Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World

Rating

Director
Alan Taylor
Screenplay
Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, Robert Rodat
Length
112 min.
Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Alice Krige, Clive Russell, Jonathan Howard
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content

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Review
One of the defining elements of the rise of the superhero blockbuster was a reliance on a strong narrative. Thor: The Dark World proves that the narrative has gotten muddied and, as a result, the success of the Marvel universe may be unraveling.

When Iron Man released in 2008, a freshness was injected into a genre that was growing stale by the year. X-Men and X2: X-Men United had ushered in an era where the medium could be infused with excellent stories supported by brilliant actors in a film that felt more like cinema than profit-sharing. Then Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Superman Returns came out and doubts emerged about its long term viability. Batman Begins alleviated some of that concern, but it wasn’t until the massive four-film build-up to The Avengers gave us hope that a new era had dawned.

And dawned it had, though there were weak points. Iron Man 2 squandered most of the good will established in the first film and Thor marked a low-point in the franchise. That film, with Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero, was the nadir of the new origin films (Iron Man 2 was worse), albeit an entertaining, popcorny one. It’s no surprise then that Thor: The Dark World is about on par, if not weaker than Thor was in 2011. That’s not for lack of trying.

The story here revolves around a break-down between the barriers of the nine realms over which Asgard rules. Asgard is the home of the Norse gods, led by the vain and war-happy father of the gods, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). As the day approaches, an evil race called the Dark Elves, led by the vicious Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), are attempting to track down and use a mysterious living force called Aether, a substance that will enable Malekith to blanket the worlds in darkness and begin a new reign for him and his people, destroying all other life in the process.

Thor (Hemsworth), meanwhile, is at odds with his father because of his fascination with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who happens to fall through an emerging rift and become a host for the Aether and thus a target for Malekith’s advances. In the end, Thor must team up with his imprisoned brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in an effort to thwart Malekith and his people.

The character of Thor is a fascinating one, but his one-sided infatuation with the love of his life, Foster, puts him in positions that are contrived at best. In an effort to tie the adventure to Earth, keeping the character from seeming too unrelatable, the writers have bogged the film down with needless asides featuring Foster, her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings). They’ve even given Darcy a charming, if pointless assistant with whom to fall in love (Jonathan Howard).

Once again, Hiddleston proves why he has one of the most fascinating roles in modern hero films. Loki is damaged, murderous, treasonous, but emotionally conflicted. He still focuses on himself, but there are moments where he sheds his confident veneer and displays the vulnerability conveyed through Hiddleston’s immense talent. Were the rest of the cast so fiendishly devoted to doing something deeply emotional and relatable, the film (and franchise) might have hopes of significant meaning.

Ultimately, the bevy of writers that crafted the script have yet to find something less superficial to tackle in their outings. This film is on the same narrative level as the predecessor, but is a stark drop down from others in its genre. Perhaps the character of Thor just isn’t deep enough to merit a more down-to-earth story, but to make a god entirely vulnerable might be too much for his myriad fans.

Script issues aside, and there are many such issues, the production values of the film surpass the original. Something about the artificial environments of the first film felt hokey and abandoned. With more scenes set on Asgard, the realm looks more vibrant and populous and lacks that visual effects veneer that made the original look fake. There are still a few issues, largely because the city is so massive that any movement on the ground would be almost microscopic, but more ground-level camera shots might have established a more vital environment.

Apart from this artificiality, the visual effects are largely impressive, especially the scenes in London where Malekith’s massive ship cut effortlessly through stone, concrete and earth. The production design is beautiful, but because of the heavy use of visual effects, still lacks the liveliness of more brick-and-mortar designs. The costumes are largely unchanged from the previous film and there is little excitement in terms of makeup outside of that employed on Malekith and his henchman Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). It’s a movie that’s pleasing to look at, but with an air of vacancy.

As Iron Man 3 proved, it’s possible to return from a bleak second chapter and make for a thrilling comeback, but consider how Thor: The Dark World isn’t exactly a large drop in quality from its predecessor, finding a way above and beyond may prove impossible for this particular character.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Unlikelies: Production Design, Costume Design
Review Written
November 15, 2013

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