Sunday, August 31, 2014

Looking Back At: "Thor: The Dark World"

This next month sees the arrival of Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-Ray and DVD, so naturally, there’s a bit of a gap in my usual review schedule, seeing as I reviewed that film back in April for its theatrical release.  So, I got to thinking, which Marvel franchise haven’t I looked at yet for this site?  And, of course, the obvious answer is Thor.  Now, the reason I decided to take a look at the sequel is because I think it’s worthwhile to note that, while The Dark World is certainly the weakest of the Cinematic Universe’s Phase Two films, it isn’t actually a bad movie.  It’s a solid fantasy action flick that doesn’t lack for imaginative designs and some stellar fights.  However, what this film can be is a weak storyteller with some problematic character representations and not enough momentum to carry its franchise forward.

We pick up where The Avengers left off, with Loki imprisoned at Asgard, Thor off fighting to preserve peace in the Nine Realms, and Jane Foster being sad because she doesn’t have a man.  (More on that later…)  Jane accidentally comes across a power called the Aether, which consequently infects her.  The Dark Elf Malkieth wishes to use the power of the Aether to conquer the Nine Realms, so it is up to Thor to protect Jane and find a way to remove the Aether before its power kills her.  All in all, if this sounds a bit generic, that’s because it kinda is.  Most of the plot feels very by-the-numbers; Malkieth is bland and is truly a waste of actor Christopher Eccleston’s talent, and Jane is here mostly as an obligatory love interest.

Well, that’s not entirely true, for my biggest gripe with the film is its treatment of its female lead.  See, for being present for the majority of the film, Jane has maybe two lines throughout the entirety of the second act.  She becomes a prize to either be won or protected, and the plot is only concerned about whisking her from location to location so as to keep her safety in suspense.  But through all this, she has no character or even thoughts of her own, just blankly going along with whatever her big, strong boyfriend thinks is best.  I’m fairly certain that comic relief character Darcy gets more lines and characterization than the supposed female lead.  There just feels like this overwhelming sense of obligation to her presence, and I’d rather have seen her written out than to tortuously drag her along in a story that she’s barely relevant to.

That said, though, where the script lacks development for Jane (or even Thor, now that I think about it), it is bursting with great character moments for fan-favorite Loki.  And really, his character is the main reason why the film doesn’t slip into dull monotony.  Whether it’s his snarky witticisms or the revelation that he still has a love for his mother and respect for his brother, Loki proves once again to be the villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I will admit that his presence does largely constitute franchise-building sequel establishment, the film’s plot would have been much too generic and soulless without him.

Despite my criticisms, though, Thor: The Dark World is still a decent enough movie.  The visual design of the film looks spectacular, showing off Asgard as a combination of medieval mysticism and futuristic mechanization.  These designs lead to some stellar sci-fi action sequences, including a dimension-hopping climax that doesn’t disappoint.  I only wish that the plot didn’t feel like an act of tired obligation, a reminder that Thor still exists while we all wait for The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  We can only hope that the third installment can find its legs again and tell a less forgettable tale.

It’s somewhat astounding that Marvel has yet to make a bad Cinematic Universe movie, even if they have come close a few times.  Do you think they can hold this streak indefinitely?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. See, I have to disagree about Jane Foster. While her 'plot role' is a bit thin, and she spends most of the film as a support-style character, yeah, I don't see her as not having much characterization. How does she stumble across the aether? 'Heartbreak later, science now'. And all of the romantic interludes between the pair serve either to move the plot along or as characterizing. 'I love when you talk science to me', anyone? And then there's the bit where Jane saves the day a few times (How do I have reception here?).

    I definitely have to agree on Loki stealing the show in every scene, though. It cannot have anything to do with the fact that I've got a thing for trickster gods, no way... *cough*. And really, when you think of it, isn't it the dialogue and odd plot twists of characters like Loki that have elevated most of the MCU movies above the norm? They're most of them fairly standard comic/action movie fare. Just written better than most of the things out there.