Monday, November 11, 2013
Review: Thor: The Dark World
It's a weird feeling to see a huge tentpole blockbuster superhero movie like Thor: The Dark World and feel like it's "just ok." My reactions to these movies are typically much stronger -- I'm either way excited at just how well it captures the essence of the comic books on which it is based or I'm majorly disappointed at just how wrong they get it. With Thor: The Dark World, I'm neither. I'm kind of indifferent. I liked a lot of the movie, but there's probably just as much that either doesn't work or doesn't make an impression.
The typical model for the superhero movie is that the first movie is a mess but sets up the hero's origins and lets us get to know the character, while the second movie really lets it rip. Thor: The Dark World certainly does let it rip, but it's at the expense of the title character. There's a lot here that feels like reading a really fun issue of the comic book, but the fun only lasts until the credits. The movie starts to fade from memory as soon as it ends. The fun is transient, feeling less like a movie than just another episode in a Thor TV series. I hope that's not the future for Marvel sequels.
first Thor movie from 2011. The sequel feels much less Earth-bound, taking place in fantastical realms and opening up the scope a great deal. It's a considerably bigger movie. The action is better staged and much more plentiful. There are no scenes as staggeringly awful as the Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye insert that was wedged into the original to tie it to The Avengers. Director Alan Taylor, best known for his work on every good cable show you've ever watched (most notably Game of Thrones), keeps a lot of balls juggling in the air -- perhaps too many, really, as the film is unfortunately overstuffed. It's a more entertaining movie than the first because it never really slows down, and nearly every character gets at least one individual moment to shine. By the time the climax comes around, in which characters are chasing and fighting one another as they fall through different realms, the movie is finally completely clicking. It's a wonderful sequence and a good way to close out the film on a high.
But the sequel sacrifices the best aspect of the original movie: the character of Thor. Whereas most superhero origin movies are about ordinary humans who must learn to be heroes, Thor had the unique advantage of being about a powerful hero who had to learn how to be human. Thor had an interesting arc in the first movie, and Chris Hemsworth's performance as the brash and arrogant demigod who was humbled turned him into a movie star overnight. Thor: The Dark World doesn't give Thor any such arc. Hardly anyone changes at all as a character in this movie -- there's just a bunch of stuff that happens, loosely tied together by a filmsy plot. Some emotional beats are recycled from the first movie, dulling their impact. The relationship between Thor and his brother Loki undergoes some changes (Loki being the closest the movie has to a dynamic character this time around), but even those developments have a tendency to become undone by comic book magic.
While Hemsworth is as charming as ever in the sequel, Thor practically ends up taking a back seat in his own movie. There are just too many other plots and characters to service. The movie is overstuffed and, as a result, can't see characters and plot threads through to where they need to go. It has no idea what to do with Sif and the Warriors Three, and the film is lesser for their absence. Sif in particular.
Some of the comic relief also proves problematic. Lightness has been an overall strength of the Marvel movie universe -- the movies know how to balance funny moments with genuine thrills, and never get bogged down in heavy self-seriousness. The Dark World is no different, offering a couple of really solid laughs (my favorite is when Thor deadpan responds "Space is fine.") and plenty of goofy fun. But now the comic beats butt up somewhat uncomfortably against the movie's more serious moments, making it feel like there are two movies going on at the same time. It doesn't help that the film is overcrowded with characters who exists just to be comic relief. And like with this summer's Iron Man 3, the movie makes the mistake of undercutting it's strongest dramatic moment by following it immediately up with jokes.
So the movie feels thin on substance, but when evil elves are flying spaceships around the mystical realm of Asgard and firing lasers at a demigods, it's hard not to give yourself over to the goofy energy. As a longtime comic book reader, it's one thing to be rewarded with a movie in which Spider-Man swings around New York. It's quite another to be rewarded with a movie that doubles down on the cosmic fantasy that once seemed only possible in the pages of Marvel's finest. Thor: The Dark World is only possible because Marvel has built towards the moment in which audiences would accept a movie this nerdy. That's worth getting excited over, even when much of the movie isn't.
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SPOILER I guessReplyDelete
They just keep pretend killing people in these movies. How has something that random become a trend?
Nice to see that there's still a little bit of juice left in this story, as well as these characters, who continue to get more and more interesting and worth watching as each and every movie goes by. Good review.ReplyDelete
MAJOR SPOILER (question)ReplyDelete
So are we to assume that Odin is dead (when Loki supposedly died) since Loki took Odin's place at the end?
Yeah, I think we are. Which is dumb, because no one ever really dies, especially not Asgardians. Maybe he's in a janitor's closet with a bandana tied around his mouth, next to the mops and brooms.Delete
SPOILERS CONTINUED I don't know. I think that beat would have taken place on screen, because this movie can't resist the chance to kill major characters while Thor yells "Noooooooo!" Funny thing is, the first example of that happening had no emotional impact for me. Same with the first time he and Jane see one another. I should have really felt something, but instead it's just Thor standing there all of a sudden. And the slap thing was terrible.Delete
My wife and I had a conversation over lunch today about how there didn't seem to be any real stakes. We never felt like we should care what happens to any of the characters. The earth may be in danger, but so what? No one really seems to care all that much, and the movie gives us no real reason to worry about anything. This is a world where, even if you die, you come back before the end of the credits.Delete
SPOILERS Unless you're Rene Russo.Delete
Wow, I totally forgot about that. That had zero impact on me, and I haven't even thought about it since I saw this.Delete
That can't be good.
I started glazing over (just a little) when the first words of the movie sound too much like "THE TESSERACT."Delete
I had fun, though.
I agree with Patrick; Odin's probably just locked up somewhere. As great as Loki is, I think they needed to do a story that didn't revolve around him for the third time straight. I'm definitely interested to see how his secret coup plays out, though... and how he faked his death. A spell from one of those books he was reading? Something innate to his species? GIVE ME AN ANSWER, MARVEL; I'M WILLING TO PAY TO KNOW IT! :PDelete
'Space is fine' was indeed the best laugh of maybe any Marvel movie yet.ReplyDelete
Is it "fine?" Fine is even funnier than good. I need to edit the review.Delete
I didn't have huge expectations for this movie, yet still left pretty disappointed. I like the first movie a lot. I liked Branagh's take. His Shakespearean background really lent itself to the material, and he saw that the characters of Asgard lend themselves to that Shakespearean voice. It's a high, royal court, and just like Shakespeare's characters, they live and die on their foibles and faults. Pettiness and jealousy run rampant in Asgard. To me, that's exponentially more interesting than the mindless action of Thor: The Dark World. This sequel strips the characters of all their interesting bits. Loki, one of the most fleshed-out characters, is sidelined for a lot of the movie. No one has anything to do except frown and look like they're taking dumps.ReplyDelete
Malekith is a character full of motivations and personality in the comics. He's always talking and always emoting, full of passion. Here he may as well have been a computer-generated model. You cast Christopher Eccleston and then give the man nothing to do except stare into the horizon. Bad call.
Thor's universe lives and dies on character. When a writer understands that, then they give those characters things to do. The comics of Thor do have battles, but more than anything they have intrigue and family drama. Without a heavy dose of the politics and the soap opera of being the most powerful family in the universe, Thor can easily become an episode of Herclues or Xena. For me, Thor: The Dark World was much to close to the latter. I don't think the writers or directors really care about the characters in Thor, they just want to see things blow up.
I'm glad to have seen it....ReplyDelete