Thoughts on Thor: The Dark World
I remain utterly fascinated and impressed with how successfully Marvel Studios has adapted their comic book heroes and villains to film. They are certainly not without flaws, but they are never less than entertaining and are doing worldbuilding in ways we’ve never seen in feature film before.
The comic book tricks of the trade, I knew, could work really well for television which is serialized like comics. But subplotting and seed planting across a variety of franchises is unheard of. The delicate balance has to be maintained between servicing the individual franchise as well as the larger universe. Thor: The Dark World builds nicely off both Thor and The Avengers while leaving threads for the next chapters in each series. But, does it work well enough as a Thor story with beginning, middle, and end? Yes, for the most part.
It has been two years since Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and she and Darcy (Kat Dennings) have busied themselves with scientific work. When we first see her, she is on her first real date since meeting the Norse God and she’s preoccupied, still pining for him. When Darcy provides her with a distraction, she bolts, and in the process winds up absorbing something called the ether, an ancient power that predates the universe and is loose because the once-every-5000-year alignment of the nine worlds is coming.
But not only is the ether released, so is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the Dark Elf whose sole goal is to plunge the universe back into its primordial darkness. He was last defeated by Bor (Tony Curran), Odin’s father, and hungers for revenge. Obviously, you see where this is going. Thor, meantime, has been protecting the realm, hammering out justice as needed, although appears to be arriving as the closer, letting the Warriors Three – Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg )Ray Stevenson), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – along with Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) do most of the fighting. He can no longer enjoy their post-battle revels and broods in the company of Heimdall (Idris Elba), thinking of Jane. Right there, we have a weakness in the film.
The Warriors and Sif have expanded roles, as do Frigga (Rene Russo) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) that means Thor is left unexplored. We’re given glimpses of his internal struggles but never really get below the surface, close to his raging heart. Similarly, when Thor finds Jane and brings her to Asgard to deal with the ether, her reactions to her surroundings and his parents are appropriate but all too brief. There needed to be time for her to be with them.
And then there’s Loki. Tom Hiddleston is so good as the trickster god that he threatens to steal any scene he is in, even just by watching from afar. His character ark is fascinating and worthy of further explanation but is also slight. The evolving relationship between foster brothers is fascinating and I wanted to see more. Instead, we have to worry about Malekith and his own strongman, Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). In Walt Simonson’s telling, it was all about the Cask of Ancient Winter, but in Hollywood that’s not big enough so all of reality has to be threatened. And despite their inaction over five millennium, the elves are way too successful at attacking Asgard.
As envisioned by Jack Kirby, Marvel’s Asgard has always been a gleaming place where magic and traditional hold forth but with just enough science fiction to make it unique. Here, as adapted by screenwriters Chris Yost and Stephen McFeely and director Alan Taylor, the elves and Asgardians have projectile weapons, high tech flying vessels and other accoutrement more appropriate to a space opera than Norse myth. It proved irksome throughout the film. Of course, Earth is the focal point for the climax and interestingly, it’s the humans who truly save the day. Much as it fell to Black Widow and Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) to shut down the dimensional rift in The Avengers, it’s Selvig, Jane, Darcy, and Intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) to really stop Malekith. It’s a nice message from Marvel to its audience.
Overall, the story is epic and worthy of the source material and as the end credits rolled, I was left wanting more character moments, but was pretty happy. The second end credit sequence, also nicely mixed romance and humor, putting a button on the series for now (with no date scheduled for a third installment, it’s not happening any time soon). The first sequence, though, sets up the meta-arc of Thanos and the Infinity Gems, nicely turning the jewels into artifacts (the Tesseract/cosmic cube and the box containing the ether) and leads directly into next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Sif and Volstagg turn the box over to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and it’s too bright, too cluttered, and feels off so I can why Taylor has carped to the press about it. I remain entertained and thrilled to see superheroics handled with deft action, good performances and a wink and nod to the fans with surprise cameos and references. It makes next year’s films all the more eagerly-anticipated.