Moviegoers are getting smarter. Okay, maybe I’m pandering. But when people think about movies today, they want to know about what goes on behind the scenes. The big-ticket actors and actresses are only a starting point. Knowing that Natalie Portman was in Black Swan isn’t enough. Instead, when someone talks-up a movie you might hear: “Yeah Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are in it. And it’s Darren Aronofsky’s first movie since The Wrestler. He’s the guy that did Requiem for a Dream.” The connections can run on and on. People talk about a director getting back with a screenwriter, or an actor with a director (Depp and Burton, DiCaprio and Scorsese, DiCaprio and Nolan, Bale and Nolan or O’Russell, etc, etc). But even with changes in how we approach movies, people don’t normally pay much attention to studios. Because, really, who cares? As long as the studio doesn’t get in the way, people don’t pay any attention. And for the most part that works out great. We get the movies, they get the money.
But sometimes the studio makes a difference. Pixar comes to mind. Even modest movie fans can reel off a list of Pixar movies. Marvel Studios, like Pixar, has juggernauted it’s way into box office glory. And for good reason. They have stacks of characters to choose from, money, ambition, and snowballing momentum in their favor (after recovering for some early flubs based on their characters like Daredevil, Elektra, and Fantastic Four and it’s sequel).
Thor: The Dark World is the newest creation in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” In this edition, Thor and his team battle to prevent the Dark Elf Malekith from destroying the Nine Realms. On Thor’s side is his viking gang, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), and Foster’s research team. Malekith has an army of creepy Michael Myers-esque elves, and supercharged warriors called the Kursed. The crux of the movie is the quest for the Aether, an ancient force that converts matter into dark matter and has the power to pull the realms into darkness. It changes hands several times throughout the movie, at one point falling to Foster, who is too weak to handle it’s power.
The movie is slick like all the newer Marvel movies. We get plenty of fight scenes to satisfy our cravings of hammering and berserker antics, including some new moves with Mjolnir. One of the best sequences comes toward the end of the movie as the realms overlap and creatures from movies-past join the fray including a frost-giant-beast-thing from the first Thor eating some Michael Myers minions. The main villain, Malekith, played by an unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston, doesn’t get a ton of screen time but that’s probably for the best. We saw a lot more of Loki when he was the main bad guy in other films. (I don’t know their respective screen times but this seems right.) This works though. Malekith’s voice and persona are creepy but more time and lines would have tired out his presence. Personally I’d rather see Thor, Loki and crew anyway.
This is the third movie with Chris Hemsworth as Thor, with a mostly maintained cast. The character of Thor has developed considerably over three movies. This development is referenced within the movie. One of his fellow vikings says “there was a time you would celebrate for weeks” noting Thor’s newly found reserved and diplomatic side. He acts more kingly (but also acts moody and angsty during the first section of the movie because he misses Jane). His development is nice and keeps the movies refreshing. Of course, the movie shouldn’t win awards because it keeps the characters moving because this should be a requirement for all movies. But when a studio is raking in the kind of money Marvel is, you wouldn’t blame them for sticking to the script.
The fact that Thor is a part of the Marvel Universe makes the movie better and worse. We get references to the Avengers movie, a visit from Captain America, and readily accessible characters. But knowing that Thor teams up with the Avengers makes it tough to watch him fight alone. If Malekith is really such a badass, why not call in Iron Man, Captain America and crew? Not Hawkeye or Black Widow though. It would be painful to watch Hawkeye shoot arrows at elves who fight with some plasma gun (Also, plasma gun? Really elves? Thor’s viking guys are packing swords and axes and you bring rifles to the fight? That’s messed up. Also, viking guys, you’ve been around for too long to still be fighting with axes. I almost can’t blame the elves). I would’ve paid a few extra dollars just to see the Hulk fight the Kursed. But the fact that Thor fights alone (with his Viking crew) makes it seem semi-lame. As in, “Malekith must not be that bad. Thor took him alone.” I get that this isn’t the point and not every movie can be an Avengers but it’s a thought I have in any of the movies with just one Avenger. (Note: They mentioned something about the Bifrost being closed which is why no one could come help but that was more a loose-end-tying statement than a real plot device). That being said, the movie stands on its own legs. Two hours of well-paced, visually solid action with plenty of laughs (special credit to Thor hanging Mjolnir up on a coat rack. Additional credit to Thor riding on the London Underground). The movie keeps us interested in the Marvel universe and looking forward to the new Captain American movie and the next Avengers.
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%, Difference +1.5.
Most negative reviews call the movie “generic” and that it drums up excessive suspense just to sell the threat Malekith poses. But this is an action movie. The stakes are always excessively high in these movies. Especially superhero movies where the hero’s failure always leads to “the end of humanity as we know it.” Retreating back from these stakes isn’t really an option anymore. “If we don’t stop Malekith from obtaining the Aether, the Pacific Northwest will never be the same again” just doesn’t work. Maybe that’ll work in Red Dawn but those were North Koreans invading, not a cosmic supervillain. Other reviews say this movie is “unnecessary” and an appetite stimulant for the next Avengers movie. The latter is probably partially true but the movie gives us more time with Thor and the rest of the cast which an ensemble movie wouldn’t afford. And no movie with Natalie Portman is unnecessary. (Please don’t mention Star Wars Episodes I-III…)
Where to see it: In Theaters. It’s way better to see the action play out on the big screen than your (okay… our) crappy old TV. We didn’t see it in 3D but if they did it right, 3D would make the movie pretty amazing. (In general we don’t go for 3D. Too much cost, for not enough extra awesome).
Loose Ends (with Spoilers):
I was half-hoping they would pursue a Peter Parker and Uncle Ben storyline with Loki and Frigga. Most people are familiar with Parker’s story where he had a chance to stop Uncle Ben’s killer but doesn’t and then fights crime to protect the innocent and all that jazz. In this movie the super-charged Algrim, the last of the Kursed, breaks out of the Asgard jail and sneaks out with Loki’s help. He later kills Frigga, Loki’s adoptive mother. Admittedly, while Loki helped Algrim, he wasn’t really in a position to stop him, unlike Parker. And we don’t really know what Loki’s emotions about the whole situation are anyway, we never really do. Loki later tells Thor he never cared about Frigga anyway but this was during their ruse to trick Malekith. In the end, I thought Frigga’s death, and Loki’s involvement in it, might be some sort of turning point for Loki. That never turned out to be true. Maybe in new movies it will. More likely this is way off…but we don’t want to be wrong.
The movie, especially the intro, had a major Lord of the Rings vibe. Like in Fellowship of the Ring, the movie starts with a voiced-over battle scene from way back where one of the character’s ancestors (here Bor, there Isildur) fight an epic villain (here Malekith, there Sauron) to prevent them from obtaining a massively powerful weapon (here the Aether, there the One Ring). Our guys end up winning and the weapon is lost to time. Now, in the movie’s time, the bad guy returns to seek out the weapon. He can sense the weapons presence, use faceless and almost identical lackeys (Dark Elves and Orcs) and wants to destroy the world once he gets the weapon (or take it over, whatever, same thing for us good guys). Plus, a weaker, innocent creature holds on to the weapon for a time (Natalie Portman and Frodo). Again, there’s a chance we’re reading too much into trivial things.
Take-you-out-of-the-theater moment (semi-spoiler): Darcy and the new intern guy are about to be crushed by Malekith’s ship. We are looking at her face as she yells “Oh, shit.” Her lips don’t move at all and the line was obviously added in later. This was more funny than anything else. We like to picture Kat Dennings receiving the phone call “Yeah Kat, hey…sorry to bother you. We…need you to fly back to the studio for an extra line. If you could just say ‘Oh shit’ into the microphone, that’d be great.”
That’s all folks,