My biggest issue with Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, 2011’s addition to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, was that the scenes on the title character’s home world of Asgard were far better than the scenes on Earth. Because the split between these scenes was more or less fifty-fifty, the whole thing came off as two entirely different movies fighting for the same space. The makers of Thor: The Dark World, most notably director Alan Taylor, do indeed make the same mistake as Branagh. Fortunately, it isn’t to the same degree; apart from the fact that Asgard is the primary setting, the Earth scenes, especially near the end, have greater significance and show that more of an effort was made.
Granted, it wasn’t much more of an effort, but I’ll take whatever I can get. Although the end result is not perfect, it’s nevertheless a better film than its predecessor.
Setting aside the Earth scenes for a moment, the film was clearly made with the sensibilities of a space opera. I don’t mean that as a criticism. Quite the opposite; the decision to cross a fantasy novel with a Saturday matinee serial, which would put the film in the same category as the Star Wars saga, was the right one, for it plays off of the audience’s sense of nostalgia and gives us license to have pure, unadulterated fun. It helps that the Asgard scenes, much like those in the film’s predecessor, are a triumph of art direction and special effects; simply looking at the fantastical sets was an experience unto itself. Surprisingly, the bold color scheme wasn’t much dimmed by the film’s 3D presentation. I’d recommend you see it that way, expect I recently vowed to never again do that unless the 3D is coupled with an IMAX projector.
The plot is silly in the best possible sense of the word. It opens with a prologue sequence narrated by Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who explains that his father once defeated a race of warriors hellbent on transforming the entire universe into a realm of darkness. The darkness is a computer-generated goo called Aether, which I think is supposed to be what our scientists call Dark Matter. In the story proper, Odin’s son, the hammer-wielding Thor (Chris Hemsworth), tries to rekindle his romance with Earth astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) after two years of attempting to restore universal balance. At the same time, he must stop the Aether, which has possessed Jane’s body, from falling into the hands of an evil space elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). This coincides with a rare alignment of nine universal realms and the wormholes that form at points of contact. Not surprisingly, all these wormholes can be found on Earth, specifically in London, where Jane now lives and continues her research.
In attempting to vanquish Malekith, Thor must form a shaky truce with his evil stepbrother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), imprisoned by Odin for the wicked deeds seen in both Thor and Marvel’s The Avengers. A master of trickery and illusion, we’re always left wondering if Loki will be redeemed or if he’s merely executing a convoluted plot to take Odin’s throne. It’s tempting to believe the final shot before the end credits gives us the answers we’re looking for, but in fact, all it does is raise an entirely new series of questions. For those unfamiliar with the original Marvel comic books (like myself), so too does the first of two post-credit sequences, in which both a new character and a new MacGuffin are introduced for the purposes of a yet-to-be-released film. Whether it will be a direct sequel to The Dark World, a sequel to one of the other Marvel films, or the start of a new superhero franchise remains to be seen.
It’s really a shame that the Earth scenes are equally as unimpressive as they were in the first Thor film. In large part, this is because the Earth characters are either extraneous, badly developed, or both. Consider Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Jane’s former mentor; he’s now a comedic figure, first seen on a news report in which he runs around Stonehenge naked. Jane’s assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings), remains the same goofy sidekick she started out as and yet again contributes nothing of value to the story. Neither do new characters played by Jonathan Howard and Chris O’Dowd, the latter appearing in exactly two scenes as a possible new boyfriend for Portman’s character. Care to speculate on the likelihood of Jane dumping a muscle-bound thunder god for an Irish funnyman?
I find it very surprising that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has held up as long as it has, given the fact that it forces us to keep track of several superhero characters and multiple storylines. This is exactly why I have deepening concerns over it. How long before the formula becomes stale? Will the films eventually become so hopelessly intertwined that watching a new chapter will depend on intimate knowledge of all the chapters that came before it? Thor: The Dark World, its predecessor, and the other films connected to it are beginning to seem less like self-contained entities and more like puzzle pieces. If you’ve ever put a real puzzle together, you know that losing just one piece can ruin the entire picture. Here’s hoping that no pieces go missing. The more they’re added on, the greater the chance of such a thing happening.
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Walt Disney Pictures