Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie Review: Thor, the Dark World

It's opening weekend for Marvel's latest superhero movie, Thor, the Dark World (hereafter: TTDW), which is a sequel to both the first Thor, and Avengers.  I saw the movie yesterday, and what follows will be a brief review of it.  Please note that there be spoilers here, so if you haven't seen the movie, go see it first.  Otherwise, certain plot points and surprises may be ruined.

The movie begins with a prologue showing that Malekith and the Dark Elves (who look strangely light-skinned given their name) ruled the universes until the Asgardians came and defeated them, bringing the light. Malekith created a powerful force called Aether which he would use to win, but it was taken from him by Odin's father, and hidden away in the deeps. The Dark Elves were defeated, but Malekith and a small number of them escaped on a giant space-ship.  This part of the film was pretty good, although even at this point, I thought Malekith was rather flat and uninteresting (as portrayed in the movie -- I love him in the comics).

 Next Loki (a prisoner for having caused mayhem and destruction in New York) is brought before Odin to be judged.  Frigga asks for mercy, and Odin imprisons Loki rather than killing him as he deserves.  Thor then goes off on a quest to bring peace to the nine realms.  Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three then begin fighting battles to keep the peace and end bloodshed.  This scene produces plot hole #1: where did the enemies came from,? What do they want? Why is there fighting in these realms? These things are not specified -- the battles just "are," with no further explanation.  Note, this is not just a trivial nit-pick.  I have watched Thor and Avengers many times. There is no indication in either of these movies that there have been any battles in the nine realms except for the war between Jotunheim and Asgard.  If the jotuns had been fighting Thor and the Warriors Three, that might make sense (that there has been war with the jotuns since Loki betrayed and killed Laufey in Thor).  But the jotuns are not doing the fighting.  The enemy army appears to kind of be dark elves, but the prologue indicates that this also cannot be. So who is fighting across the nine realms against the Asgardians, and why?  This plot point needed more development.

Meanwhile, Jane Foster, searching for Thor, is scanning anomalies in London. Presumably the concentration of these anomalies has led her to England, although this is not really spelled out.  As she and her assistant Darcy investigate a warehouse that seems to be the center of these anomalies, Jane is sucked into the very deep place where the Aether is stored, and it attaches itself to her.  This isn't really a plot hole, so much as a huge, honking plot contrivance.  Asking the audience to believe that Jane Foster could just blunder into a warehouse that just happens to be full of holes across various realms, and that one of these that she, and only she, finds, leads to the deep place within Svartalfheim (presumably... it is never exactly specified where it is) that contains the Aether is akin to asking us to believe she could win the lottery twice.  In the same week. And then get hit by lightning while collecting the money.  Additionally, it's extremely hackneyed to have the helpless damsel-in-distress love interest become "possessed" by the evil force, thereby requiring the hero to move heaven and earth to extract it.  I will confess that, when the Aether attached itself to Jane, I rolled my eyes and muttered "Oh, please."

As the story continues, Thor finds out that Jane is possessed by the Aether and takes her to Asgard for help. Here, we are treated to a decent exchange between Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins FTW) and Thor about the practicalities of someone who will live for thousands of years loving a mortal human.  It's a shame the movie didn't focus on this aspect more, because it is interesting and could have potentially been original, depending on how they approached it.  However, they don't spend a great deal of "screen time" on this aspect, before getting right back into the action.  Malekith, awakened by the cosmic alignment of the nine worlds, senses the Aether is in Asgard and invades.  His attack is rebuffed but Frigga is killed protecting Jane.  I thought this scene also worked.  However, at this point I was starting to wonder a little about Malekith. He had not been developed much at all beyond being a single-minded oaf whose only goal is to just destroy stuff.  As villains go, this is a rather lackluster characterization.  I expected it to change as the movie went on, but sadly, it didn't.

And I think this is probably the movie's largest problem: Malekith is flat and unimpressive, as a villain. Compared to the duplicitous, cunning malevolence of Loki, who is still in the story but isn't the main villain here, Malekith is just a walking ball of evil energy.  There is no subtlety to his evil (like Loki's).  Nor is there a megalomaniacal desire for world conquest (like the Red Skull).  The movie seems to infer that he has a desire for revenge (like Magneto). However, if he wanted revenge, he sure goes about it in a strange way, because he attempts to blanket all the nine worlds in darkness, rather than going after the Asgardians, who should be the ones he believes had wronged him.  Unexplained is what Malekith will gain from blanketing all the worlds in darkness. Will that make him more powerful? Allow him to rule them? Unlike the Red Skull, Loki, and Magneto, the motivations and goals of the villain are nebulous -- he's just kind of this "evil guy who wants to do evil." And that doesn't really work as a main villain in a story-line.  It doesn't help that he gets very little screen time for the "main" villain, and he has not one memorable line of dialogue in the entire movie (as usual, all the memorable quotes come from Loki in this movie).

Loki is, indeed, the high point of this movie. Portrayed by Tim Hiddleston, who by now deserves some kind of multi-year achievement award from the Academy for his consistently outstanding portrayal of the character across multiple films, Loki continues to be cunning, clever, malicious, and duplicitous -- all the attributes one would expect from the "god of mischief." One is never quite sure where Loki's loyalties lie, except that, by the end of the movie, one thing is clear: even though he knows now that he was adopted, he has always loved Frigga, and still thinks of her as his mother.  Hiddleston's ability to be honorable and decent one minute, and then evil and despicable the next, while consistently portraying that there is always more going on beneath the surface than what we actually see before us, is unmatched in superhero movies.   Loki is, in other words, what Malekith should have been: complicatedly evil. Malekith, by comparison, is just evil, and stupidly so.  It's embarrassing how easily Thor and Jane and the others are able to trick Malekith over and over again. They wouldn't be able to do that to Loki (rather, he would do that to them).

Besides Loki, there are some other strong positives in this movie. The action sequences are good and the special effects in this movie are excellent. They did some very neat things with Mjolnir, and I greatly enjoyed the storm-and-hammer effects.  The Aether effects were good, and the alignment of the various universes looked quite cool as it happened... and not at all as I would have expected.  There were some nice treats in that scene, such as the glimpse we got of a realm full of fire, which must have been Muspellheim.  I can only hope that Thor 3 will involve my favorite villain from that realm - Surtur.

Another positive is the humor.  Although it didn't have as many funny moments as the first Thor, there were some great little comic bits here, especially with Darcy, who still calls Mjolnir "meow-meow."  Darcy is hilarious in her short scenes, and the team comedy she does with her intern is a hoot.  Loki, as usual, also provides for some laughs, mostly by mocking Thor's stoicism and sense of honor.  The scene in which he turns himself and Thor into different characters is priceless.

Lastly, I'd like to mention the massive logic-break at the end of this movie, which along with the lackluster villain really ruined it for me: Selvig's home-made dimension devices.  These things were just ridiculous, and they also break the logic of the Marvel Movie-verse.  Based on the first few films, we know that an object that can create dimensional portals would be a rare, powerful thing.  The Tesseract was the object of both the Red Skull (in Captain America) and the uber-villains Thanos and Loki (in Avengers) for just this reason: it had the power to open portals between worlds.  Indeed, as powerful as Loki and Thanos are, neither of them is apparently capable of generating a world-portal on his own, which is why, in Avengers, they were after the Tesseract to do it for them.  And yet, in this film, Eric Selvig is able to create home-made devices for detecting dimensional openings, and then, sitting in his underwear in Jane's London flat, is able, in a few hours, to enable those home-made devices to open portals -- something even Thanos, Loki, and Thor cannot do?  This completely shatters the internal logic of the Marvel Movie-verse.  If Selvig can jerry-rig a device for opening dimensional gates, why did Loki need the Tesseract in the first place?  And if these little metal devices on wooden poles can do this, doesn't this make the Tesseract obsolete?  The logic of the entire universe breaks down as a result.

Additionally, one wonders why anyone needed the Selvig Sticks anyway -- the Tesseract, at the end of Avengers, was returned to Odin's treasure room.  If Odin wanted to end things, why not just take it out, and use it to gate Malekith away? Why do they need the Selvig Sticks to be a "poor man's" dimension portal when the real thing is in possession of the Asgardians? Here again, the internal logic of the universe, the consistency of the continuity, is broken.

Taken together, all these elements combine to make TTDW an extremely mediocre movie.  Good action and humor scenes, along with another stellar performance by Loki-actor Hiddleston, are counterbalanced by an uninspired villain, an overly complex plot, and large, unnecessary holes in the logical consistency of the fictional universe.  This movie wasn't as bad as, say, Man of Steel or Iron Man 3, and as such, it probably stands as the "best" superherho movie this year.  But that's not saying much, as both MOS and IM3 were terrible.

My rating: 2 stars (out of 4)

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