Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Rene Russo
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Don Payne and Robert Rodat (story)
Thor: The Dark World. Where to begin. There are many beloved films within the MCU catalogue, and it would be a stretch to say this is one of them. The meme world hasn’t been exactly kind to it either. The first Thor movie was terrific fun, and we had seen Thor and Loki play huge parts in The Avengers. The Dark World is the second post-Avengers movie (first is Iron Man 3), and after all the fun that Thor and Avengers were, this one felt pretty disappointing. What went wrong, and are there any redeeming qualities to this?
The movie starts out, similar to the first one, with a little historical background on the enemies of Asgard. This time, we learn of the Dark Elf Malekith (Former Dr. Who Christopher Eccleston) who sought to plunge the nine realms into eternal darkness with the help of the Aether (which we later learn is the Reality Stone). Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) father defeats Malekith and buries the Aether beyond his reach.
Approximately a bajillion years later — two years after the events of Thor — we see Loki (Tom Hiddleston) answering for his crimes in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is protecting the nine realms, and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to go on blind dates but falling back into her sciencey schemes. This leads her to find the Aether, which then possesses her and awakens Malekith deep in space. Thor brings Jane to Asgard, but through a series of unfortunate events, the Dark Elves invade Asgard to find Jane and utilize the Aether to achieve Malekith’s goal of darkening the realms–just as all nine are lining up for the first time in 5,000 years. It’s up to Thor, Jane, and–yes–Loki to stop Malekith and keep the alignment of the realms from harming anyone.
So why is this movie kind of … meh?
In my review of the first Thor, I said how it uses a Shakespearean storytelling approach and is able to build on that to produce a fun movie. It might be familiar, but familiar–in that classic sense–is good. However, The Dark World is a different kind of familiar. The story feels pretty basic, and there are a lot of elements to it that are way overused in similar movies. The scenes in Asgard feel like run-of-the-mill high fantasy movies that go from the movie theater to playing on TBS or SyFy into eternity. It almost felt like they expected the audience to take it all for granted; we liked the first one, so let’s just CC everything and they’ll probably like it again. Kinda like The Scorpion King was to The Mummy. Or, to be a little more blunt, this movie feels like basically every DCEU film.
The movie isn’t terrible; it just takes a long time to find its feet. Most of those criticisms above apply to the first half of the movie. By the time the climax rolls around, it’s fairly enjoyable, but by that time, it’s almost too late for the audience. I remember one time renting this movie when my siblings-in-law were coming over for a sleepover at our house. By the time the movie reached its halfway point, everyone but me was asleep.
A lot of the acting isn’t that great either. Chris Hemsworth seems bored most of the time. Anthony Hopkins, as good as he did in the first one, felt like he was phoning it in. Christopher Eccleston took Malekith and made him a dark, broody, one-dimensional bad guy when he’s a lot more interesting and borderline insane in the comics. That’s not to say everyone was bad. Tom Hiddleston, as always, was superb. Kat Dennings, who plays the reliable source of comic relief Darcy, was spot on–and really the only source of comic relief. Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Dr. Erik Selvig, does a fantastic job as a mad scientist trying to recover from having a god in his brain. And Chris O’Dowd makes a brief appearance as Richard, Jane’s date, and does brilliant with the approximately six minutes he has.
Couple all of this with the fact that it was directed by Alan Taylor, who then went on to direct Terminator: Genysis. We all know how that went. Perhaps he should stick to directing TV episodes.
There are certainly some positives about this movie. The performances I mentioned above really do make the movie worth watching. The visual effects are stunning. The Aether’s watery redness is weirdly pleasing to look at. One scene where Jane’s possession causes her to see the world in red … I kind of expected to hear Slayer in the background. Malekith’s myriad of ships are well designed, although tell me I’m wrong when I say that his T-shaped transport at the end looks like Vana’s ship from Star Wars: Starfighter.
There are some developments in this one that build on the previous movie, too. The subplot of Thor putting Sif (Jaimie Alexander) in the friend-zone felt like it had potential and they maybe could have used more of that. Perhaps a scene where Sif reluctantly helps out Jane despite her feelings? Speaking of Jane, I liked her more as a character in this than in the first Thor. She holds herself well, especially with all the awkwardness of meeting the boyfriend’s parents. Heimdall (Idris Elba) kicks ass and does more than stare and open the Rainbow Bridge. Frigga (Rene Russo) also kicks ass. And the romance between Thor and Jane feels much more authentic this time around.
Plus, the ending really is a lot of fun. As all the nine realms are aligning, Thor and Malekith are in the heat of battle. The jumps between realms make for an entertaining battle scene that feels original.
Again, this isn’t a bad movie. All in all, it feels safe, like there’s not a lot of personality attached to it. With all the success Marvel had with Thor, it was a shame to see them shy away from really going all-out with what this story could have been.