Thor: The Dark World Review

movies:
Sam Woolf

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On November 1, 2013
Last modified:November 30, 2013

Summary:

Likeability is never an issue, but the strongest narrative that Thor: The Dark World builds is one in which Marvel falls victim to the sophomore slump.

Chris Hemsworth in Thor The Dark World Thor: The Dark World Review

If for nothing else, Thor: The Dark World might end up being remembered as the bellwether for Marvel’s comic book movie legacy. In the five years since Iron Man kicked this crazy (successful) experiment off, a longview for Marvel’s mega-franchise has started to develop, with future road markers in sight, but no clear stopping point yet on the horizon. Like the hero of its latest instalment, the Marvel films have been forced to occupy two worlds: one, a grounded-enough sci-fi adventure universe filled with interesting characters, and another, where gods and aliens do battle at such a spectacular scale that the hero only saving a mere country means they’re having an off-day.

The former world is one inhabited by guys like Tony Stark, and it’s no wonder why Iron Man has become the lynchpin for this whole endeavor: no matter how many occult Nazi societies and robotic space whales Marvel throws at the viewer, Tony’s always been the handsome bedrock for the larger ticket-buying population that’s never picked up a comic book. For those who think of Nick Fury as just Samuel L. Jackson in an eyepatch, Iron Man has been like the one good friend you know at a party full of strangers and brief acquaintances. Thor, meanwhile, occupies a realm of pure and garish fiction, one rooted both in the distant past and distant future. Attempts to simplify the origins of Thor by turning Norse legend into science fiction haven’t helped to unmuddle the identity of one of Marvel’s key Avengers. The Prince of Thunder might be his official nickname, but to most he’s still just “the guy with the hammer.”

Messily dipping Thor’s fluffy fantasy roots into the dense, universe-building peanut butter that Marvel needed for future movies made the perfect casting of Australian beefcake Chris Hemsworth all the more vital to the original Thor’s success. To both make the character relatable, and maintain the grandiosity that makes him special, Thor didn’t so much balance its two competing flavors as keep them hermetically sealed off from one another. The opening and closing twenty minutes were irony-free space epics written as bad Shakespeare, while in-between was wedged a more literally down-to-earth character story. It made for a noticeably partitioned, but often charming popcorn film, one that respectably handled the dual tasks of preparing Thor for his debut as an Avenger, while also opening the door for the much larger Marvel Universe that we’ll be seeing from here on out.

Thor: The Dark World is the first Marvel film to really walk through that door, and regrettably, its first steps are shaky and uncoordinated. This won’t be terribly surprising for anyone who’s been following the film’s production, as director changes and emergency Whedon-transfusions never bode well, even for a machine as well-oiled as Marvel’s. But that same machinery may well be responsible for the aimless, and largely perfunctory story that Thor: The Dark World spends most of its time setting up, yet very little time actually telling. There are plenty of flashy action scenes to gorge your eyeballs on, and lots of pretty people being generally amiable while wearing colourful outfits, but the central lack of investment in this mini-franchise’s core has only become more apparent in the wake of offerings like the refreshingly introspective Iron Man 3.

A synopsis for The Dark World sounds less like a story summary and more like a checklist of plot devices, one Anthony Hopkins starts reading from immediately. As Odin, all-father of Asgard (and also-father of Thor) recounts during the prologue, a race of spacefaring Dark Elves led by the non-descriptly villainous Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) nearly wiped out all life 5,000 years ago. Odin’s own father, after forcing Malekith into exile, sealed away his universe-threatening MacGuffin to the deepest, darkest recess of creation…which, as it turns out, shares an interdimensional picket fence with modern downtown London.

In the present day, Thor is working as a U.N. peacekeeper across the war-torn nine realms, with Odin still dangling a kingship in front of him like Lucy with the football. When Thor’s Earth-bound sweetheart Jane (Natalie Portman) pulls a Lucy of her own (Pevensie, in this case), stumbling through a portal in London leading to Malekith’s secret weapon, it forces her smack-dab into the middle of a reheated conflict between the Asgardians and Dark Elves.

marvel thor2 610x3451 Thor: The Dark World Review

Even though it had a lot of background Norse mythology to cover, the first Thor’s central premise seems quaint by comparison, like a ridiculous blend of Doc Hollywood and Tarzan (“Me Thor, you Jane Foster”). Much of the fun of each new Marvel entry is in seeing how it grafts comic book trappings to familiar movie types. Iron Man 3 was their take on a paperback detective movie, Captain America was their take on a rousing World War II movie, and Iron Man 2 was their take on a just plain bad movie. Despite the presence of elves, several sweeping vista shots, and director Alan Taylor’s experience working on the Game of Thrones TV series, The Dark World never turns into the fantasy epic you might expect it to.

Instead, its stylistic influences owe more to disreputable examples of modern blockbuster sci-fi, sharing more than just Natalie Portman in its visually uncanny, and unfortunate resemblance to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. More than a full hour passes before all the setup is dealt with, and something of a plot is finally put into motion. Sadly, said plot isn’t really anything more than a revolving assortment of feints, reversals, and implausible coincidences. Combined with its eyecatching, but familiar aesthetics, Thor: The Dark World often seems like it has less in common with Thor than it does the similarly dim and disappointing Star Trek: Into Darkness.

In the micro of a given scene or setpiece, the sci-fi/fantasy pell-mell can make for an engaging mess; there’s an endearing dissonance to the Dark Elves being smart enough to use guns and grenades against the swordsmen of Asgard, despite their choice to fly spacecraft that are essentially giant knives. Similarly, the sparks of humor and levity struck by a fish-out-of-water subplot help liven up the grim tone. Jane awkwardly acclimatizing to Asgard works comedically about as well as Thor brashly strutting around a small town in the first film. His return to Earth makes time for some hokey gags that only get more out of place -and, therefore, more hilarious- the higher the stakes rise.

And if there’s one particularly encouraging trend to be thankful for in recent Marvel films, it’s that every one of them from Avengers on has managed to buildup to a finale that’s as entertaining and creative, as the finales before Avengers were anticlimactic and rote. I wouldn’t be able to explain to you why exactly the events of the big London showdown occur the way they do, but rest assured, whoever thought of them must have had a great time doing so (and almost assuredly played Portal). The result is an imaginative and fun final battle that gets some terrific fan service out of the mechanics behind Thor’s magical flying hammer.

But that you’ll come away from The Dark World having learned more about Mjolnir’s flight path than Thor himself is perhaps what makes the film feel so unnecessary. While it’s nice that Thor’s progression from the first film isn’t swept under the rug, he’s been left with nowhere else to grow, and rarely comes across as the most important person in his own movie. Most of the expansive supporting cast from Thor returns, but only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is given anything resembling a new note to contribute. Even his inclusion feels more functional than organic, with an embarrassing number of story beats hinging on a trick Loki plays, one which tees up a nice pair of reveals early, before spoiling itself through overuse. Instead of capitalizing on the sequel as a chance to strengthen Thor as an individual franchise, Marvel does little more than cobble together a largely forgettable one-off, where endless setup creates few real moments of importance (which themselves are just setup for another movie).

The jarring juxtaposition between the film’s two after-credits sequences embodies the ongoing transition in Marvel’s cinematic identity, with Thor: The Dark World acting in a Heimdall-like capacity to bridge the gap. Next year’s political-thriller of a Captain America sequel, and a James Gunn-directed Guardians of the Galaxy movie might bring a balance back temporarily, but as Marvel’s ambition grows ever more expansive, it’s becoming easier for the characters at the center of that universe to leave focus. Thor was always going to be the toughest franchise nut for Marvel to crack, but rather than treating the task delicately, The Dark World attacks it with the brute force of Mjolnir, leaving viewers with a fitfully enjoyable, but mostly flavorless mush to tide themselves over with until next year’s offerings.

Likeability is never an issue, but the strongest narrative that Thor: The Dark World builds is one in which Marvel falls victim to the sophomore slump.
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  • Fanpa

    Whenever a reviewer tells us about a productions supposed problems it means they tainted watching the movie. They can’t see past their reservations going in and largely write the review before they see the movie. Normal viewers do care how the make it but only care how we enjoy it. Thus reviewer aught to stay away from his Hollywood insider info so he can experience movies like normal people and write with objectivity.

  • SweetTarra

    The person who wrote this article is an idiot and I’ll be going to see this movie regardless of his opinion. When are you critics going to start realizing that average people just want to go to see the movie and be entertained without you guys shoving your thoughts about the movie in question, down our throats? We don’t care what you think. We could really care less if you like or dislike a movie. I will go see a movie in spite of what a critic thinks. When you “review” a movie, do us all a favor and actually review the movie without putting in the review how you liked the movie or not. We just don’t care if you like the movie, just tell us about the movie….plot, actors involved….that’s pretty much the only bit of information we need! Oh, by the way, I’m 43, married, mother of two…..but wait….you didn’t need to know that, right?!

    • TJW

      Are you sure you’re 43? I mean damn. No one is shoving their opinion down your throat. You clicked on the article (titled “review”) and read it kiddo. That was your choice, no one forced it into your brain. Writing a “review” hinges on the author’s subjective opinion about things like plot, character and technique. That is common knowledge.

      • SweetTarra

        Yep, I’m 43. What’s your point?
        And yeah, I feel like he’s shoving his opinion down my throat. That’s how I feel…I don’t really care if you feel the same way or not. I don’t need you to lecture me on anything. He didn’t do a whole lot of “reviewing”, did he? Mainly comparisons. Respond to his interview and stop trolling.

        • TJW

          “The sparks of humor and levity struck by a fish-out-of-water subplot help liven up the grim tone. Jane awkwardly acclimatizing to Asgard works comedically about as well as Thor’s bemused adapting to small town
          living in the first film, and his return to Earth makes time for some hokey gags that only get more out of place -and therefore more hilarious- the higher the stakes rise.”

          That is reviewing the comedic tone.

          “While it’s nice that Thor’s progression from the first film isn’t swept under the rug, he’s been left with nowhere else to grow, and rarely comes across as the most important person in his own movie. Most of the
          expansive supporting cast from Thor returns, but only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is given anything resembling a new note to contribute. Even his inclusion feels more functional than organic, with an embarrassing number of story beats hinging on a trick Loki plays, one
          which tees up a nice pair of reveals early, before spoiling itself through overuse.”

          That is reviewing the characters.

          “The result is an imaginative and fun final battle that gets some terrific fan service out of the mechanics behind Thor’s magical flying hammer.”

          That is reviewing an action set piece.

          Acting like an adult does not mean I’m trolling. Do you know what a troll is? You’re not acting like you’re 43. You’re acting like you’re a 12 year old fangirl that doesn’t know how to deal with differing opinions. A review of art is one giant, subjective opinion. How do you write a review without saying if you liked something or not? That is utterly nonsensical. This is not a teacher grading a math exam. If you “just want to go to see the movie and be entertained without you guys shoving your thoughts about the movie in question, down our throats” then buy your damn ticket and watch the movie. Don’t read reviews. Exactly zero people are shoving them down your throat. If you don’t want to hear people’s opinions, don’t read an article titled “review.” It’s pretty simple. If you don’t want people responding to your bizarre rants, don’t post in an online public forum. If you don’t want to hear what other people have to say, might as well not even leave your house. You address someone as “an idiot” in the third person and expect no one to respond? Good god. Grow up.

          • SweetTarra

            No, you’re still an idiot. Now, please go troll somewhere else.

          • Anakin Skywalker

            43, huh? How mature. I’m sure you’re setting a great example for your children.

        • Anakin Skywalker

          Uh, dude..you’re the one trolling. 43 years old? I think you need to grow up.

    • Anakin Skywalker

      Wow…chill out, lady. You must not know much about opinion pieces in journalism. This guy is writing a film review about how much he liked/disliked the movie. You know…that’s kind of the point of reviews. No one’s making you come to this site and read it and no one is forcing their opinions on you. And if you wanted to know the plot and cast list, go to Wikipedia or Imdb. Jeez!

  • Fredrick Ferruzola

    Meh, Thor Dark World, was kinda boring, soft sequel, there is no thunders, there is no blood, there is not bad-ass Thor, lame villain, etc. ”the dark world” = silly title, and where is the gotdamn helmet?