Maybe I’m suffering superhero burnout, because my reaction to Thor: The Dark World is pretty much, “Meh.” Which is disappointing, given how much I enjoyed Thor. T:TDW is certainly enjoyable in many respects. It has great moments. Unfortunately, the moments don’t really add up to anything that feels like a complete movie.
In T:TDW, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Norse God of Thunder, Lightning, and general I-will-kick-your-ass, has been fighting to restore peace in the nine realms. Apparently when the Bifrost was destroyed at the end of Thor (the bifrost being colorful thingee that allows Thor & Co. to traipse about the galaxy), the other realms saw this and went, “Woohoo, no more Asgardian overlords!” and started raising hell. This is why Thor plopped back onto Earth during The Avengers (or so it’s implied).
As T:TDW begins, following a numbing expository dump about the film’s main bad guys, Thor is helping to quell...something. It’s just a brawl, without any further description or purpose than I’ve given it here. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen how it ends, with Rock Rock Rock getting reduced to Pebbles Pebbles Pebbles.
But lo, dark forces are afoot. How dark? So dark they actually call themselves dark, as in Dark Elves. Lead by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), they seek to find the aether, an effervescent weapon capable to returning the entire universe back to darkness, the way it was before the big bang (I guess). Problem is, the aether has bubbled into Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s human girlfriend back on Earth. This leads to a reunion and a free trip to Asgard for her, where she gets the stink-eye from Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and nothing but a “worthless mortal” routine from Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
I wish I was joking.
Writing this makes it all sound worse than it actually is, but it’s not really all that good or great. It all looks wonderful, and Hemsworth does a fine job as Thor. The film leaps to new heights when he’s forced to ally himself with his kinda-sorta-in-a-way-not-really brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Hiddleston is simply note perfect as Loki, perfect in the way that Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Perfect in the way that bacon perfects any breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Once we’re into the bromance between Thor and Loki, the film is the better for it and everyone should indeed kneel before Hiddleston and give much thanks.
There’s much running around, destruction of epic proportions, and some humor that is all wrong but other bits that are touches of perfection. Humor that is all wrong is how Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is treated in this film, as nothing more than a buffoon. The character, and actor, deserve better.
The better comedic relief comes from Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings); she’s perfect. It would be real easy for her to become annoying, but she strives mightily not to be so. Watching her torture Ian, her intern, is pretty priceless. And watching her point and say, “It’s meow meow” as Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, whizzes by is hilarious. And speaking of Meow Meow, Mjolnir gives one of the film’s best performance. No, seriously, it’s hilarious and perfect and makes an otherwise tedious climatic battle a great deal more fun than it might otherwise have been.
Maybe that’s my problem with the film, the level of destruction and its sheer repetition. It’s now become the norm that the villains in superhero films must, at a minimum, be intent on destroying the entire damn planet. Here, they want to destroy the entire damnitall universe. Why? Much like why people climb mountains, villains want to destroy the universe Just Because It’s There.
So in The Avengers, New York is thrashed. In Man of Steel, Metropolis is thrashed. In Thor: The Dark World, all sorts of British things are thrashed, worlds are ravaged, and even Asgard takes a licking (yet keeps on ticking), with the ultimate goal being the annihilation of everything everywhere. It felt boring, something the apocalypse should never feel like.
In the Marvel film universe, where else is there to go? Will each successive film find a new threat to all of existence, that only our merry band, either singly or together, can prevent? It’s like car chases. At first, with a few, they were thrilling (see Bullitt, The French Connection, and The Seven-Ups), but then they just became repetitive (see all others).
Is this the fate of the superhero genre? Do you have to threaten existence itself in order to generate any excitement, or the need for such heroic firepower?
If Thor: The Dark World is any indication, that might be the case and it’s already getting boring. Is it a spoiler to mention that the teaser presented during the closing credits hints that this is the case? (And, by the way, I agree with director Alan Taylor that this little teaser just looks all kinds of horrible; it is jarringly terrible compared to the rest of the film.)
For me, The Avengers was a fun film that doesn’t hold up all that well. T:TDW hints that it’s only going to get worse. Too bad, because the genre has more to offer than variations of Armageddon (see all Marvel films prior to The Avengers). Even the notion of a Norse god dating a human woman has possibilities, as set up in Thor and which this film pretty much ignores to its detriment except for the few times when it’s convenient for the plot.
I hope I’m wrong, because I like most of what they’ve done with Thor, his relationship with “mortals,” and especially his dynamic with Loki. More of that and less apocalypse would be great.
Alas, I’m not holding my breath.