When Marvel began it’s meteoric rise in film with the first Iron Man, continuing on with incredible momentum into The Avengers, they seemed to be a studio with a game plan with no end in sight… in fact, their schedule was even divided into various phases of character roll-outs and the accompanying films. Every time I went into the theater to see a new Marvel offering, I went in dubious and came out a convert each and every time (although Iron Man 2… meh).
Post-Avengers, Marvel’s cracks seem to be showing. Iron Man 3, while somewhat more entertaining than the second installment, wasn’t quite up to snuff. Thor: The Dark World, seems to be suffering a similar fate… certainly not a bad film, but there is something lacking.
I will get into the film in a moment, but I think there is a fundamental flaw in making the superhero genre such a giant endeavor. For starters, a good villain is hard to find… and when you start getting into minor villains, such as the mish-mash that was The Mandarin and whoever Guy Pierce was in Iron Man 3, or worse yet, keep dipping into a single villain well (ie. Loki), things can get stale quick… so then film makers begin throwing in as many baddies into one movie as possible (looking at you Spider-Man 3), thus diluting any plausible coherent story or plot rendering the movie flaccid and limp. Even Man of Steel had to go back and recycle one of the best villains in that film series, Zod.
What may work as a story arc in the comics, can often come across as silly or easily dismissed on the big screen… and I fear that Marvel may be over-extending themselves a bit. Is anyone really clamoring for Ant-Man?
That said… I did enjoy Thor: The Dark World. I have my quibbles, but overall I would say it was a well paced and well plotted chunk of well coiffed eye candy throughout.
The backbone of the plot revolves around a convergence of the nine realms. A dark elf, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), had created a weapon called the Aether (a free floating blob of red wine apparently) five thousand years ago when the last convergence occurred, and had attempted to spread the Aether through all realms, thus spreading his beloved “darkness” throughout the whole universe. Odin’s father managed to defeat Malekith and to trap the Aether deep in the Dark World, but Malekith escaped by killing off all of his people save himself and a few loyalists.
Jump ahead five thousand years to now, and we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doing what Thor does best… being a jovial bad-ass with a giant hammer and dispatching his foes with a wink and smile, all while saving all the realms from the chaos left after Loki’s failed attempt to take Midgard back in The Avengers.
Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still pining for her Norse god, gone for two years saving the aforementioned universe. After discovering a portal/wormhole into another dimension, and accidentally finding the Aether, she disappears from Heimdall’s (Idris Elba) sight, prompting Thor to investigate.
The portal is a product of another convergence of the nine realms. Jane’s discovery then prompts some sort of automatic beacon that awakens the sleeping Malekith… and the fun begins. There is one scene in particular, and I won’t spoil anything, that left me gobsmacked. It was a genuinely shocking moment, and one that stood out among so many other that simply weren’t. When you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
As I mentioned, the plot is well laid out… and the many action sequences are beautiful to watch… but Malekith is a bit of a snooze as far as villains go, and dipping back into the Loki (Tom Hiddleston) well again, which is probably the best part of any of the Marvel films, just feels like something we’ve seen a few too many times. And the notion of “darkness” as being the end all, be all of horrors… what does that even mean? We get a scene of lights going out on Earth at one point… but I can’t say I heard any gasps in the audience. Would all the stars in the universe simply blink out of existence? Is the Dark World immune to darkness? What would anyone get out of destroying everything? Is being the ruler of nothing really such a great accomplishment? Hell, I rule nothing… does that make me like Malekith?
I suppose I’ve now opened my can of quibbles… so here goes… Jane sees Thor for the first time in two years, and she acts like a scorned teenager. She travels with him to Asgard, and behaves like a petulant child when she meets the parents. Really? You have Natalie Portman at your disposal as an actress and you make her completely unlikable? Sif seems like a perfectly fine choice for Thor.
In the first Thor, a frequent complaint was that Frigga (Rene Russo) didn’t have enough to do… so they give her something… I just wish it was something less predictable. Same goes for Heimdall. I’m always up for some more Idris Elba… and in this case, it pays off. Then again, seeing Heimdall remove his helmet and just sort of hang out felt out of place and somewhat shoehorned in… but, you really can’t go wrong with more Idris Elba.
The only other gripe I will groan on about is that in the first Thor, the best scenes were on Earth. The fish out of water story of watching a god trying to deal with being a mortal was what made Thor an exceptional chapter in the Marvel catalog. Having as much of the action occur on other worlds takes away from the film’s ability to make us care. And much of what we see on Earth revolves around Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) who seem to think they are in a slapstick comedy much of the time. Granted, as Dr. Selvig points out, having a god in your head tends to screw with you.
I realize I’m coming off as very critical for a movie I did enjoy, but I am concerned for the direction this Marvel juggernaut is headed. As someone who was reluctant in the beginning and became a Marvel convert (in film… I’m still not into the Marvel comics), I want to see the trend of awesome continue… I don’t want to see it wither and die due to over-saturation.
Fortunately, the next chapter of Captain America, The Winter Soldier, looks amazing… and I can’t wait for X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’m not sure where they can go with the Thor story, but I’m still looking forward to the second Avengers.
Perhaps it’s time for Iron Man and Thor to take a rest and to allow some air to breathe through these franchises before they suffocate on the weight of their own hubris. Maybe someone at Marvel needs to re-watch the first Thor and see what a little humility can do for them.
Nice hammer blondie,
Cornelius J. Blahg