News, Views, and Reviews
Sometimes, good things come to those who wait. We’ve already experienced some amazing blockbuster spectacles this year: “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim,” “Gravity,” and others, but who would have expected the most epic, sci-fi-fantasy-super-hero movie of them all to be released in November? Is that even a genre? Marvel took some risk introducing Thor, a mythological super-hero, which paid off not only in his debut film, but in the record smashing movie, “The Avengers.” Thor’s first movie may have introduced us to the realm of Asgard, and his sci-fi-fantasy origins, but “The Dark World” fully embraces that genre and makes one of the most spectacular super-hero movies because of it.
Make no mistake: if you’re looking for a super hero that stops bank robberies or catches buses of children, or matches wits with mustache twirling villains, this isn’t that type of movie. The mythological setting feels more like “The Hobbit,” mixed in with some sci-fi-fantasy like “Star Wars,” (Yes, I am comparing this to Star Wars!) with a fantastic art style reminiscent of something from “Aliens.” Take all of that, and add a super-hero with a red cape and a mythic hammer, and have him save the Earth and the Nine Realms. It’s fantastic, it’s fun, and it’s epic. Not only does it easily meld these genres, it expertly melds heart wrenching tragedy with laugh out loud comedy, gravitas with levity, and romance with heroism.
Story: “The Dark World” is tied to the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and makes some references to previous movies. A little exposition should get the audience up to speed if they didn’t watch “Thor” or “The Avengers,” so I think viewers could still enjoy watching “The Dark World” without seeing all of the MCU movies. That said, I’ll try to summarize, anyway: (spoilers for “Thor” and “The Avengers” follow, though the exposition in “The Dark World” will summarize this, anyway.) Thor’s brother, Loki, tried to overthrow their father, Odin, and take over the realm of Asgard. Asgard acts as the protectors of nine different realms, which includes Midgard or Earth, and the magical Rainbow Bridge provides access to all of them. Thor stopped Loki by destroying the Rainbow Bridge. Cut off from all of the realms, Loki allied himself with the cosmically-super-powerful entity known as Thanos, and led the Chitauri aliens in an invasion of Earth. Thor and the Avengers stopped Loki, and Thor took his brother back to Asgard to be imprisoned there for his crimes.
“The Dark World” begins with Thor taking his place as defender of the Nine Realms, cleaning up the mess caused by the Rainbow Bridge being destroyed. He’s the hero, the rightful heir to the throne, but he’s not reveling in his new position, and he’s not enjoying the battles as he used to. No, Thor is pining for Jane Foster, the woman from Earth, that he met in the original “Thor” movie. Meanwhile, the Nine Realms face the “Convergence” of Realms that happens every 5,000 years, and allows easier passing between each realm. This alone poses some threat, but Malekith, leader of a race of Dark Elves that existed before anything else, awakes, and plots to use that convergence as an opportunity to return all of the Realms to Darkness. This ancient threat will test old relationships and forge new alliances, and serves as the “glue” that expertly melds those sci-fi, fantasy, and super-hero genres into the epic adventure that is “Thor: The Dark World.”
Characterization: Attempting an epic adventure film is daunting, melding these genres is risky business, and it would all fall apart if the characters can’t carry the show. Fortunately, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) has grown as an actor since 2011, and his character has benefited from development earned in “Thor” and “The Avengers.” Both of those films featured the feud between Thor and Loki, so that dynamic has also grown. Jane Foster missed the action in The Avengers, so this poses a challenge for Natalie Portman (Jane) to come back into Thor’s life – and his character/story arc – in a meaningful way. Portman also meets that challenge, and if anything, “The Dark World” establishes their romance more than the original “Thor” did. But, as expected, fan-favorite Tom Hiddleston (Loki) steals every scene he is in, and Hollywood rumors say that the producers (wisely) added more scenes featuring the devishly-charismatic character. He’s not just a fun character, though; he expertly manipulates the other characters, and the viewers, into believing every emotion he portrays. Why Hiddleston hasn’t become a bigger star than he is already is the real mystery.
Sir Anthony Hopkins (Odin) and Christopher Eccleston (Malekith) provide the necessary dramatic weight to the “big Dad” and the “big Bad” characters, respectively, and Rene Russo (Frigga) brings the emotional weight as Odin’s wife and mother to Thor and Loki. It’s as if the original “Thor” was an experiment in mythological-super-hero story telling, and since it paid off, these actors are given more chance to shine and provide more depth than the original. See? Good things come to those who wait. Stellan Skarsgard (Dr. Erik Selvig) and Kat Dennings, (Darcy) reprise their “Thor” roles, though mostly as comedy relief, as do Zachary Levi (Fandral), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), and Tadanobu Asano (Hogun). Idris Alba (Heimdall) also returns, but his role gets more attention and development. Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) gets left out in the cold, which feels like a missed opportunity. I think Lady Sif is supposed to represent the world Thor should want; ruling Asgard with a warrior maiden at his side, but we aren’t really shown WHY Thor should want that, just the sense that he used to want that but now wants something else. Perhaps its intentional, then, but it may have been nice to see how Lady Sif feels about being slighted this way.
Visualization: I’ve seen some pretty amazing movies this year. “The Dark World” may not reach the visual spectacle of movies like “Pacific Rim” or “Gravity,” but it’s artistic style is pure eye candy. I appreciate that they spend a decent amount of time in Asgard, and really establish that this is a fantasy-type movie, and then throw in some spectacular special effects. This is what movies like “Man of Steel” could have been if they spent more time on Krypton, and then added some giant trolls or other mythological beasts. Thor himself appears more powerful than ever because he’s given more room to flex his muscles, so to speak. He has extended fight sequences with numerous, imposing adversaries, and it all builds up to a jaw-dropping epic showdown with Malekith. The special effects really sell the melding of genres, and wow, that epic showdown at the end just has to be seen to be believed!
3D: “The Dark World” is available in 2D, 3D, and IMAX, and I watched in 3D. As a lot of the movie takes place in Asgard or in one of the other fantasy Realms, the 3D effects are sometimes put to good use. This movie isn’t just action and fantasy, though, so many “normal” sequences don’t really benefit from the 3D effects. I think I’ve been spoiled by movies like “Avatar,” “Pacific Rim,” and “Gravity,” that anything less than eye-popping, mind-blowing 3D is just not that impressive, but that doesn’t mean “The Dark World” is worse off for being in 3D. In the best scenario, 3D effects help the viewer become immersed in a movie, although great art direction and cinematic presentation can do that, too. “The Dark World” was definitely full of great cinematography and artistry, so personal preferences should suggest which version you want to watch.
Sound: Once again, I left an epic movie, happily humming it’s theme music, so I consider that a resounding success. Alan Silvestri must “know” what I like! “The Dark World” may have challenged other composers, with such an elaborate story that melds genres and contains as much drama and tragedy as it has romance and heroism, but Silvestri triumphs again. The sound effects are equally effective, though I would say they weren’t as original as they could have been; some of the effects used for the aircraft sounded too familiar to me, for example. That’s a minor criticism, though, for a movie that matched its art style with an impressive soundtrack.
Conclusion: I don’t know how anyone could not like “Thor: The Dark World.” I suppose some might not be interested in the genre, as cleverly melded as it is, though they would be missing out on a fantastic adventure film. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, what more can anyone ask for? The success of this movie is a credit to the writers, the actors, the art style, cinematography and sound, and the director, for not only making it all work somehow, but work very, very well. To me, at the end of the day, Thor was a SUPER. HERO. That happened to save the Nine Realms from Dark Elves with his mystic hammer.
Note: Stay tuned during the credits for a scene teasing Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie!
Thor: The Dark World thunderstrikes into theaters November 8th, runs 112 minutes, and is rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.