Review: Thor: The Dark World


Thor: Going Through the Motions, I mean, The Dark World might be the first piece of evidence of Marvel Studios’ business plan running strictly as such: like a business. With the frequency that the superhero studio releases its films, it’s beginning to plot its strategy like a television series, in which devotees will tune in on a regular basis, regardless of the story, in the hopes of seeing their favorite characters once again. Some episodes, like the pilot (Iron Man) or the first season finale (The Avengers) will showcase the series at its best, while others may have intriguing elements, or simply remain as filler. For whatever its worth, the latest chapter of Marvel’s saga to focus on its Norse gods is decidedly filler, a perfectly competent epic, but without any substance or value.

In a prologue narrated by Odin (Anthony Hopkins), we are introduced to an ancient clash of cultures as his father wages war against Malekeith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the dark elves. The MacGuffin in play here is the Aether, a force that releases dark matter and with the alignment of the Nine Realms will return the universe to darkness. In the prologue, Malekeith is defeated, but the Aether cannot be destroyed and thus is hidden by the Asgardians. Jumping forward to present day, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned to Asgard in chains and placed in prison as his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is out and about bringing order to the realms. Back on Earth, astrophysicist Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) pursuit of her intergalactic lover brings her to London in search of portals. It is here that Jane unwittingly discovers the hidden location of the Aether, bringing upon Malekeith and his army to reclaim it. As things become increasingly dire, Thor is forced to call upon his treacherous brother and fight the enemy together.

On the surface, this may all sound exciting, but the film does very little to invest itself, let alone the audience, in the proceedings. Granted, the cast is fine, with the majority returning from previous installment, but nobody acquits themselves too much into the material. Scenes come and go without any real feeling for stakes or genuine tension. Take, for instance, the fact that Thor brings Jane to Asgard after she discovers the Aether putting both herself and the entire realm in peril. One scene tells us there is danger, and in the next characters act as if nothing is wrong. There are some milder allusions for Thor needing to take his place as King of Asgard and to abandon his mortal girlfriend, but the film makes little effort to draw anything in emotionally, shoehorning a character arc that takes a backseat. Further, Malekeith is Marvel’s most anemic villain to date. He struts around and speaks in foreboding accents but rarely feels threatening and has few confrontations with Thor. If there’s anything of interest here it’s the relationship between Thor and Loki, which just passes muster thanks to the dueling egos of Hemsworth and Hiddleston.

If the film is completely lacking in the character and narrative department at least its budget is on screen. Thor: The Dark World might be the prettiest film Marvel has yet offered, with more to see of Asgard and the other intergalactic realms, achieved by both practical sets and mostly convincing visual effects. However, there’s a workmanlike approach to the construction of the film, with little majesty or a directorial stamp present. Of course, Marvel isn’t nearly in the business of auteur filmmaking, but of late it has been more accommodating to include the recognizable signatures of Joss Whedon and Shane Black in previous films. Even if the previous Thor had some wobbly direction, Kenneth Branagh’s film was remarkable in its balance of humor and epic gusto. This film tries desperately to capture some of the same goofiness, but jokes fall flat left and right. Director Alan Taylor has primarily lived in television, best known for directing several episodes of Game of Thrones, but there’s precious little imagination visible here for a film of this genre. In the end, Thor: The Dark World is a good looking film but not much else, another inevitable, necessary piece set on Marvel’s chess board.


~ by romancinema on November 11, 2013.

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