You feel like you’re being hustled, but for no particular reason. This story, this presentation, is going just fine, and yet they’re moving through it with the speed and determination of a Global Guts contender. Just what, exactly, are they trying to hide? Nothing is spectacularly wrong. Just take it easy.
This is an awful lot what it’s like watching Thor: The Dark World, the Asgardian entry into the second phase of Marvel’s motion picture universe. Nothing is egregiously broken about it while nothing similarly stands above it all, and yet it feels like director Alan Taylor is trying to push us along before we see the cracks in the wall.
The strangest part of it is that it doesn’t quite feel necessary, perhaps because the film pulls of the ruse so well, or at least inoffensively. Its greatest strength just might be that it moves at such an incredible clip, cooking along like someone ordered enough Hot Pockets for the whole of Connecticut.
It tells the continuing story of Thor, god of Thunder and recent contributor to The Avengers’ victory in New York against Loki and Chitauri. This time, a Dark Elf foe named Malekith has awoken from his eons of slumber after a failed attempt to destroy the nine realms during the last Convergence event (when the whole universe is in alignment). Foiled by Thor’s grandfather Bor, Malekith’s impossibly powerful weapon called the Aether is taken and hidden.
To the world, the Dark Elves fell that day for good and the Aether, a flowing black and red fluid, was destroyed. Malekith, however, sacrificed nearly his entire army and race to guarantee his survival and stowed away until his time to strike, preferably just in time to get the Aether and use it at the next Convergence.
This is a story that concerns the entirety of human, Asgardian, and all existence. Should Malekith succeed, nearly all life will be extinguished and the worlds restored to its original, ill-defined form. And yet it doesn’t feel like that. This feels infinitely more inconsequential than, say, the first Captain America film, which really only concerned itself with the destruction of a few countries. (Having the gravitas of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer precede the film doesn’t help things either.)
It’s because the film moves deftly between failings while conveying to you the minimal amount of story, which sounds bad but actually works well for Thor. The biggest problem with the first film—of which I was a fan, so take that as you will—was the clash of the fantastical with the real. Consider the rest of the Marvel universe that we’ve seen: a high school photographer turned hero, a shrimpy zealot wins a war, and a drunken billionaire playboy genius breaks science. Given their relative proximity to reality, where does a Norse demigod fit in?
Glossing over that and many other problems, though, doesn’t necessary resolve those issues but it certainly alleviates it. The film opens with exposition, but quickly jumps into action. And then we are met with humor and mystery. And before we tired of that, we are shuttled off to a scene of fighting and comic book quips. Before anything has time to bore us, we are availed with something we hadn’t seen since two tonal shifts ago.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t genuine strengths to the movie. Chris Hemsworth as the exceedingly muscular god of thunder is as charming as ever, convincing you that were you to ever befall tragedy, he should be the one you bring you out. Kat Dennings finally finds her footing (or, more like it, is given the opportunity) as the comedic relief.
Tom Hiddleston, however, is once again the standout. His portrayal of Loki is, without a doubt, exceptional. He is equal parts psychotic and vulnerable, conveying to you in a single moment—a single glance at the camera—that he is hurt beyond all reproach and is justified in his actions and motivations, though we know better. His menace is only matched by his broken heart, providing perhaps the only viable foil for the stoic Thor.
Combining the smile-inducing Hemsworth and the terrifyingly endearing Hiddleston, we are given a sibling relationship we can believe in, in spite of the often overly simplistic and clumsy dialogue. Anthony Hopkins even overcomes the desire to overact overwrought lines and a dramatic character by giving us a grounded Odin.
It’s strange that Natalie Portman, a highlight of the first film, is the least empathetic component in this sequel as Jane Foster. Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith doesn’t fair much better, though that may be because he isn’t given much more to work with beyond staring into space and clenching his Dark Elf jaw.
If you have any desire to see the film in 3D (via post-production), all I have to say is that it didn’t hurt the experience. After watching it once in both in tertiary and binary dimensions, the only time the third dimension stuck out was during an assault sequence in the middle and the highly digitized ending sequence. While impressive, the cost doesn’t necessarily seem justified.
The look of the movie, however, is overall fantastic. The flagrant display of mythological influence is still there when Asgard is on display, but the earthly portion of the film is so much more grounded than before. Seeing Thor and Malekith tumble about the UK doesn’t look like a poor Photoshop job at all this time around, the color palette much tamer and connected to a less sprightly palette. It makes it much easier to swallow the pill of a god walking around our planet.
I really meant it when nothing is spectacularly broken with this sequel. It is, without reservation, a fine film, but it does so at the expense of saying or showing anything substantial. By moving between keyframes with a single and short-lived tweening motion, it stops you from realizing that it stops short of highlighting the gravity of a universal destruction or the failure of an imprecise and meandering script or any number of commensurate problems.
Thor: The Dark World is a solid movie, but it’s not a great one. It’s a good thing, then, that it pushes you ahead to the next bit before you realize what’s wrong with the current one.
+ Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston seems to be born for their roles
+ It knows when to move on before it wears out its welcome
+ The aesthetic of the film finally fits its otherworldly and earthly components
– Weak writing fails to convey the severity of Malekith’s plan
– Glosses over several interesting or important plot points for the sake of pace
Final Score: 6 out of 10