Friday, November 8, 2013

Thor: The Dark World - An Acceptable Sequel

Thor: The Dark World (2013) Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba. Directed by Alan Taylor. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely. Based on the Marvel comic by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber and Jack Kirby.  Run Time: 112 minutes. U.S. Color. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure

I want to go on record as saying that I have been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe even before we started calling it that. I regrettably saw the first Hulk film (which I know is not part of it), but I’ve been watching these films all along and usually going opening weekends. And I did the same thing this weekend, when Thor: The Dark World opened.

During the first series of the MCU, those films leading up and culminating with Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), the one I was most concerned about, after The Incredible Hulk (2008), was the original Thor (2011). I am not a fan boy when it comes to the comics and I really had my concerns going into that one. The first review on Trophy Unlocked called it The God of Acceptable and in my second opinion, written after watching the film again in prep for The Avengers, I called it a must see, but also referred to it as a tweener film, as in it gets us from Iron Man to Captain America. Not great, but necessary.

I really want to like Thor: The Dark World more than I do. I think the film is well cast and well-acted. The special effects are good, but I wouldn’t say they’re major improvements over last time, and the story is okay, but not great. I will not go into too much detail about the plot of the film, since it is just in the theaters. There is humor, there are twists, there is action and unfortunately some head scratching questions when all is said and done. But isn’t that why we have sequels, and Thor will return, we are promised that.

The film revolves around a new villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a dark elf who is out to change the universe, Asgard and Earth included, in his own image with the help of an ancient power and Convergence of the nine worlds. Naturally, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just about all that separates him from reaching his goal. But Thor needs a major assist from Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and even Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Thor needs Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) help in Thor: The Dark World.
I really enjoy Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of the character. He was good in Thor, but I liked him better in The Avengers, but I liked most of the characters better in The Avengers, so there you have it.

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor.
Tom Hiddleston makes for a great Loki. His portrayal of Thor’s adopted brother is always a good mix of humor and evil. You never know what Loki is thinking and if he can be trusted. Spoiler: He can’t.

Stellan Skarsgard plays, as he has in the past several films, Dr. Erik Selvig, a scientist who has been with us since the original Thor. By now Dr. Selvig is a bit damaged, but his oddities are played for laughs by Skarsgard. His co-scientist, Jane Foster, is Thor’s love interest and I must say Natalie Portman has grown on me in this role. As has Kat “Two Broke Girls” Dennings, who once again plays Foster’s unpaid intern Darcy Lewis. Idris Elba returns as Heimdall, the gatekeeper. It feels like his part is beefed up slightly from the last one. Also back, but in more diminished roles, are the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Fandrat (Zachary Levi) and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander).

Anthony Hopkins as Odin, the King of Asgard, gives the film a certain gravitas. He is not someone you would expect to see in a comic-book based movie, but neither was Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3. It’s not as if these actors are too good to be in such films, it’s just that you would not expect them to be. But they are following in the footsteps of Sir Alec Guinness who appeared in Star Wars (1977), so there really is nothing new about their appearances.
Anthony Hopkins is once again Odin, the King of Asgard and Thor's father.
Now after all the pluses, I have to admit that while I liked Thor: The Dark World, I didn’t really love it. Every so often I found myself thinking back to those old sword-and-sandal films that would prompt me to change the channel when I saw them on TV in my youth. Part of it has to do with the source material and is unavoidable, but that’s part of the reason I was concerned about the first film. Sadly that concern doesn’t go away with Thor 2.

It’s really hard to address the directing in one of these films, as I’m not sure how much of the story comes from source materials, the screenplay and the director’s head. For me there is almost a little too much story in the film, too many characters I’m supposed to remember caring about in the first film. And I won’t get into great detail about it, but there is a scene in which the film manipulates the audience, which I think is a cheap trick, especially when it’s not really necessary to lead us astray.

The Asgard universe seems to be more advanced, but at the same time more backwards than our own. As an example, they don’t have anything like cell phones for an advanced race, relying instead on the face-to-face meeting, even when it is not expedient. Can you really be considered a God if you don’t have a smartphone?

Advanced weaponry exists side by side with armor; an odd mix, and while it might work well in a comic book, it seems odd when mashed up against our modern day. Magic and black hole producing grenades; if you had one would you really need the other?

And we have our own pseudo-science that supposedly works, but is never explained. And maybe that’s true of the movie as a whole. There is a lot that seems to go without explanation. And while I can look the other way for a while, eventually you have to be able to watch the movie with both eyes wide open.

I’m not really sure how necessary Thor: The Dark World really is in the overall MCU. It is one of those films I felt I needed to see, but only to avoid spoilers coming from loose lips, rather than a film I felt needed to be made. However, if you do go, and you know you will, be sure to stay through all the credits, that wall of names at the end of the film that so many people walk out on. In typical MCU fashion, there are clues to further films in the series and you’re going to hate yourself if you miss those.

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