Friday, March 14, 2014

Thor: The Dark World. A Review


I got permission from my mother to give her very brief review for Thor: The Dark World.

"It was the worst piece of junk I have ever seen.  I had more fun at Howard the Duck than this.  I liked The Legend of Hercules better.  I wanted to walk out many times during that long, long movie.  I want my $2 back".  Such was her dislike for The Dark World that it took a great deal of convincing to have her stay for the mid-credit scene (which she didn't care for), and I opted to leave rather than have a fight to get her to stay for the post-credit scene. 

Mrs. Aragon went on to say that she expected Thor (a film she kept pushing me and pushing me to take her to, being highly pumped to see it despite not having seen the original and having no memory of The Avengers) to be like Superman or Spider-Man.  She may have been highly bored and irritated by Thor's meandering plot and odd moments of ill-placed comedy, but for myself...I didn't hate it as much as Mom.  Truth to told, I didn't hate The Dark World.  I just don't understand how a great opportunity to be better than the first film could have been so utterly squandered.

In voice-over from Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), we learn that the Aether, a powerful weapon that will bring darkness to all worlds, was taken by the Asgardians after they defeated the Dark Elves and their leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston).  It looks like all the Dark Elves have been destroyed, but Malekith and some minions have escaped, waiting for the next chance all Nine Realms (which I believe include Earth and our Solar System) are in alignment to try again.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is doing her best to get on with her life, one without her hunky unofficial boyfriend, the mighty Asgardian Thor (Chris Hemsworth).  She does this by going on a lunch date with Richard (Chris O'Dowd), but leave it to her wacky assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) to get her out of all that due to two things: a strange gravity-defying location in London where they are stationed, and Jane's mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) running around naked at Stonehenge (mercifully, when I went to Stonehenge I was spared such horrors as seeing an old Swedish guy running around with no clothes on.  If it had been his son Alexander, who is more experienced in nudity thanks to True Blood...well, I digress).

Alongside Darcy's assistant Ian (Jonathan Howard), Jane manages to stumble onto the Aether which the Asgardians had so thoughtfully buried on Earth (what EVER are the odds).  Anyway, the Aether manages to get inside Jane, and THIS is what brings Thor back into her life.  Sweeping her up to Asgard, Odin isn't thrilled to see this mortal here, but we don't have time to worry about things like Asgardian/Earthling romances, because the Dark Elves, now awakened, are attacking.

Yes, Brits DO play
many villains...

Thor has come up with a plan to defeat Malekith, but it does mean going against his father the King's wishes.  This plan also involves Loki (Tom Hiddleton), imprisoned for his actions in Thor/The Avengers.  I'll be honest: I'm not exactly SURE what that plan was, but somehow Loki manages to help Thor and sacrifice himself for his brother. Thor and Jane manage to get back to Earth, where a final battle to save the Nine Realms takes place in Greenwich, and with the aid of Selvig, Darcy, Ian, and Jane (who by now has that pesky Aether out of her system) Thor rises to the occasion to be victorious.

I found that The Dark World flat-out didn't know what it was, and I lay blame primarily on the screenplay.  I have a Golden Rule of Filmmaking: There Should Be A Maximum of Three Writers (what I call my Casablanca Rule, since three people wrote that screenplay).  The Dark World has indeed three credited writers (Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely), but its story comes from two other writers (Don Payne and Robert Rodat).  I think it is a bad sign when two people who come up with the story are not officially involved with the actual screenplay.  Too many hands were on The Dark World, which explains how disjointed, even confused it all was.

Long stretches of Asgardian battles and plots and counterplots get interrupted by going back to the comic styling of Darcy stumbling around with her intern (the running gag of no one remembering Ian's name wearing thin fast).  For reasons known only to the writers and director Alan Taylor, when Thor and his group discuss their plan to free Loki and take on Malekith we get them talking, then see the plan in action, THEN go back to talking about the next point, THEN see THAT part of the plan in action, back and forth back and soon starts getting idiotic.

We also have no real sense of when something is going on.  We see early on Selvig's nude romp in Stonehenge, then much later in the running time, we see footage of this again (via a news report), making it confusing whether Darcy and 'her intern' knew about his mental breakdown (which I think it was) or not. 

Here is where the 'comedy' was falling flat for me.  At various times we see Selvig naked or pantless, and somehow this diminishes the seriousness of whatever is going on.  That isn't to say there aren't genuine moments of humor (as when Thor hangs his hammer next to the coats, or is forced to take the Underground to return to Greenwich) but even here the jokes stop the action cold.

We're so pretty and we don't care!

The constant shape-shifting of Loki made things if not confusing at least shockingly easy: Thor's hand is cut off! (flashbacks to the Tenth Doctor)...NO, it's Loki in disguise!  Loki's DEAD!  Now he's not!  Back and forth and back and forth where just a quick change frees us from having any consequences to what we've seen.  Soon we start not caring because things will change.

In terms of performances the worst is poor Portman.  She has nothing to do: once the Aether takes her over she is the ultimate in damsel-in-distress.  Portman spends most of The Dark World either hiding or passively looking around.  She is given nothing to do (except, as my mother observed, slapping people).  Portman's Jane Foster, instead of being this brilliant scientist, was a plot device to both get things rolling and as excuse to get her in the film itself.  Frankly, Jane Foster was irrelevant to the movie.  She was the most passive female character I have seen in a long time, nothing more than the mortal girlfriend forever mooning and waiting for her hunky Norseman to come swinging back to her.

Hemsworth managed to keep his baritone Australian tone and while he's comfortable with the rather grand majesty of Thor, again I found him to be just action and little heart.  However, I put that more on the script and less on Hemsworth himself (even though I have yet to see an actual performance from him).  In a positive, Rene Russo's Frigga at least has more to do than last time and provided the only real moments of humanity in the film.  Hopkins is cashing a check, but at least he's having fun doing so.

However, almost everyone else was overshadowed by the meandering script.  Eccleston, unrecognizable as Malekith, was wasted in the role: his villain being among the weakest and least defined.  Howard, in his role of Ian (the intern whose name no one could remember) did what he could and I liked his character (though the running gag soon wore out its welcome) and while O'Dowd is not as funny as everyone tells me he is he too did what he could with his unnecessary character (he could easily have been cut out of the story altogether without affecting the flow, a sign of how superfluous he was).  The other Asgardians came in and out so quickly I don't think I ever heard their names, and they too seemed to be there only because they were expected to be there, not because they were actually needed. 

This is a real shame because if the story had been more focused, we could have had wonderful interaction between the Asgardians.  WHO were they?  Thor's brothers and sisters?  His friends?  I never learned what or who or even why they were, and it was unfortunate because people like Zachary Levi (someone who can handle comedy thanks to Chuck and who I think has the talent to branch into drama) were robbed of any meaningful contribution.  There is something wildly wrong when you have to wait to the credits to learn what his character's name was (Fandral) and still don't know anything about him when The Dark World is over.

Is it good or bad that a.) one didn't notice that Levi took over the role from Josh Dallas, and b.) one really didn't know what this character actually did or was like in either film?

The only one who made any impression is Hiddleston, who simply owns the part of Loki. Staying on the right side of camp, Loki knows he's a villain and makes no apologies for it.  Devious, vindictive, and with a wicked sense of humor (such as when he shape-shifts to Captain America--Chris Evans in a cameo), Hiddleston I think understands that this character is not going to be anything other than fun and plays him as such.  He doesn't send up the character, but also understands that you can play him seriously up to a point, and he is a good enough actor to know when to pull back and when to go all out-wicked.

There are some good things in The Dark World.  Visually it is sometimes beautiful.  The final battle between Thor and Malekith is also quite fun.

That's about it though, because in terms of ill-placed comedy, a story that wanders all over the place (literally and figuratively), and with the exception of Hiddleston, Russo, and Howard, dull and lifeless performances, Thor: The Dark World is what no Marvel film should be: a long trailer for The Avengers 2.

Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


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