A Supreme Victory!
A Film Review of Thor: The Dark World
By: Lawrence Napoli
Let’s not beat around the bush on this one. Thor: The Dark World is a great sci-fi, action adventure film that has all the trappings of an excellent summer blockbuster that reaffirms its roots, acknowledges the events of The Avengers in a meaningful way and tempts the viewer with all kinds of possibilities regarding the potential of “Phase 2” and beyond. In essence, this film does everything that Iron Man 3 simply could not be bothered with and fortunately for the audience, this translates into a superior cinematic experience and worth 100% of the price of admission. Deeper levels of relevance and interconnectivity is the true superpower of the big screen Marvel Studios adaptations, but what made this expansion possible is the fact that each Avenger film stands on its own with varying degrees of success. The mighty Thor’s sequel is the only solo Avenger follow-up (so far) to be a significant upgrade from its establishing film and it does so with more of everything: story, action and effects and happens to do so without sacrificing character development or curtailing screen time in the process.
Experience in the Marvel Universe by the writers of this film best explains why this next chapter in Thor’s cinematic life is entertaining to both fanboys and novices alike. Those responsible for the screenplay begin with Christopher Yost, a veteran of several Marvel animated TV shows such as Iron Man: Armored Adventures, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Hulk Vs. while Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely helped co-write Captain America: The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier. As for Thor’s general story, Don Payne also helped write Fantastic Flop (er) 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and though Robert Rodat hasn’t partaken in any Marvel license prior to The Dark World, he did write some fairly recognizable films like The Patriot and Saving Private Ryan. Everyone involved with this script is coming from a very comfortable place in terms of the superhero genre as well as how Thor ought to fit in this Marvel film universe. The strongest points of the story involve Thor’s evolved relationships with wayward brother Loki and difficult-to-please father Odin. Both were highlights of the original film, but The Dark World enhances the impacts of these subplots by introducing a new opposition that is by no means a pushover even when compared to the likes of the Chitari Invasion of NYC.
Of course, no story is flawless as I felt the implementation of comedy at various points truly fizzled thanks to the misplaced loyalty to some characters already established in this mythos. The repartee between Thor and Loki is, once again, pure genius thanks mostly to the chemistry and performances of the actors, but the interjection of Jane Foster and the rest of her human friends are inconsistent at best. In addition, I’ll make note of an old criticism concerning the use of the rest of Thor’s Asgardian Power Rangers such as Sif, Fandral and Volstagg which carries over from the first Thor. While their roles are only slightly more active and only slightly more significant in The Dark World I still would have liked to see more of them, their interactions amongst each other and how they influence Thor himself. Alas, characters that are purely situational support simply cannot be given expanded screen time to have satisfactory subplots fully mature and resolve when there are so many other characters waiting in line for it. Perhaps we’ll see more of Asgard’s marquee talent if and when Loki gets his spin off/prequel movie green lit? I hope X-Men: Days of Future Past has a specific plot device prepared to address its much larger cast of alphas that doesn’t involve “just making it a Wolverine movie” once again.
Let’s hear it for the action! Let’s hear it for the effects! The Dark World showcases much more frequent and higher quality action sequences and battles than its predecessor in so many ways, but none more pleasing than seeing the thunder god truly cut loose with power beyond clobbering jerks on the head with Mjolnir. There’s lots of lightning, lots of flying and lots of pure, unadulterated rage. There’s also plenty of close quarters brawling and swordplay, but the scale and scope have been expanded to raise the stakes and the suspense. I was a bit concerned when the word on the street was that this film would channel the look and feel of Game of Thrones when that would be a clear back-stepping of the higher plane tech/magic establishment of Thor thus far. Thankfully, this film does not get a Braveheart overhaul and actually looks and feels much more like a sci-fi film specifically thanks to the new enemy: The Dark Elves. The contrast between the idyllic paradise of Asgard and the cold technology of the Dark Elves yields a visually dynamic frame in almost every moment. The Dark World only saw a $20 million dollar bump to its budget from its predecessor, but it seems as though the money was put to much better use in regards to moment to moment visual effects, explosions and mass destruction.
The Marvel Studio films are, for the most part, exceptional action blockbusters, but another pillar of their success (beyond their interrelation) is character development and you simply don’t have it without solid performances by your cast. Unfortunately, the one actor in The Dark World that is currently in possession of an Academy Award is, ironically, the least impressive in regards to her performance. It could very well be that director Alan Taylor specifically told Natalie Portman to present Jane Foster as a lovesick, pre-teenie-bopper that doesn’t have a true grasp of the global impact of The Avengers and Thor in particular despite being a supposed “scientific leader in the field of inter-dimensional phenomena.” If this was the case, then Portman is the best actor on the planet, but I doubt Foster was meant to be so flippant and, candidly speaking, girly. Portman feels out of place and looks immature for a mortal woman meant to carry on a relationship with an Asgardian. The same holds true for the character Kat Dennings plays as the contributions of both of these actresses elevates to nothing more than damsels in distress and vapid, eye-rolling, comic relief. Their mere presence in a film like The Dark World is only to attract more young women within the money demographic to join their fanboy brethren at the box office.
I also had no clue what was going on with Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig for the entirety of The Dark World. Apparently he gets a concentrated dose of “the crazies” and never fully recovers. Mark him down as another comic relief character which is a shame seeing how one can tell that behind that glazed over and clueless demeanor, Skarsgard is aching to deliver a line of some relevance for the entirety of this film. I also want to make note of Anthony Hopkins, while still solid as Odin really shows his age in this film. He does not bring the same energy or sage, fatherly wisdom or warmth from the original and perhaps this was meant to be a specific status shift for the character, but doing so by way of stoic facial expression and a couple of eye twitches doesn’t exactly evoke a moving performance of any kind. I did like Jamie Alexander’s Lady Sif and for a while, it looked like the film was going to have a more capable and empowered woman impact the plot a bit, but alas Jane Foster is a more “important” character.
The real performances to make note of are (surprise, surprise) Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth as Loki and Thor, respectively. Hiddleston is a master of presenting the charming, smug, back-stabber and is rewarded with additional screen time to explore more redeeming motivations to his character. Hemsworth embodies everything demanded of the classic Hollywood hero with a heart of gold, but does so from a much more humble state of mind as his character has been through a lot and has clearly outgrown his brazen childishness. These two individual performers would be a windfall for any production, but together represent the best one-two character combination of any comic book adaptation, ever. Their onscreen chemistry is so good that I fear neither character will be allowed to grow on their own in future films in this ever expanding Marvel Universe. Not that I want to see Hiddleston without Hemsworth or vice-versa, but Loki shouldn’t be Thor’s “big bad” in every story.
Thor: The Dark World is a must-see for any Marvel true believer, comic book fanboy, or anyone interested in seeing a good looking, special effect driven adventure. And for as much money as Iron Man 3 made this past summer ($409 million in US, $806 million abroad), Thor’s sequel is a better movie; the end. Box office projections don’t see this film exceeding $100 million on its opening weekend, but I have a feeling those predictions may be debunked once word of mouth gets out. It’s winter time ladies and gentlemen and that means we’re all going to be subjected to some heavy handed dramas and Oscar contenders to power through the awards season. Grab some cinematic fun and whet your appetite for Phase 2 because the Marvel movement isn’t running out of steam anytime soon. Excelsior!