Update: just added new Preview below.
In the latest Marvel superhero mega-movie, the stakes are as big as can be and so is the movie. We saw Thor: The Dark World in 3D which made the film appear even bigger as much of the action jumps off the screen at you. As a sequel to Thor (and really, The Avengers), The Dark World progressed the story along nicely, and had all the elements a superhero movie requires.
Natalie Portman returns to play astrophysicist Jane Foster, and Thor’s love interest from the first movie. We find the hammer wielding god, played for the third time by Chris Hemsworth, in the role of peacekeeper in the 9 realms that Asgardians rule over. In his heart Thor pines for Foster. That this love is forbidden gets a little play at the start of the film and then is abandoned once the bad guy sets his evil plan in motion.
The bad guy is Malekith (played wonderfully by Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves (who hail from a time before the universe was created and they’re a little cranky about that who light and goodness thing). Eccleston was pretty unrecognizable under all that makeup, but it gave him a sort of Dark Vader eeriness, and Eccleston’s acting helped elevate him into a suitable opponent for Thor. Malekith’s cohorts wore masks most of the time, reminding me alternatively of Storm Troopers (but with better aim) or, here’s your Disney reference, Spectromagic Dolls (a real horror for those in the know).
The conflict, when it comes, is what I call comicbook violence. People die, but there’s no blood. When gods are fighting each other the stakes still manage to feel real and when humanity is involved, we are essentially ants to those with superhero abilities. That’s how it should be. The film earns its PG-13 rating, but it you have a mature kid who’s a little younger, they’ll probably be fine.
There’s also a lot of great humor in the movie. Some real guffaw moments come when Thor has to deal with elements of human civilization that an Asgardian god would be unacquainted with. But the star of the show is Tom Hiddleston who plays Thor’s ‘brother’ Loki. The fallen brother brings his unique brand of unpredictable madness to the plot keeping everybody on their toes. There’s also a fantastic cameo by Mr. Stan Lee.
Things I didn’t like:
- Why do superhero movies feel its important to spend the first 20 minutes of the film giving the villain a backstory. We knew Darth Vader was the ultimate bad guy from the first moment he swept through the fog onto Princess Leia’s ship. Just give us the stakes and introduce the baddie with a flourish, the audience is smart enough to figure it out and the backstory can happen naturally within the main plot of the film.
- Once again, we have the issue of “where are the rest of The Avengers?” The Dark World deals with it rather cleverly by only having the bad guys on the scene for a short while and in London, so even if Iron Man was on the way, the whole shebang was finished before he could arrive.
- I didn’t like Anthony Hopkins’ take on Odin in the first movie and I really don’t like it in the second. To be fair, the script makes him look ineffective for most of both movies, but there Hopkins also has little of the godly gravitas required to pull off the all-father. He just sort of moves through the picture when if he was the real Odin, the universe would be revolving around him.
- Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic strategy over-relied on by scriptwriters these days. Checkover said that if there’s a rifle on the mantle in the first act, it must go off by the third. This is a bit of a fnord. Once you learn to see them, they’re everywhere. Thor has a couple of these moments that played out exactly as I predicted. I understand why its in the script that way, so the solution to the story drama doesn’t appear to come out of left field, but foreshadowing of these major plot twists needs to be much less obvious. (see also: red herring.)
In the scheme of things, these objections are minor. The movie, once it gets the backstory out of the way, has a momentum that carries you through the film to the final battle. The payoffs are all there, every fan will leave happy, trust me. Disney and Marvel have a winner on their hands here. Thor: The Dark World opens nationwide today.