‘Thor: The Dark World’ ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Anthony Hopkins
Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, & Stephen McFeely
Directed by: Alan Taylor
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**
It wasn’t that long ago that I remember the deep feeling of appreciation for Marvel as they delivered on their promise. After all, “The Avengers” was the Hollywood rarity- a film that audiences were asked to be patient for, and for all intents and purposes, the hype was well-justified. Going forward, we know “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is coming in 2015, and “The Avengers 3” in 2018. These immense upcoming films will follow the same pattern as the first, in that a series of individual films will set up the events to culminate in the team-up. I’m fine with that, but I do require Marvel to maintain their focus with these solo efforts. “Thor: The Dark World” is a very good looking movie that doesn’t pay off in the most disappointing way- it doesn’t respect its own audience, and thus becomes a huge missed opportunity for Marvel.
If you’ve seen “Thor” and “The Avengers”, you know that the ‘Bifrost’ and ‘rainbow bridge’ were destroyed, Loki (Hiddleston) is going back to Asgard and prison, and that Thor (Hemsworth) returned to Earth, but without visiting Jane Foster (Portman). These issues will need to be addressed in this film, and they are (mostly). After “Thor” made a big deal about the destruction of the Bifrost and its implications, nothing is said about how it was repaired in such short time (2 years). I suppose that is of little consequence in the big scheme of events. Loki still plots away in his Asgardian prison cell, apparently not humbled by his convincing defeat. He still feels entitled to a throne (any throne will do). The astrophysicist Jane Foster, as Heimdall (Elba) tells us in the first film, still searches for a way to reach Thor through the path of science. For as little time as they had together in the first film, clearly the Prince of Asgard and the Earth-bound, mortal scientist formed a strong connection- something this film doesn’t spend enough time extrapolating. These characters will do anything for each other, but I’ve struggled to buy into their bond; after all, they haven’t been on a single date, haven’t shared their feelings or intentions to each other, and haven’t shared a bed (that we’re aware of). Other than a few longing glances, what is it about these two characters that make their actions believable or justified?
Dr. Foster is working out of London in this film- luckily for her, that happens to be the EXACT location (Tanzania was apparently too remote) of a magnificent quantum space event is taking place. The ‘Nine Realms’ of the universe are all aligning at once, and this ‘convergence’ apparently allows for easy travel amongst the many branches of existence. As the movie tells us, an artifact of a sinister nature (of course) was hidden a long time ago during the last convergence, and wouldn’t you know it- our favorite senator from Naboo (oops, wrong film) stumbles upon it. Literally.
This artifact, designed by Malekith (Eccleston) of the ancient race of beings known as Dark Elves, looks exactly like angry Dimetapp to me. According to the movie, it’s darkness…as a weapon. So, Dr. Foster gets ‘infected’ by this substance, and becomes slightly dangerous to others. Except Thor. On top of that, the dormant Dark Elves are reawakened across the universe by Jane’s interaction with the gooey Robitussin. I’m still confused by these things, but this film isn’t interested in explaining away that kind of logic.
Thor, who has been busy restoring the chaos caused by Loki’s misdeeds in “The Avengers”, does return to Earth once he can tell that Jane is in danger, and whisks her off to Asgard once he realizes that Earth doctors can’t help her. Odin (Hopkins) doesn’t like her there, Sif (Alexander) still yearns for Thor and doesn’t like her there, and no one, Dr. Foster included, stops to talk about or revel in, the fact that Asgard has its first human visitor, and that she’s the first human to travel past the Moon (unless you count Tony Stark’s brief burst through a wormhole in “The Avengers”). On top of that, Jane doesn’t appear to have any great side effects from having the Cough Syrup of Darkness coarsing through her veins. She isn’t quarantined, and then, unsurprisingly, the Dark Elves come to Asgard looking for their ancient weapon.
Doesn’t it seem like a grave misstep by the all-powerful Odin and the mighty Thor to have this weapon in the heart of their kingdom? Granted, Thor does have a plan to save her, but by then the Dark Elves have come a calling on Asgard, with technology that is at least 9,000 years old but makes the modern Asgardian defense seem obsolete. That perfectly encapsulates the problems with this movie; we’ve established a feasible, grounded-in-reality ‘Thor-verse’ to work with, and this film just craps all over those very rules. I also wondered where the entire population of Asgard was…the first film gave us a bustling, populated kingdom, but when Dark Elves attacked, I only remember seeing soldiers and royalty. Did I miss something, or did the filmmakers get lazy?
I should counter by saying that this isn’t a bad film- it is earnest, and funny at times. It simply seems to have forgotten its audience as well as what made the other films in the ‘Avengers’ pantheon work, which is what bothers me. After sitting through five set-up films before “The Avengers”, producer and Marvel film chief Kevin Feige should know better than to allow a film like this to go through- one that treats the established audience like amateurs. It’s a rushed, heavily edited (it appears), logic-defying action spectacle that lacks the emotional resonance of the first film and defies the established logic we were used to. Is it possible that there is a better edition of this film out there, or that director Alan Taylor (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) had a grittier, longer version in mind? With the film clocking in at 111 minutes, and with rumors about studio-directed reshoots earlier this past year, I can’t help but wonder if those interested in dollar signs saw a bleaker, longer film at first and got scared enough to ask for changes (or mandate changes). I’m clearly speculating, but if that’s the case, shame on them. Shame on them anyways for giving us an inferior film.
*Note: the mid-credits scene we’re used to seeing now in Marvel films looks ahead to next August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Benicio Del Toro, nearly unrecognizable as 80’s pop star Eric Carmen, gets “Hungry Eyes” for the infinity stone that Sif and Volstagg (Stevenson) have delivered to him for protection.
*Another note: Benicio Del Toro is playing The Collector, an alien who collects extraterrestrial objects and creatures. He is not playing Eric Carmen, but looks remarkably similar to him. 😉