happening under Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor, Thor: The Dark World overcomes a tragically weak villain and unnecessary side plots and is a welcome, but not great, entry into the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.