Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Thor: The Dark World" (2013)

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston
Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely
Directed by Alan Taylor
Rated PG-13 - Fantasy/sci-fi violence and action, language
Running Time: 112 Minutes

Ages ago, an army of Dark Elves led by the vicious Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) waged war to control a powerful weapon called the Aether, capable of sapping the life out of the very universe itself. He was stopped by the forces of Asgard, led by Bor, father of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The Dark Elves were defeated, Malekith and his lieutenant Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) sacrified most of their warriors to buy their escape and wait until the time was right to strike again.

That time is now, thousands of years later as the Nine Realms once again move into alignment, weakening the dimensional borders in a way that would allow the Aether to spread across the entire universe more quickly. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has spent the last couple years bringing peace and order back to the Nine Realms after the events of the first film and beating back the Chitauri invasion of Earth. He pines for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) the human woman he fell for during his exile there, and his friends and father all notice the difference in him.

Foster, meanwhile, similarly wishes for Thor's return to Earth as she investigates a series of strange electromagnetic disturbances in London with her trusty intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard), who has somewhat lost his mind after the trauma of being brainwashed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Back on Asgard, Loki is imprisoned for his crimes against Asgard and for leading the invasion of Earth.

All these storylines will come crashing together when Foster accidentally discovers the location of the Aether and becomes infected by it, drawing Thor to her side to protect her and Malekith to seek her out in order to use her to destroy the known universe.

The second solo entry for Thor is pretty jam-packed with stuff, some of which doesn't entirely fit together seamlessly. The film feels like a lot of stuff got left on the cutting room floor, some of it probably pretty important, and most of it likely involving the villain.

Malekith is, without a doubt, one of the film's weaker aspects. It's never clearly explained why this man hates the entire universe so much. A couple of times, he mentions that this universe was never meant to exist, and therefore must be cleansed. But, well, so what? It does exist. Deal with it, bro. The film hints at a deeper emotional motivation for Malekith, and at a deep bond between himself and Algrim, but hints are all we get, as though we're just supposed to accept that this is how it is and move on. The only problem with that is, well, it means that Malekith simply isn't all that interesting without that information.

A weak villain really can drag down these superhero films, because a hero really needs an interesting threat to face. "The Dark World" tries desperately to make up for the fact that Malekith barely registers in comparison to Loki, and mostly succeeds... by throwing Loki into the mix. While Thor's struggle against Malekith ultimately comes up empty, there are several wonderful scenes between Thor and Loki that end up being the best emotional meat to the movie. A lengthy sequence in which the two team up to escape Asgard against Odin's orders provides more heart and drama than most of the rest of the film combined, and you realize that even the romantic subplot for Thor and Foster pales in comparison to this story of two brothers and their complicated love/hate relationship.

Similarly, many of the secondary characters remain under-developed. Thor's friends, including Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and most especially Sif (Jaime Alexander) are criminally underutilized. Each of them get brief moments, but if I weren't aware of who they were before going into the movie, I'm not sure I'd even know their names. Of the bunch, Sif is the one that more desperately needs a larger role. Anthony Hopkins is saddled with a lot of expository dialog, and that's unfortunate because in scenes where he gets to have emotional drama with his sons are wonderful.

Even with its messy script and limp villain, "Thor: The Dark World" is pretty entertaining. It has a lot of big laughs and a number of thrilling action sequences, as we've come to expect from these Marvel movies. We get to see more of Asgard, and we get to watch a lot of it get smashed. It's somewhat refreshing to start opening this series up away from Earth and while the movie's London climax is somewhat destructive, it's Asgard that bears the brunt of most of the film's action.

And that climax is pretty fun, too. Like "Iron Man 3" before it, it feels like the filmmakers are trying to think more critically about their action sequences in this second round of Marvel flicks. In this case, Thor faces off against villains who can't be defeated simply by swinging his hammer harder at them, forcing him to actually team up with Foster and use Earth technology. It's not elevating any of these movies to high art, but it's a welcome evolution in the blockbuster series.

With all the laughs and action you expect from Marvel, "Thor: The Dark World" is a good time at the movies. Unfortunately, it doesn't soar as high as it feels like it should, with a script crammed full of subplots that don't feel fully developed.

See Also:
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger 
The Avengers 
Iron Man 3