If Iron Man 3 started off Marvel’s Phase 2 films by doing a superhero film a little bit different, Thor: The Dark World carries the torch by doing more of the same. Iron Man 3 was different from its predecessors because it chose a psychological subtext with which to frame its story around, which is something that really hadn’t been seen in a superhero movie before. Thor: The Dark World doesn’t attempt any experimentation. The premise is familiar (evil being of significant power hell-bent on galactic destruction), the heroes’ motivation is nothing new (fatherly approval and female in distress), and the filler material is standard fare (witty banter). Therefore, if you are looking for Marvel to push the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from an action film (a là Avengers), you’re not going to find it here. However, despite having seen these ideas/techniques used elsewhere, this movie still manages to be entertaining.
Part of the excitement comes from seeing how first time big-budget film director Alan Taylor handles the material. Taylor has been involved in a multitude of well-received and popular television programs, including The Sopranos, Mad Men, and most importantly Game of Thrones. Therefore, the man knows how to create entertaining and intriguing dramas. Many people familiar with his work were probably eager to see if he could bring the same depth and character drama to the big screen. Thor: The Dark World shows mixed success in this regard. The relationship between Thor and his brother Loki gets more attention in this installment than it had previously, and is handled very well. So well, in fact, that it is the highlight of this film. Everyone else, on the other hand, doesn’t really get the opportunities to be involved in any inter- or even intrapersonal drama. Unlike in The Sopranos, Mad Men, or Game of Thrones there are no conflicted/complicated characters who could be considered both good and bad at the same time. Loki’s character comes close, but in the end everyone is clearly labeled as good or bad.
Entertainment: Character drama isn’t the traditional reason that people are drawn to superhero films, although, it is nice when it shows up. Audiences of superhero films want action, adventure, and crazy special effects. In that regard, Thor: The Dark World delivers, even if the results are somewhat muddled. The special effects, for example, continue in the same vein as Kenneth Branagh’s original film, but are ramped up a higher level. Visually the film tries to be a combination of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, which although fun to watch is a bit confusing. Alan Taylor does everything he can to make the film feel epic and therefore appear worthy of a story. This type of an effort will become even more important as Marvel rolls out additional superhero films. Each film will need to feel important or worthy of your money without having to outdo the previous film(s). Thor: The Dark World attempts to do this by building up terror and a sense of impending doom with which the titular hero must overcome. If that premise sounds familiar, you’ve understood my point. (4/5)
Story: Centuries ago, Thor’s grandfather, Bor, defeated the Dark Elves who wanted to use a weapon called the Aether to destroy all light in the universe. Unfortunately, Bor was unable to destroy the weapon so he hid it deep underground, and some of the elves escaped. Back to present day a rare alignment of the realms is about to occur, which causes gateways to open at random between them. Jane Foster, Thor’s love interest, accidentally stumbles into one and finds the Aether, which binds to her. With the Aether revealed again, the Dark Elves reemerge and lay siege to try and reclaim the weapon. It is up to Thor and Loki to defend the universe to prevent this from happening. (2.5/5)
Acting: Chris Hemsworth is back as Thor, and although he does the buff hero routine well he is less fun in this movie than in the original film and in Avengers. Tom Hiddleston steals the show as Loki. His complicated character is entertaining and his charisma with Hemsworth is intriguing. Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, and still doesn’t feel like se belongs. Her character’s behavior is not consistent and Portman somehow doesn’t really connect with the other actors. Kat Dennings returns as Foster’s assistant and like Hiddleston, is able to make the movie more entertaining. Christopher Eccleston plays the ruler of the Dark Elves, and really doesn’t have much time to generate a character beyond generic bad guy. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces including Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, and Idris Elba, among others. They do well overall, but the story is inconsistent with its focus, and the result is some characters are conflicted while others don’t have much impact. (3/5)
Picture/Direction: Alan Taylor isn’t new to directing feature films, but this is his first major production. His experience as a television director has served him well. He knows where to put the camera and how to get the most out of a dialogue. When the action picks up, things get a little chaotic but the outcomes are nonetheless clear. The story does build up to a sense of impending doom, which is meant to heighten the drama, but Taylor takes too long to get to this point and is only able to hang on to that feeling for one or two scenes. The problem seems to be, at least in the first half, that the film wants to do too much. There are a lot of characters and side stories, which results in Thor himself sometimes feeling a bit left out. Developing those side stories and making them an important message of the overall main storyline is what Taylor has done countless times before on the television series he worked on. In this film, however, those stories are started but never really seem to get finished. The plot and characters aren’t really sophisticated enough to support them and Taylor gets distracted by trying to up the ante on action and epic adventure. (3.5/5)
Special Effects/Music/X-Factor: Much of the excitement of this film comes from the special effects. If the first film felt a little low-key compared to some of the other Marvel films, this one has a wider scope and therefore a lot more interesting places and people to showcase. In particular it is the Dark Elves which give this movie its unique qualities. Their weapons and warfare are more futuristic than ancient. It doesn’t really make much sense when the Asgardians have shields and swords and are fighting an enemy with laser guns and gravity grenades, but it is fun to watch. Similarly with S.H.I.E.L.D involved so heavily in The Avengers it was puzzling not to see them show up here, given the fact that the fate of the universe was apparentlty at stake. Overall, the cinematography and production values of the film are sufficient and the music is memorable and fits with the epic intentions of the film. Thor: The Dark World is more thrilling than the original film, and helps to advance Marvel’s storyline, but as a standalone film it doesn’t really have originality or depth to set it apart from standard superhero movie fare. (4/5)
What’s Good: Lots of exciting and entertaining action, interesting visuals, the film feels pretty epic, and a great performance by Tom Hiddleston.
What’s Bad: Generic characters and story, lack of focus by the director, a cluttered first half, and some lackluster acting performances.
Overall: (3.5/5) More exciting than the original but not as unique.