Well, it’s been about a month since I reviewed a new movie. That’s one of the really nice things about October: I can skirt by talking about classic horror movies and not have to spend any money. Well, those days are over. I’m $8.50 poorer, and behold! I have a review of a new movie for you. Because I know you were all dying to read one.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Following some brief voice-over exposition concerning the obliteration of the Dark Elves (led by Christopher Eccleston) and an evil destructive anti-matter called Aether, it turns out neither of those thing were actually obliterated, much to the consternation of Marvel’s Norse Pantheon, headed by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his heroic son Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Some light scientific investigation on earth by Thor’s beloved Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Stellan Skarsgard (Stellan Skarsgard) uncovers the Dark Elves’ plot to destroy the universe. For reasons I’m not going to get into now, Thor is going to have to team up with his arch-nemesis/adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to set things straight.
Alright, considering that about forty minutes of this movie is spent on exposition, I think I did a pretty good job summing things up. “Forty minutes!?” you exclaim wildly, “How could that be necessary?” It’s not. There’s sort of a weird imbalance with the expository information, too. They spend a long time sorting out everything with the Dark Elves, their history with the Asgardians, the cosmic rules of this fictional universe and the divisions between nine separate realms of existence over all of which Asgard reigns. They spend very, very little time providing information on any characters who appeared in Thor or The Avengers. Obviously, studio execs figured it was safe to assume that everyone who’s seeing this film saw the others. Since The Avengers is currently the third highest grossing film of all time, that’s probably a safe assumption. Otherwise, if you haven’t seen those movies, you may want to before checking out Thor: The Dark World. It doesn’t matter all that much, but it enhances the experience to know some of the character background.
The film suffers a bit from these first forty minutes. Now, I appreciate a good, calculated build-up in a movie. You don’t want action through the whole thing. Then, by the time we reach the climax it’s not a climax; it’s just like everything else. This didn’t have a good build-up, though. It kind of meanders for a while trying to think of good ways to deliver heaping quantities of information. It fails. That having been said, around the halfway point, it finds its footing and gets much, much better. Around this point, the Dark Elves launch their first attack on Asgard, shit gets real, and the plot suddenly starts rolling. From here, all pacing issues are fixed, characters start developing, etc.
The great strength at this juncture emerges from Thor’s interactions with Loki. Their banter is excellently written, they’re both finally intriguing human characters (certainly more so than in the previous films) and, ironically, they have a much more engaging chemistry than Thor and Jane do.
Much of this emerges from the writers’ insistence to treat Loki like a real person and develop him beyond being a caricature. This is part of a bizarre new trend I’m noticing across the Marvel Universe just this year. In Thor and The Avengers Loki was enjoyable to watch because Tom Hiddleston is always enjoyable to watch, but he was pretty bland in terms of motivation and just general personality, I guess. Here, surprisingly, they actually do some interesting things with him, delving into his thoughts, emotions, and often obscure motives. The difference is that here, that ambiguity is deliberate and we learn things about him through his trickery and mystery; it’s not just lazy writing. Similarly, Thor himself is a more interesting character. Once again, Chris Hemsworth is always appealing and has always brought a bit of flare to an otherwise forgettable role, but Thor’s arc is just better than in the first one, wherein he grew from belligerent ass to less belligerent ass. Now he’s dealing with High Concepts of Leadership.
Sadly, this newfound depth is not applied to all characters. Though the previous hate-inducing Jane Foster is now tolerable and Heimdall (Idris Elba) gets more stuff to do, other characters remain set pieces. In the first movie, Kat Dennings played the useless but sometimes funny intern Darcy. She returns in this film to serve the exact same purpose, but is now given an even more useless, even less funny intern of her own. Then there are the Asgardian warriors Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), who only exist because they were in the comics, but they don’t contribute much to the plot. As in the previous film, Anthony Hopkins as Odin clearly just showed up to collect his cash. He’s not invested in the role at all. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have cast an actor who would at least enjoy himself.
But enough of character development. Now I have to make an Old Man Complaint. What is with all the CGI? Was this entire film shot in front of a green screen? The scenes of Asgard are spectacular and shiny, but obviously fake. Would it kill you to build some set pieces (other than the side characters)? Ugh. Despite this, the action sequences were mostly pretty good. I especially liked the final battle, wherein Thor and Christopher Eccleston fight mono-e-mono while drifting through wormholes between the nine realms. As I was watching the movie and figured out that they were building to this fight I was a bit nervous that they wouldn’t be able to do it without being over-the-top or just kind of dumb, but it really works and is just a fun spectacle.
Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a really good time and a massive improvement upon the first film. It has its problems, but in the end is exactly what I wanted it to be; no more, no less. It’s good on the big screen, but I imagine would also be an excellent rainy day action movie once it comes out on DVD.