At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Thor: The Dark World

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, Alice Krige, Chris O’Dowd, Benicio del Toro, Stan Lee/ Runtime: 112 minutes

I think it is safe to say that with the first Thor film, we may have been given a chance to see the rest of the universe, but we also spent way too much time on Earth as well. In the same vein, with the release of The Avengers back in 2012 we got a chance to see what forces other entities would send our way to try and conquer us….only to set them loose in Manhattan. Thankfully, this now brings us to film helmer Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World from 2013, and with this release Marvel finally said “heck with it” and decided to spend more time off Earth than on even though 25% of the film is still spent on our little blue planet (we would have to wait for Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 to finally go the distance in that regard). Be that as it may be, this is still the first film where Marvel seemed confident enough to move the action and characters off the safety net of Earth and start slowly, but surely branching out the MCU. Indeed conjuring up a cohesive universe was only the beginning. The next step therefore was all about seeing just how much faith movie audiences were willing to gift Marvel to take them on new and exciting adventures that were different than anything that had truly come before. A feat that, Odin be praised, was rewarded with just as much if not more love and adoration than the first Phase of films received. Thus if you are one of those who either A) is somehow new to all of this, B) has a gripe with how all superhero films are alike, or C) all of the above then you should get ready because as evidenced by this film, its predecessor, and The Avengers how weird Marvel was willing to get had only just truly begun….

The plot is as follows: In the aftermath of The Avengers, Loki has been put in prison on Asgard for the heinous acts he committed on Earth thus bringing peace and tranquility to the Nine Realms and Thor coming home to Asgard with the wreaths of success and victory around his neck. More importantly however, his dad Odin sees him with an air of respect and finally as a worthy successor, his mom Frigga sees him as a youngster who has finally grown into a man, and his loyal companions in the form of Lady Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun, and Heimdall see a honorable warrior, and a dear friend they would go into combat with any day. Yet what should have been a time of great peace and prosperity is soon upended when not only is Thor’s flame from the first film Jane Foster finds herself the living host for a nefarious energy weapon known only as the Aether, but a slightly irked to say the least member of a race known as the Dark Elves by the name of Malekith is reawakened from his slumber in deep space, ruthlessly attacks Asgard, and leaves nothing but destruction, devastation, and sadness in the aftermath. Enraged by this turn of events, and equally as determined to save Jane from the Aether before it kills her as well as to thwart Malekith by any means necessary, Thor recruits not only Sif, the Warriors Three and Heimdall, but even manages to convince Loki to help and heads out in pursuit. Meanwhile on Earth, Thor’s friends Erik Selvig and Darcy begin to notice an unnatural amount of strange phenomena occurring and soon it becomes clear that it is all tied to an event that Malekith plans to use and, if successful, promises to be the end of existence as we know it.

Now the main gripe I had with the first Thor back in 2011 is, as much as I liked it, was the fact that so much of the film was dedicated to the pursuit of both justifying the film’s mythos as well as moping on the part of a depowered Thor. Indeed this is a film which sets up an incredible world of far-off lands that are most assuredly worth exploring further as well as a fantastic group of performers and yet what does it wind up doing? Engage a significant amount of its runtime by showing us a depowered Thor stuck on Earth and spending the majority of his time trying in vain to get his trusty hammer out of the ground. To be fair this is understandable since Marvel, Kevin Feige, and film helmer Kenneth Branagh probably were not the most confident in the world that audiences worldwide would be accepting of a film dealing with ancient Norwegian gods in space utilizing magic weaponry in battles against giant ice beings and laser-shooting robots that look like something out of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Yet somehow despite all these issues, Thor from 2011 still made for an entertaining time to be had and one which planted integral seeds for things to follow. This brings us to The Dark World, and thankfully it doesn’t have to deal with such quirks. Indeed this is one follow-up that dives in head-first and features no less than otherworldly villains, space ships, portals to go to other dimensions, Asgardian combat, stone giants, otherworldly prison, and royal palace attacks all literally in the first forty-five minutes of the film. Indeed this is a film which doesn’t have the patience for you to keep up with it let alone play catch-up. Indeed much in the same vein as The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World is the kind of film that requires you to either climb on or find a different movie to enjoy.

It should also be said that this film is a slightly more engaging follow-up to The Avengers than Iron Man 3 since, unlike that film which dealt more with Tony Stark and his individual fallout from those events, this film deals more directly with the repercussions of Loki laying waste to New York. Yet even though Marvel could have easily put Loki on the shelf for this installment or, even more groan-inducing, made him the villain in the third film, this studio is far too intelligent to make such a rookie error. To that end, Marvel chose to go down a road that isn’t as traversed and decided to bring more depth and complexity to the character of Loki and made him more of a three-dimensional character rather than potentially a one-note villain. As a result we get a Loki that is way more intriguing of a character than he was to begin with; not a bad feat really for one of the MCU’s early scene stealers. Not unsurprisingly, Hemsworth manages to take his portrayal of Thor up a notch as well with a more well-rounded performance of his own as he manages to match everything Hiddleston dishes out brilliantly. Indeed be it when it’s just them or when they are in the presence of the rest of the cast, all of whom are also terrific as usual, our dynamic duo are one of the finest examples of a pair that is both perfectly compatible and combustible at the same time. Indeed let me make it clear dear reader: whenever this film chooses not to have Thor and Loki on screen, it is really making quite the gamble.

Indeed if there is any areas where this sequel has any real issues then it would have to be in the inconsistent tone. This is because, for those of you who don’t know, Marvel for the most part has tried to keep things as light as possible in the MCU while also keeping at least 6 feet apart from the darkness that seemed to make up the DCEU or Nolan’s Batman films. A formula that I’ll admit to being ok with since it is really is just as enjoyable for me to just sit back and have fun with an entry in the superhero genre as it is for me to sit back and watch a gritty, grounded, and realistic take on one of the most famous superheroes of all time (the less said about Batman and Robin the better). Yet even with that out of the way, it should be noted that Thor’s second time on the Marvel merry-go-round is a tad too wild and crazy for its own good as it goes back and forth between sadness and humor with truly reckless abandon. Plus it also feels from time to time like there were several integral moments which were accidentally cut out of the film. Yes this film’s pace is given aid by doing this, but that’s not always the best thing for the film especially in one key moment where a truly tragic moment on Asgard is immediately followed up with moments of comedy set in a British looney bin that would be more in place in a Monty Python film than this. Indeed the shifts in this film are downright mind boggling at times and could honestly have been dealt with more efficiently had those working behind the camera put in a few more minutes to make the transitions easier to handle.

Yet with that being noted, I guess I should also point out that the whiplash and migraine this film may leave you with is more due to Marvel’s overseeing of the film than any real error on the film helmer’s part. This is because, in case you didn’t know, Marvel had ordered some late in the game re-shooting to be done in order to give the film more moments of comedy since the original product was a tad bit too….dark. (Collateral damage from the helmer’s time on Game of Thrones most likely). Thankfully, the film’s director can be forgiven for his transgressions the moment he puts the focus of the tale where it needs to be which is on the complicated bond between Thor and Loki. As such there is quite bit of fun to be found as well as beautifully scripted brotherly skirmishes, some decent battle scenes, and a genuinely engaging expansion of both Thor and Loki as characters which result in this film being a genuine sequel rather than just “an Avengers follow-up”. Thus is it better than the first Thor? In some ways. Is it worse than the first Thor? Again in some ways. Yes Jane still annoys me, the final battle is disrupted by some truly questionable science, and a love triangle is shoved in only to be quickly pushed to the side, and there is wayyy too much Darcy (no disrespect to Kat Dennings who does great in the role, but this was always meant to be a side character at best). Yet even with these stumbling blocks in play, the Thor movies still continue to be one of the MCU’s nicest little surprises and I’m always excited to see where they take Thor next.

All in all though, thanks to the creative minds at Marvel for giving it the opportunity to be free from those things which slightly skewered the first film and not in a good way, Thor: The Dark World is a much swifter, more engaging, and enjoyable enough outing with our favorite Asgardian that is also supported by both a decent enough screenplay and another set of top-notch performances. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that Hiddleston manages to walk away with the film once again with another winning performance as Loki, but Hemsworth as the titular character is not to be underestimated and manages to contribute some much-needed characterization to a superhero who could easily be all lightning and no thunder whatsoever. On a scale of 1-5 I give Thor: The Dark World a solid 3.5 out of 5.