Second Opinion: Thor: The Dark World
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following review contains spoilers.]
Thor has always been something of an aberration in the superhero universe. His medieval bombast and Norse God status, taken from the pulp tradition of heroes like Gor or Conan, hardly belongs next to more down-to-Earth characters like the tech-driven Iron Man, or the sitcom wonderful Fantastic Four. He was introduced in the 1960s, and was eventually assembled as part of an Avengers dream team that included all of Marvel's star characters at the time, the comic writers blithely ignoring that this mismatched superweirdo clearly doesn't belong in the mix.
Like The Green Lantern, though, this off-the-wall super superhero seems to have persisted to the point of audience acceptance. He has been around so long, and is so often seen next to a comparative wimp like Captain America, that we just sort of accept him. The character's inherent ridiculousness no longer fazes readers or writers. Indeed, it speaks volumes as to the current state of popular culture that Thor has now been featured in not one but three full-length, big-budget feature films.
His most recent outing is the much-hyped and totally baffling Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor, a lightweight and pretty forgettable cinematic distraction so bugnuts crazy, that had it been released outside of the ever-important Avengers aegis, it would be laughed out of theaters. Kenneth Branagh's Thor, the first solo outing for our bonkers hammerman, often invited critical comparisons to bonkers sci-fi/fantasy films of the 1980s like Krull and Masters of the Universe, but with that now-familiar, ever-so-clean modern superhero manufacturer's stamp on it. Such sci-fan comparisons should have been saved for Thor: The Dark World, which is a swirling mish-mash of spaceships, medieval posturing, modern wisecrackery, living evil gookum, teleportation lasers, and occasional bouts of sloppy character work. Oh yes, and elves. Dark Elves.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth, hunky as ever) has been hanging around his native realm of Asgard, fighting off this-and-that, when an ancient Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, wasted) appears looking for some evil goop called Aether, which has been locked away in an Asgardian cave vault for millennia. Malekith hates the universe and wants to destroy it for a reason that it is best not to ask about. The Aether has somehow, through vague portal physics, infected Jane (Natalie Portman, in her second post-Oscar film in a row wherein she wears a steel breastplate), Thor's human would-be girlfriend. Also Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's “evil” brother and star of The Avengers, observes most of this from a dungeon cell, and he is eventually released to help out against the evil invading elves. Seriously, did they have to elves? Couldn't they at least have been goblins or something?
For a plot so simple, an awful lot seems to happen in this film. First, we're hanging out with Thor is Asgard, getting used to the theatrical language, and then we jarringly cut to scientists on Earth discovering portals. After that, we're in a starship populated by elves. Say what you will about Branagh's Thor (which I know is well-liked by many audiences), it at least was able to finesse some of the odd setting vacillation. The Dark World has no such attempts at finesse, crashing us from place to place – and, more to the point, tone to tone – that we have trouble getting a handle on this chimera of a movie. Not to spoil anything, but several major characters die out in this film, and the deaths are sort of glossed over, often followed immediately by a comedic scene.
None of this is to say that Thor: The Dark World is a complete failure. Indeed, there are a few moments of tantalizing camp sprinkled throughout, and even a few creative action sequences, that you can see an alluring movie – yes even a movie with Thor in it – bubbling up under the surface. All it needed was a story with a bit more directional guidance (the central story proper doesn't get chugging until maybe 30 minutes in), and something other than a choose-your-own-adventure tone. Just pick a tone, and stick with it.
The film's villain, Malekith, is a bit of a bore, as his only goal is to destroy the universe just because he just hates the place so much. There is no motivation other than he is evil and wants to do evil things. This is standard comic book fare, though, and Loki had a similarly vague plan in The Avengers, and no one seemed to mind.
I would also like someone to explain the appeal of Loki to me. Seriously, I encourage comments below. Loki has become something of a fan darling, and it can't just be because of the actor playing him. To be fair, Tom Hiddleston is a delicious actor who bites into the role with energy and enthusiasm. He's a pretty face and a talented man, and it's hard not to watch him when he's on screen. But Loki, as a character, is a constant turncoat, whose true plans can never be discerned not because he's tricky or calculating, but because he doesn't even seem to know what he's doing in any given situation. His only goal seems to be to keep characters on their toes for no reason, all by doing whatever occurs to him in the moment. This guy is one goofy cackle and three pop culture references away from being Mr. Mxyzptlk.
The cherry on this bonkers sundae is the sight of Benicio Del Toro, in a mid-credits stinger, in a cameo as The Collector, an obscure Marvel character known for amassing weird stuff (hence, the name). Del Toro has a huge blonde coif, a fur cape, and big fuzzy gloves. His soul patch is tattooed on his face. He looks like a gay dandy albino Eskimo version of the Metalunans from This Island Earth. Yes, he makes allusions to The Infinity Gauntlet, which will probably be the third or fourth Marvel event film.
If the Thor crazy persists, audiences may finally realize how weird all this stuff is. If box office receipts are to be trusted, then we'll just keep on ridin' on this crazy train.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.