Thor: The Dark World: REVIEW

thor_posterby Aaron Einhorn
Marvel is now two films in to “Phase Two” of their cinematic universe. “Phase One” was unquestionably strong, with good box office takes and even better critical reviews of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and decent results from The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2.

And, of course, The Avengers.

The first film in Phase Two, Iron Man 3 was met with mixed reactions. I liked it more than many, but while the film was almost certainly a success, it wasn’t the same kind of instant sensation that the original Iron Man was. Marvel was therefore banking quite a lot behind Thor: The Dark World, and especially in the charisma and good looks of its stars, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki).

I was lucky enough to catch a preview screening of the film on Monday. So, how was it?

odin_thorSynopsis

Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of Marvel’s Thor and Marvel’s The Avengers, Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos… but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. To defeat an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor sets upon his most dangerous and personal journey yet, forced into an alliance with the treacherous Loki to save not only his people and those he loves… but our universe itself.

malekithThe Film

There are some truly wonderful things that are done in Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth has transformed from the petulant godling we saw at the beginning of Thor into a true hero. He’s self-assured, but not cocky; patient with those around him; and a devoted son and brother. This version of Thor will be familiar to readers of the comic. The other members of the cast are equally skilled, although some characters get more screen time than they deserve, while others are painfully ignored when they shouldn’t be.

A notable addition is, of course, Tom Hiddleston as the Trickster god, Loki. Hiddleston has stolen the screen in every scene he has played as this character for two films now, and that continues in Thor: The Dark World. Loki is magnetic and captivating, whether he is trading barbs with Thor’s companions, acting indifferent while imprisoned in a cell, or truly caught in the grip of emotion. The fortunate news is that we are very unlikely to be finished with seeing Loki after this movie.

The action moves effortlessly between the otherworldly realms of Asgard and Svartalfheim to our own Midgard (also known as Earth), and Director Alan Taylor’s knowledge of how to film fantasy from Game of Thrones is on fine display here. Action is mixed well with drama, and most of the humor works.

It is also nice that Jane gets more to do this time around, and her scientific knowledge helps tip the scale of the battle at the film’s end. This almost makes up for the fact that Jane spends nearly the entire second act of the film as the McGuffin – the thing that everyone wants – and not really a character.

lokiThe Good

With only a few exceptions, the cast absolutely makes this film. I’ve already praised Hemsworth and Hiddleston, and it should go without saying that Sir Anthony Hopkins is wonderful. Idris Elba gets to flex his muscles a bit more this time around as Heimdall, and although their scenes are all too brief, the Warriors Three and Sif each have several nice character moments where they get to shine.

Portman’s Jane Foster also has some excellent moments, while Stellan Skarsgard gets to show us a brilliant man who has been destroyed mentally by his past encounters with the gods. Although painfully underutilized, Christopher Eccleston manages to give us a nice portrayal of Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves, as does Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim/Kurse.

What was an amazingly refreshing stroke in the characterization column was Renee Russo as Frigga, queen of the gods and mother to both Thor and Loki. In her we can see why Loki may reject Odin as a father, but never rejects that she is his mother, and she has a truly inspiring scene reminding us of just why Odin picked her to be his bride. Some of the most effective dramatic moments of the movie involve her.

It’s also worth noting that there are many moments involving Loki that are hilarious. As in, laugh-out-loud funny. Expect to see lots of Loki quotes coming out of this film as memes on Facebook. And the cameos are superb. Stan Lee once again gets to appear, and there is a member of the Avengers crew that gets some additional time to shine – acting very out of character, but in an entirely appropriate way.

jane_diningThe Bad

Underutilization. There is no other way to say it. Thor: The Dark World has enough different plot elements that it means that some of them simply do not get explored. Why do the Dark Elves wish to destroy everything and return to Darkness? Well, because they’re Dark Elves. No other explanation is given. Eccelston is amazing, but he gets so little time to actually show us who Malekith is, and never gets to deliver dialogue in English.

Similarly, there is an interesting side-romance to be developed involving Sif, which is given lip-service, but then is dropped almost entirely. There are many moments involving Jane Foster and Sif that could have been explored using this theme, but they’re not there. Maybe they were filmed and left on the cutting-room floor, but it left me wishing that they had simply never even brought up the idea that Thor should be with Sif.

As I mentioned above, The Warriors Three are each played well, and it’s nice to see Zachary Levi as Fandral, but they could almost have been cut from the film for as much as they have to do – and in fact, Hogun departs their company in his first scene.

The pacing of the second act is also really off. The film starts strong, but by the time Loki, Thor and Jane leave Asgard, I found myself severely losing interest, even almost nodding off in the theatre. It picked up again at the film’s climax, but it was still a tough half-hour or so to get through.

darkelvesThe Ugly

Darcy. Oh… Darcy. I’ve been a fan of Kat Dennings in the past, and quite enjoyed her in the first Thor. But this time around, I found myself frequently wishing she would just shut up and go away. There was literally nothing she did that couldn’t have been accomplished by Jane alone, and the inclusion of Darcy’s intern was both uninteresting and took time away from the story elements that should have been expanded on.

jaimie-alexander-sif-thor-dark-world1Final Thoughts

My main thoughts about Thor: The Dark World are that the film is in the realm of “If this had come out in the 90s or early 2000s when we had so many terrible superhero films in a row, this would have been hailed as the Second Coming.” But now that we’ve had some legitimately amazing films? This one was just ok.

It’s not awful by any means. The plot is serviceable, the action is decent, and it’s filmed well. There are some legitimately touching scenes, and most of the humor was fun.

But the pacing is off. The film lacks urgency. The Dark Elves never have any motivating factor other than “They’re dark. They like darkness.” They have a little bit of a revenge plot motivation, but that’s just because the first time they wanted to destroy everything and create darkness, the Asgardians stopped them.

Did I regret watching it? Not at all. And I’ll see it again and purchase it on Blu-Ray. But in my opinion, this may be the weakest of the seven films Marvel has put out. I still enjoyed it more than I have any of DC’s offerings since Watchmen and The Dark Knight, but I’d rather watch the original Thor, Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger over this one.

This may spell a sign of trouble for Marvel. Have they lost their mojo entirely, and could the great experiment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe be headed for collapse? It’s probably too soon to tell, although critical response to Iron Man 3 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which I am enjoying) may lead you to think so. We’ll have a better idea after this Spring rolls around, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy to look forward to.

New Trailer for Thor: The Dark World

by Aaron Einhorn
I’m just going to leave this here…

Wow. I mean, wow. I was a fan of Thor, despite some criticisms. But this one looks even more fantastic. I love seeing how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is weaving a complete tapestry. Each film stands on its own, but as a whole, the world they’re making is just amazing.

And hey, what’s not to love about Chris Eccelston as Malkeith the Accursed, right?

I generally try to avoid trailers once I’ve decided to see a movie, and I almost skipped this one. But I’m glad I didn’t. I cannot wait for Thor: The Dark World to arrive in theatres on November 8.