So I may have fallen asleep while watching this movie.
It’s not really the movie’s fault; I was up late, didn’t sleep well, blah, blah, blah. Point is, I was set to eviscerate this thing, and now I feel bad because how can I criticize what I didn’t see? Well, pretty easily, as it turns out. Thor: the Dark World is a messy, lazy, phoned-in script that is graciously ass-saved on the strength of (most of) it’s cast and a gonzo production design. Gone is Kenneth Branagh and his first-year film school obsession with dutch angles, and in it’s place we have… Alan Taylor? Who?
Apparently he directed something called Game of Thrones, and he does mostly good work here. Like I said, this movie looks great, even if it makes not a lick of sense. This head-scratching idiocy begins immediately, with Odin’s opening monologue:
“Long before the birth of light, there was darkness. And from that darkness – the dark elves.”
Now that just doesn’t make any sense. There’s this thing called the Big Bang Theory that has a lot to say on the topic of dark energy, but overlooks entirely the presence of dark elves, who evolved apparently, in the absence of light. Is that even possible? No, no it isn’t, because in order to make the heavier elements that planets are comprised of – iron and so forth – you need the forging fire of a sun. You need light. So I don’t know what Odin’s selling here, but I’m not buying it.
He goes on to say that a millennia ago there was a war between the Dark Elves and Asgard, as Malekith sought to use The Convergence (we’ll get to that) to unleash the Aether (we’ll get to that, too) and return the Universe to the state of darkness that the Dark Elves find so congenial.
Now, again, this doesn’t make any sense. The Universe is over 13 billion years old. A millennia is a thousand years – not a very long time by comparison. So were the Dark Elves waiting around for basically forever, neither adapting nor dying out? You’d think – from an evolution standpoint – that they would either get over it and evolve, or not and go extinct. Instead, they’ve just been these miserable assholes since the dawn of creation. And speaking of evolution, why do these guys have eyeballs, exactly? Cave fish don’t have eyeballs – for reasons that are pretty evident.
So in 13 billion years, the dark elves never said ‘fuck it’ and just went to live at the bottom of the ocean? Whatever, guys.
Anyway, a thousand years ago was the Convergence, and the war with the Dark Elves. Got it. The Convergence is when the Nine Realms open up circular portals that stack up like Pringles chips, and you just gotta go with it.
Literally none of this makes sense, so we might as well talk about Thor.
When we pick up with Thor, he’s fighting some anonymous battle somewhere, because the Realms have fallen into chaos since the destruction of the Bifrost at the end of the first movie. He wins super-easily because he’s Thor, but then mopes afterward during the celebration because he misses Jane Foster. Um, why?
I won’t question why he misses Jane specifically, because what we will laughingly call ‘the script’ requires him to and besides, the heart wants what the heart wants. But why isn’t he with her now? Can’t he take a weekend off? They’re celebrating because he’s finally done mopping up these ‘marauders’ or whoever, so why doesn’t he have a big, dopey Thor grin plastered on his face as he packs a suitcase and peaces to Earth for a couple weeks of well-earned shore leave? Instead however, he mopes his way to Heimdall, who has been spying on Jane for him, which is pretty creepy when you think about it. This time, however, Heimdall can’t see her, and since he can see everything, this is naturally distressing.
Not as distressing as the reason why he can’t see her, and that’s because Jane Foster just found our maguffin, the Aether, in a warehouse in London.
We know already from Odin’s nonsensical opening monologue, that after the war with the Elves, the Aether – which could not be destroyed – was hidden somewhere no one could find it. I guess nobody never looked in London, huh?
It’s not actually in London, of course, but Jane’s investigations into Plot Anomalies bring her there and she gets sucked through a portal or something and then she gets the Aether. Or something. The whole foundation for this story is fucked and makes no sense, relying as it does on incredible coincidences like this one. And it’s painfully obvious the choice was made to make Jane Foster more relevant in this movie, except that Natalie Portman doesn’t want to be in this movie and it shows.
She’s attractive and articulate, which means that if you point a camera at her and get her to read off some lines you’ll get something there you can use, but there’s just no spark. No sparkle. No life to this phoned-in performance. Natalie Portman – an academy award winner – is actually an educated woman who got a degree from Harvard in psychology, but her performance as an astrophysicist here made me think she was an idiot. I mean, I knew she wasn’t, but I still sort of thought she was, that’s how unconvincing her line-readings are. It’s problematic.
But where the script passes the ball to Portman for the fumble, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston shoot a hole-in-one from the 3 point line. (Sports!)
Seen as a continuation of this tale of two brothers, The Dark World works. It’s great, and I love seeing the pair of them together, with all the weight of past events coming to bear on their relationship. That relationship continues to evolve as their mother Frigga is fridged, I mean murdered, by Malekith. Bound by their shared grief, the brothers set out on a ridiculous plan that doesn’t work, but does serve to get all the pieces into place for the final battle.
And the final battle is pretty cool. I mean, that’s almost a given at this point, right? There’s some sort of unspoken contract that with the price of admission comes a special effects-laden, orgiastic feast of superhero violence. And with a throw away line about how physics basically takes a coffee break during the Convergence, we are well set up for a fight that is literally bonkers, as Thor and Malekith bounce from realm to realm as they duke it out.
It’s really fun to watch, makes about as much sense as everything around here, and no one is the least surprised when the bad guy is thwarted and the good guy gets the girl in the end.
The rest of us are left in the wreckage of yet another apocalyptic battle, wondering what the hell just happened, and if we can get a decently scripted Thor movie next time. Because everything else was great in this movie. Well, almost everything. Natalie Portman aside, there was one other really problematic aspect to this movie, and I almost forgot it til just now. Great, it looks like this review just grew another 500 words, because this happened:
That’s Erik Selvig, played by Stellan Skarsgård, and he’s gone crazy following the events of the Avengers, where he was mind-controlled by Loki and forced to build the portal through which the Chitauri invade. That’s all fine, and certainly Iron Man 3 explored the effects of PTSD on Tony Stark to excellent effect. Unfortunately, they will not be nearly so nuanced here in The Dark World, where Selvig’s illness is played entirely for laughs and shrugged off going into the third act. Seriously, he gets checked out of the mental hospital and after seeing the early effects of the Convergence (which he predicted) says:
“There’s nothing more reassuring than realizing the world is crazier than you are.”
Immediately after which he throws his big bag of medication into the trash. Cured! It’s not only stupid, and unnecessary, it’s legitimately offensive. And stupid. And unnecessary.
So what’s good in Thor is great. The leads are great, and most of the supporting cast as well. Kat Dennings is a comedic treasure, and both Heimdall and Frigga get badass moments, like this:
The production design – as previously mentioned – is sick. I never did understand what the Aether is or what it does, but it’s animated in this really menacing way. The Dark Elves too, who I don’t understand, have fantastically creepy costumes.
And the weapons are really science-fictiony, which I liked. Even the medieval Asgardians now have what are basically lightsabers in this movie – as can be seen in the Frigga gif above – and it’s a good look. Also, Frigga’s funeral was beautifully shot and legitimately touching, considering her character – having the misfortune of being a woman in a comic book movie – has maybe three lines and no development to speak of.
In the final analysis, I award The Dark World 3 Realms out of a possible 9. It’s not the worst Marvel movie thus far, and I do like it more than I probably should, but there’s no escaping the obvious flaws: Natalie Portman, the script, and the decision that mental illness was something it was still okay to laugh at in the 21st century. Most unfortunate.
You can do better Marvel, and you will, because up next in the rewatch is WINTER SOLDIER.