Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 256: Thor: The Dark World

"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]


  1. Ok, so I just watched both the Thors for the first time last week, admittedly because of Hiddleston. In my opinion, he is the best actor of his(my) generation right now, and I'm not just saying that because of his sexiness. Obviously that plays a part in his appeal and of course in determining the roles he's cast in, because every actor is a sum of his/her parts, and I'm glad he is what he is because I love him in the roles he's done.

    Now, I never would have watched Thor or The Avengers if not for him, because aside from Spiderman, I really don't know much about any Marvel Characters. But I do love the character of Loki (mythologically speaking-because I don't know much about him as a Marvel character, but I assume he's not that different and I know some of the same things happen to him). So, maybe I'm a poser fan of these just because I really like the Thor/Loki relationship dynamic, but that's about it. He's fantastic in the films, but they all seem a little choppy film wise, which wasn't aided by the fact that we were playing a drinking game while watching.

    I actually probably first saw Hiddleston in Midnight in Paris, which to me is a perfect script, regardless of what anyone thinks about Woody Allen's personal life. When he grabbed me was recently, when I saw him as Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse in London via an NTlive screening. I will boldly state that it's the BEST performance by someone of his gen. that I have seen. Granted, there are a lot of things I haven't scene, but nothing has affected my like that performance in a LOOOOONG time. Granted, it's got the luxury of being Shakespeare and a stage production, but it's one I can't shake. I hope they make a DVD of it because I want everyone to see it. I think even people who don't think they'd like that particular play would change their minds upon seeing it. So, this is less a comment about the film and more a praising of him, but we're in agreement about him stealing the show here.

    Let's talk about Portman. Yeah, she was very much the way she was in Star Wars. I blame the material some too, of course, but she is a puzzle to me. I think her work in Black Swan and even Closer was wonderful. Maybe those were just more her thing, but after her Oscar Win, I really started expecting more of her. I am curious to know what you think of her. It is terrible of me maybe, as a woman, but I am hard-pressed to think of my favorite actress of my generation. J.Law doesn't count in my book because she was a teen when I was in my mid-twenties. Actually, when I think about it, my favorite work has come from Chicago actress, Chaon Cross, who has had some small parts on T.V. and film, but is a theatre favorite here at Court and CST. Maybe I just pay more attention to the guys. Don't know what that says about me. Most of my female favorites are older.

    Also, I think Hemsworth was great at being hilarious in Thor, but I cannot detect his range from those films and he doesn't grab enough to check him out in other things, though if he's given the chance, he may prove me wrong.

    Sorry this post doesn't have much of a point. I just like sharing my thoughts. Great performances are always what make me like a film.

    1. I agree with you to some extent on Hiddleston. I haven't seen Coriolanus, so I can't speak to that in particular, but I think he's top five of this generation, easily, but I still think Sam Rockwell is the best actor, at least film actor, of his contemporaries.

      As for Portman, I thought she was transcendently good in Black Swan, a film that I picked as the best of 2010, and still think very highly of. I think that had more to do with the script, character, and certainly director, and if given the right elements, she can be very good. Her problem is that she breaks under the weight of bad material, which is the mark of how good an actor is, and I think she falls woefully short of the greats for that reason.

      Of this crop of female actresses in our age range, I would have to say that Kate Winslet is the obvious choice for the best of the bunch, but I also love Jennifer Connolly, Amy Adams, and Charlize Theron. Judging them based on what they can do with middling to poor material, they rarely make a misstep.

      Hemsworth is incredibly charismatic, and the two things I've seen him in outside of Marvel are Cabin in the Woods and Rush, both of which he was terrific in, but both of which played to his strengths. He has a lot of old movie star charm, and while I think his range is limited, the roles that he's done within that range prove that he can build a really strong career for himself, not unlike George Clooney, another actor with an incredibly limited range.

      I love that you wrote what you did because I always envisioned this blog as a sharing of ideas, not necessarily a "great review, keep up the good work," kind of thing. I wish more people would get on this bandwagon and open things up for discussion. That's what I've always wanted this to be about, and I'm very happy that you stop in on occasion to do just that!

  2. I never think of Amy Adams or Kate Winslet as being my generation, but they are women I admire, certainly. I'm not 100% sure what defines a generation. I always think about 5 years, give or take, but maybe it's more like a decade, but then in which direction? Kate Winslet is my favorite actress for sure of the under 40 variety, so maybe that does count.

    I have only seen Moon with Sam Rockwell, which I loved. He's definitely not in the same generation though. Just a bit older.

    Black Swan was my favorite of that year too and I thought she totally deserved her win. My friend has a theory that Darren Aronofsky brings out the best in people. The women in the superhero films often get the worst material to begin with. The things the other characters do and say are really better to begin with, so while I'm sure they may be more capable of transcending the bad, they've got a better starting place.

    Yeah, Clooney is always Clooney to me. Which works beautifully sometimes. I think that's why I liked Up in the Air, even if it was a bit overhyped. I wasn't expecting much from it and loved it, because it was the best I'd seen him in. I've never seen any of his dramas really. He doesn't quite charm me in films in the same way he does in real life, where he seems like a perfectly kind and charismatic person. Did I mention that at the beginning of Monuments Men, I just didn't find him believable in the 40's. I don't think he can make rainbows out of bad material either.

  3. Oh yeah, also Fassbender is great in my gen. And Domnhall Gleeson from About Time. They're interesting to watch, and I think possess a kind of vulnerability which keeps the audience guessing. Probably the material too, but they are people I want to see more from.

    Who are the women from the Late 70's, early 80's who I love? I just can't think? Who am I missing?

    1. Fassbender's fantastic, one of the best actors currently working along with Joaquin Phoenix. As for the ladies of the 70s and 80s, you've got Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, Sally Field. Nancy Allen did some great work with her husband Brian DePalma. Kathleen Turner was phenomenal in Body Heat. Cathy Moriarty was incredible in Raging Bull. Karen Black had faded by the late 70s, but in her prime she was one of the best. I'd add Ellen Burstyn & Faye Dunaway to that list as well, and Gena Rowlands and Jill Clayburgh, though they were more mid-70s. Jessica Lange was early mid to early 80s as was Meg Tilly who is perhaps the most underrated actress of the 1980s.

  4. Oh, I mean actresses born in the late 70's-80's. I feel like my generation is best defined as those born between '75 and '85, but maybe it's a bit broader than that. HOW could I forget Joaquin. He is in my top 5 for sure. I would love to make a top 5 men and top 5 women from that decade(ish) list. It's great to be inspired by those who I looked up to in my youth, but also those of the same age range. I love those older actresses you mentioned. I love many of the Brits too, like Imelda Staunton.

    1. Kate Winslet is younger than you think. She's only 38. She's just been around for so long that she seems older. Michelle Williams is another one that I think is fantastic, and she's a year younger than me. Her performance in Blue Valentine is one of the best of the last ten years without a doubt. I know she's reviled now for some reason, but Anne Hathaway is also very good.

  5. I was just in HIgh School when Titanic came out and even though Kate Winslet was only like 20/21 when they made it, I just always looked up to her as someone older. Yeah, Michelle Williams is great. I appreciated the performances in Blue Valentine, but I didn't like the movie really, because it was TOO sad for me. Watching it once was enough. I loved Anne Hathaway in Les. Mis, but that was her best, I think. I don't really know how I choose movies I like. I like drama and I like sad, but I don't like when the entire thing is sad, without any hope. I guess I choose kinda by how inclined I am to watch something again. Sometimes my favorites and what I think are best are different and sometimes they are the same.