Thor: The Dark World
based on characters by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and Walter Simonson
Out of the sprawling Yggdrasil that is the Marvel cinematic universe, you’d think I’d be the most inclined towards the Thor branch—I mean, it includes sweeping space fantasy, lady scientists, and an earnest, dorky sense of humor, all things that are directly up my alley. But the first Thor film didn’t work for me on the level of, say, Captain America: The First Avenger. I liked all the individual pieces, including Tom Hiddleston’s star turn as Loki, but something about the way all the pieces were put together didn’t click for me. Still, it seemed a problem of execution, not of potential, and that’s the magical thing about long-lived stories: the potential is never wasted, only set aside for that moment. (Thus my eternal and increasingly pigheaded optimism about Harley Quinn at the moment.)
After Thor and company have successfully (and bloodily) put the Nine Realms back in working order after what Loki did to them in The Avengers, a grimdark (but not too grimdark, what do you think this is, DC?) threat from the dawn of the universe is reawakened—the Dark Elves. When, in the name of science, Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend and general mad astrophysicist, gets possessed with the one weapon they need to destroy the world of light, Thor must work with Jane and even the estranged Loki to stop them.
Thor: The Dark World imitates its predecessor by having the same problem—individually, the pieces are wonderful, but they’re just not stuck together the best way. The film is, essentially, split in two the weighty, imperious space opera of Asgard and the wacky hijinks of Jane Foster and the Science Scoobies. For the first two-thirds of its runtime, the film has difficulty negotiating the two. In particular, a character’s death is followed up by a particularly light scene of banter between Jane and Thor. Individually, both scenes are wonderful, but right after each other? Ow. But the brisk, workmanlike pacing doesn’t really allow for anything else.
Mercifully, towards the end of the film (right about when Jane gets an unexpected phone call), Thor: The Dark World finally stabilizes, balancing between Asgardian drama and scientific shenanigans. There’s much more to the intersection of these two worlds than just a fish out of water story, and the last third of the film mines it for a truly astonishing, physics-bending climax, complete with action, romance, humor, and pathos. The potential is finally realized, giving me hope that the inevitable third installment will be like that the entire time.
The cast remains as sparkling as ever; Chris Hemsworth’s affable Thor has matured and become more strategic, although his attitude towards science and technology remains punch-based, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has become increasingly erratic and unhinged, and Natalie Portman’s Jane remains brave, clever, and human. I really adore Jane—there’s a wonderful moment where she begins translating Asgardian magic into science that captures her utter delight for her work. Her science crew doesn’t disappoint, either. Kat Dennings’ Darcy remains sweet and funny (she’s even commandeered herself a recursive intern this go round), and Dr. Selvig is dealing with the fallout of being possessed by Loki. Apparently, the only 100% remedy for that was a kick to the head from Black Widow.
The only stumbles are the utterly wasted Christopher Eccleston as Malekith (which is all on the script) and Zachary Levi as Fandral, replacing Josh Dallas in the role. Levi (who was actually the original choice for the role) does what he can, but Dallas is one of the most charming men on the planet. (Thus his current gig.) Not that it really matters here, though. To fit in the sheer amount of characters it does, Thor: The Dark World mostly jettisons the Warriors Three, leaving them with roughly an equal amount of scant screentime. Hogun gets the worst of it, being written out of the film in mere moments, even through Volstagg, with his enormous brood of adorable, beloved children, has more of a reason to stay at home. Hmm. Racialicious has more.
The weightlessness of Thor’s CGI is mostly corrected here, with one or two trouble spots. It’s particularly fond of shots of characters’ feet as they slide backward under the weight of a CGI creation, which proves that these two elements exist in the same world. The set design has improved—Asgard feels more like a place, rather than an elaborate cathedral organ, which helps once it starts getting destroyed. In particular, I adored the moving images in Asgardian books, highlighting how similar and dissimilar the Asgardians are to humans. I also really enjoyed the costume design, Wendy Partridge’s work on the Dark Elves in particular. Much as Alexandra Byrne, the costume designer of the first film, successfully translated Loki’s horned helm to reality, Partridge makes Malekith’s famous two-faced appearance from the comics work by incorporating in a gruesome facial injury. Well done!
Bottom line: Like its predecessor, Thor: The Dark World has a lot of great individual elements that never seem to cohere properly—until the third act, which is fantastic. Worth a watch, but here’s hoping Thor 3 figures out how to make everything work the entire time.
I saw this film in theaters.