The second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe got under way this summer with the release of Iron Man 3. It continues with Thor: The Dark World.
We begin with a back story about the Dark Elves. Led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), they desire to return the universe to the dark state it was in before the Nine Realms (including Asgard and Midgard [Earth]) came into existence. How are they going to do that? There is an unstoppable, extremely powerful force/element/entity called the Aether – a blacker and more sentient version of Star Trek‘s Red Matter. Fortunately, Thor’s grandfather, Bor, is able to defeat the Dark Elves in time. Not so fortunate is that Aether is too powerful to be destroyed and must simply be hidden away. Also, not so fortunate is that Malekith escapes. It couldn’t be possible for him to hibernate somewhere for the next thousand years until the realms align once more, giving him the chance to find the Aether and try once again to plunge everything into darkness. Could it?
Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still on Earth, studying anomalies that she hopes will lead her back to her hunky Norse god from space. Running around assisting her, as much as providing an overdose of snark, is her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is busy cleaning up the variety of messes still left over from Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his escapades, as well as trying to fulfill his duties as future king of Asgard. Their paths, of course, seem destined to cross once again as they both become entwined with the fate of the universe.
Everything you loved about the Thor is back, though it does take a little while to get there. First we spend a significant amount of time in world-building and back story. It’s not that it is tedious, but a lot of feels a little needless. Hemsworth is once again handsome and charming as the god of thunder. Dennings has significantly more screen time than before, probably thanks to her popularity on Two Broke Girls. There are CG vistas and fun jokes made at the expense of Marvel’s universe. And Loki. Did you expect Loki to not steal the show?
Despite not being the film’s main villain, Hiddleston proves once again why his trickster character is so popular. Why can’t all the Marvel villains be so interesting? Other than him, the rest of the Marvel villains have been rather generic and unimpressive. Yes Ben Kingsley‘s The Mandarin was inspired, but that hardly counts. No, Loki has been the only villain in any of the films so far to be nearly as interesting as the heroes thrown at them. It’s no wonder he’s front and center once again.
Thor, in fact, seems to almost be a secondary character in his own film. Loki steals the show, and even Jane seems more important. When he has something funny to say or something to impressively destroy with his hammer, he’s great, but I would have liked to see more of the character this movie is supposed to be about.
The film itself has an interesting flavor. It’s Lord of the Rings fantasy mixed with the Star Wars flavor of science fiction mythology. There are Game of Thrones style battles between medieval-dressed warriors of various alien races firing laser guns. I appreciate that Marvel is trying to give Thor it’s own unique flavor, but at the same time, it’s a little odd feeling. Worst of all, though, is that I kept experiencing flashbacks to The Phantom Menace. It was a lot of little things. From a score that seemed to borrow similar themes from John Williams‘ work on the prequel, to cool looking but impractical space ships zipping around with the same sound effects, to Natalie Portman sneaking around a massive sci-fi inspired palace on a distant planet of beautiful computer generated scenery. There were certain scenes that could be inserted into a Star Wars prequel trailer and I would probably be none the wiser.
I get that with the lesser known Guardians of the Galaxy in the near future, Marvel wants to get the audience used to the fact that all of this exists in a universe home to aliens and space ships. Unfortunately, some of that ends up feeling a bit forced.
There is a lot to like about this film though. Yes, the villain is one dimensional, and yes there are some tonal and pacing issues. Once it gets going though – and by that, I mean once Loki joins the main plot – we get some very fun, very comic-book-like stuff. There is a great scene with a certain member of the Avengers, played up for humor. A couple scenes, including part of the climactic final battle seem to pay direct homage to Portal. There are not as many, but still a few great fish out of water moments for Thor on Earth, and a pretty hilarious cameo from Chris O’Dowd as the man Jane is trying to have a date with despite his not being a superhuman.
There may be a lot to like, but the 3D is not one of them. Mostly pointless, despite some sword play, at best and murky at worst, you can save the extra cash.
My main issue with this film is that the plot is overly simplistic and cliche. A generic dark race wants to make the universe dark and destroy everyone, because they like it that way and they’re evil. Marvel really needs to step of their game with why their super heroes are needed if they are going to keep us interested. Entertaining antics by a great cast of heroes with impressive special effects will only go so far.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It’s better than the first one.”
My rating: Three out of five hats
Thor: The Dark World thunders into 3,841 theaters November 8th