"Well done, you just decapitated your grandfather."
If I have to be the one to say it, then so be it. I have Marvel movie fatigue. I've enjoyed almost all of the Marvel Studios films so far, but I haven't honestly loved any of them, and with them coming fast and furious these days (this is the second of four to be released in a 15 month period), I'm just finding it harder and harder to get really jazzed about them anymore. It also doesn't help that I found 2011's Thor to be a perfectly serviceable, sometimes funny, sometimes lethargic exercise in superhero filmmaking. I wouldn't call my desire to see the sequel Thor: The Dark World anything even close to excitement, and honestly if my seven year old daughter Clementine hadn't suggested seeing it, I might have just waited for the dvd. So was I right or was I foolish to be unenthusiastic about this latest entry from Marvel Studios? Read on to find out...
Thor: The Dark World is essentially a dual sequel to both Thor and The Avengers which really couldn't be avoided since Thor (Chris Hemsworth) factored so heavily into the victory over his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in the latter film, and their contentious relationship had been set-up in the former. Therefore, the myriad issues that need resolving in this film come from both of its predecessors. This is ostensibly a stand-alone entry in the ongoing saga of Thor, the would-be ruler of Asgard, and it feels more like that then another long slog through set-up for The Avengers sequel due in 18 months, mainly because its otherworldly setting gets it away from the more earthbound concerns of The Avengers.
A race of dark elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) once attempted to use an evil element called the aether that could plunge the nine realms of Asgard into darkness. After their defeat at the hands of Thor's grandfather some 5000 years ago, they went into some sort of hibernation, waiting for the next alignment of the nine realms to once more attempt to take control of the aether and carry out their plan. We certainly wouldn't get that sort of set-up if the present weren't the time when this attempt would be made, but a wrinkle develops in the dark elves' plan when Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor's earthly love interest from the first film, gets possessed by the aether. Thor brings Jane back to Asgard, and as the dark elves arise from their slumber and seek the aether, he must formulate a plan to protect the woman he loves and his homeland from destruction.
As convoluted as the plot sounds, it's surprisingly easy to follow, as are all of the Marvel films. They dabble in seemingly complicated plots, but they're truly geared towards being easily understood by the lowest common denominator. That's not a knock, it's been the stock in trade of comic books from their infancy, it's just so hard to sum up the plot of these kinds of films after the fact, even though they were simple to follow while you're watching. If it weren't for the film's use of two of the most hackneyed plot devices in all of science fiction filmmaking (elemental substance that can cause destruction and a cosmic alignment of the planets), I might go so far as to say that I actually loved Thor: The Dark World. As it stands however, I legitimately enjoyed it while I was watching it, but could honestly care less about it now that it's over.
And that's my biggest problem with these films in general, they're ultimately disposable. With the possible exception of Jon Favreau's Iron Man, none of these films has really felt like a fully contained, self-sufficient and wholly satisfying story. Everything now is just a stop along the way, and you begin to feel like a passenger on a never-ending bus trip after a while. It just sort of becomes tedious when the films introduce these world threatening plots that you just know are going to be resolved by the time the film is over because we've got to get to the next stop on our route. It's slowly becoming a slog through the Marvel universe, and maybe I'm just being cranky, but I wish there wasn't this forceful push to have the film introduce entire plot lines and villains, as well as some element that plays into the larger whole, and then dispose of them by the end of the film because all the loose ends need to be tied up by the time the Marvel logo rolls on the next film.
I feel bad in a way saying all this, because there's a lot of really great stuff in Thor: The Dark World. The humor woven through the film is fantastic, and the final battle sequence that bends physics and has characters literally jumping through time and space to attack one another is the most fantastic action sequence in this entire cinematic universe to date. Also, the funeral sequence for a fairly major character that occurs right around the midway point of the film is gorgeously shot and incredibly moving. These two moments, taken alone, might be my favorite of any that Marvel Studios has produced.
The cast is very strong, as to be expected, with Hemsworth and Hiddleston being an absolute delight to watch sparring with one another. Their relationship is the true emotional core of these films and makes the ridiculous attempts to insert Jane Foster into the narrative all the more distracting as a result. Portman isn't bad per se, she's just playing as one-dimensional a character as she did in the awful Star Wars prequels, and isn't a good enough actress to transcend the weak material she's given. Hemsworth and Hiddleston however shine throughout, and the rumors of last minute reshoots to insert more of Hiddleston into the film were well worth the time and effort as he remains the most compelling character in any of these films.
The rest of the supporting cast is fine, if underused. The attempts to work everyone in and give them all something to do are a bit distracting, but I will say that I genuinely enjoyed what Rene Russo did with her expanded role as Thor and Loki's mother Frigga. The film's director Alan Taylor brings a visual inventiveness to the film that previous director Kenneth Branagh just wasn't really capable of, and the film is that much better as a result. I genuinely enjoyed the look of the film, and it felt like a standalone film being forced to play by the rules of an established universe. I admire everything he did and tip my cap to him for refusing to take part in the nonsensical mid-credits scene that I absolutely abhorred.
I'm really of two minds about Thor: The Dark World. The child in me is ecstatic that this character has finally gotten a cinematic epic worthy of his epic nature from the comics. On the other hand, the film geek in me is exhausted by Marvel's continued insistence that everything be connected and linked and set up and paid off and all by the end of the film. It's become exhausting, and I just can't get excited about any of their upcoming slate with the notable exception of 2015's Ant-Man, mainly due to director Edgar Wright's participation. Granted, Marvel's not the utter train wreck that DC has turned into when it comes to their films, but their tack of sucking as much personality from these films as possible to ensure that they're all a part of a larger whole is getting wearisome. I'll end up seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I honestly couldn't give a shit about any of them right now. I can pretty much tell you exactly what they're going to be… bland and ultimately forgettable.
[Images via BoxOfficeMojo]