by Thom Yee
Looking at the core Avengers, my favourite by far is Hawkeye, though that’s entirely for his comicbook interpretation rather than what little they gave him to do in the film. Second would be Captain America largely because of the strength of Ed Brubaker’s run on the title (much of which directly inspired the upcoming Winter Soldier) and because they got the character so right in The First Avenger. Thor is a distant third after those two, and yet for me, his film reigns supreme in the entire Marvel Studios pantheon thus far. I was incredibly impressed by Thor, much moreso than what I had expected, and I came out of the theatre with a true sense of the character and his world.
As with all things supehero, though, when it came time for the sequel, I felt a bit of trepidation, unsure that a new director would be able to effectively re-capture what I liked so much in the first. When that first teaser hit, if nothing else, the thing that most excited me about Thor: The Dark World was the suggestion of a world even bigger than the one we’ve seen and seen hinted at in all of the films so far. What finally really made me excited though was just the image of Thor being thrown back by a punch from the film’s villain, Malekith:
Since the character’s debut in the early ‘60s — INTRODUCING… THE MIGHTY THOR! THE MOST EXCITING SUPERHERO OF ALL TIME!! BEGIN THE SAGA OF THOR IN THIS ISSUE!! — Thor has basically been Marvel’s answer to Superman in one way or another. They’re both big, invulnerable, flying strongmen with exotic powers whose godlike statures fundamentally separate them from humanity. So when a villain comes along and truly challenges such a character, it can be a pretty exciting event.
Emphasis on the word can.
Eons ago, in the time before this universe, there was only darkness, and in this darkness… the Dark Elves…! Bor, father of Odin, defeated the Dark Elf Malekith who had sought to destroy our new universe using a weapon known only as the Aether. In hopes that its terrible [ill-defined] power is never used again, Bor seals the Aether someplace no one will ever find it. In the present, Thor, son of Odin, does glorious battle in order to quell uprisings and bring peace and stability to the Nine Realms after his traitorous brother Loki’s war mongering. Meanwhile on Earth, strange gravimetric anomalies and portals between dimensions begin forming as it is revealed that the Convergence, a rare alignment of all the Nine Realms, is about to take place.
Then it turns out Malekith is alive, Jane Foster finds the Aether by wandering around a warehouse for a bit and Thor has to deal with that whole mess. Stupid, ineffective Bor, father of Odin. Can’t the father of the All-Father at least be trusted to hide a weapon designed to destroy the universe? Just throw it in Mount Doom or something.
Thor: The Dark World is basically Lord of the Rings plus spaceships. To be fair, there’s an extent to which you can label a lot of movies as Lord of the Rings plus __________, but The Dark World swings so far towards the type of fantasy that’s defined by those films that it’s difficult for that not to be a conscious part of your viewing experience. The imagery’s a little more fantastical, the characters are a lot more omniversally powerful, but it’s still very much following in that style.
Right now, I feel like I should mention that Thor: The Dark World, for its intended audience and for me, is a good movie. I’ll probably buy it, watch it a few times, and maybe even experience a deepening appreciation for it as time passes. But a lot of what you’re about to read will sound like complaints.
Despite their inherent good-guy-versus-bad-guy trappings, none of the Marvel movies (except maybe The Incredible Hulk) have had truly brutal battles. Certainly, The Avengers’ battle of New York and Iron Man 3’s armour wars were engaging and inspired a certain amount of awe, but I would argue that none of them have had the visceral impact and bigger-than-life majesty of Man of Steel’s (eventually exhausting) Superman vs. the Phantom Zone criminals. In no other superhero movie have I ever felt so helpless in terms of the subjects engaging in a battle that regular humans have almost absolutely no part in. That’s really the kind of thing that I wanted to see when I conjure thoughts of an ancient evil from before time facing down the Asgardian God of Thunder. As the clip above hints at, however, as Thor and Malekith slide down the side of the glass wall, that’s not quite how things went. It was still a decent fight, but it wasn’t a fight on the same scale as Man of Steel’s (although that film did cost 55 million dollars more to make).
For me, the biggest high point of the film addresses one of my highlighted weaknesses from the original. Frigga, who was reduced to matronly wallpaper throughout most of Thor, is given the chance to stand up amongst the other warriors of Asgard and is allowed to play an active role in the outcome of the film. In fact, if not for the intervention of Kurse, his number one henchman, the threat of Malekith and the Dark Elves might have been vanquished before it ever had a chance to grow. Just imagine if the conclusion of the second Thor movie was the death of the antagonist at the hands of Frigga, mother of Thor, in a quick sword fight mid-film. I wouldn’t have seen that coming (nor would any proper script writers have allowed it).
The second thing I liked about The Dark World is that it really expands the idea and overall scope of the Marvel Universe, partially due to the sheer scale of what’s going on, but particularly in the mid-credits sequence that lays some of the groundwork for Marvel Phase Two and next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The sequence is the kind of thing that bugs a lot of people (including the director) for doing little more than sell later films (à la Iron Man 2), and it really doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, but it was at least unusual and really hit me as something very different from what we’ve seen so far. Plus, Benicio Del Toro, and that’s almost never a bad thing.
As for the low points, first and foremost, The Dark World suffers immensely simply because the emotional crux of the film fails to connect.
Frigga’s death is a moment that ultimately unites Thor and Loki under a common cause, and the idea of a mother’s death is emotionally resonant to most people, but we never got to know Frigga. What I called such a strength in Thor — the relationship between Odin, Thor and Loki — largely excluded Frigga, who not only had very little to do in the original film, but was also a character with no discernible impact on the triangle that was Odin and sons. Yes, The Dark World gave the character something important to do, but that’s pretty much because it had to if she was going to die. If the producers of the original film had had the foresight to establish Frigga, her loss would’ve had much more impact. Some may have felt that that would be water screen time, but it would’ve taken nothing more than a two to three minute scene, three pages of scripting, to make the character more dear to the audience. Frigga may not be a central part of Marvel’s Thor stories in general, and it may be nearly impossible to forecast plot points in films yet to be written or shot, but family was the central theme of Thor, and it never made sense to me why Odin would have a wife and Thor and Loki would have a mother who did virtually nothing.
The primary threat itself, Malekith and the soldiers from before time, is almost completely devoid of character. Some of this is because Loki still occupies part of the bad guy role (and always will in any movie he appears in), but Malekith is completely bland in every way. I don’t get his motivation, and I don’t even get the sense that he has or needs much motivation. He’s evil for evil’s sake, but he’s not even very evil. He’s just the next threat. His force is great, his armada is impressive, but he’s completely forgettable and the only reason anyone will remember him is probably because he looks just like the ninth Doctor.
Last time I complained about the lack of development of Sif and the Warriors Three, and while it’s nice to see each get their moment (except Hogun, who’s written out early because question mark), none of them other than Fandral really gets to do much. I know these movies are called Thor and not Volstagg or Sif, but when your characters are defined by singular plot points like “jealous of Thor’s love for Jane Foster” more than anything else, they come across as incredibly one dimensional. I guess part of why this bugs me goes back to shows like Dragon Ball Z when non-saviour characters end up being nothing more than diversions until the real hero arrives. This discussion is starting to go drastically into anime nerd territory, but something I love about Naruto (which I still think is good even after all these years) is that even though it all comes down to the title character in the end, every side character is still given an interesting backstory and the opportunity to do something of substance, even if that something isn’t central to the final victory.
Even despite these flaws, the first two of which I consider glaring, Thor: The Dark World is at least good enough. The relationships between Odin, Thor and Loki still ring true, and have clearly evolved. In my favourite line of the film, Thor asks Odin, now willing to sacrifice every last Asgardian to defeat the Dark Elves, what the difference is between him and Malekith, to which Odin responds:
The difference, my son, is that I will win.
For me, it’s moments like that that keep this film (if not its characters) on the right side of good.
Ultimately, how I feel about Thor and Thor: The Dark World is similar to how I feel about Casino Royale and Skyfall. I can tell both are at least decent, and I would understand why some people would prefer the latter in both franchises, but I just didn’t feel them the way I felt their forebears. There’s so much more emotional content in the original Thor, and even though The Dark World is a natural and fairly faithful extension of everything that’s come before it, it just left me a little cold.
And so with the conclusion of this review, I present (to those of you who are still reading) my new Marvel Studios list (from best to worst):
- Captain America
- The Avengers
- Iron Man 3
- The Incredible Hulk
- Thor: The Dark World
- Iron Man 2
- Iron Man
Thor: The Dark World final score: 7.5
On the Edge
-l miss Josh Dallas’ Fandral
-What Thor says to Hogun in Vanaheim:
-Stay with your people.
-What Thor means when he tells Hogun to stay with his people in Vanaheim:
-Oriental gods don’t belong in Asgard. They’ll ruin the neighbourhood.
-For all of this film’s talk of human lives being so short in comparison, Thor turned his whole arrogant attitude around pretty quickly in the original film. He learned great wisdom in less than a week even though his arrogance had grown over hundreds of years.