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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (DJ's Take)

MIGHTY
The first Thor film was a charming and clever way to introduce the idea of gods and monsters to the relatively grounded Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Director Kenneth Branagh didn't shy away from the absurdity of gods/aliens from a magical kingdom visiting our planet/realm.  He dove headlong into it and used dry humor to take some of the edge off the skepticism. (Are you paying attention DC execs still trying to make a Wonder Woman film?)  After Thor's moderate box office success and a great deal of believability groundwork laid by Branagh and Joss Whedon in 2012's The Avengers, audiences were prepared to pull back their cynical blinders to see even more otherworldly spectacle.  Alan Taylor, an untouchable don from HBO's Game Of Thrones, grabbed the reigns for the sequel Thor: The Dark World.  And I am happy, and relieved to say that Taylor keeps the character and the series on an upward track.

Thor: The Dark World brings back The MIGHTY Avenger Thor and pits him and the people of Asgard up against a race of creatures called Dark Elves who intend on bringing back infinite darkness to the galaxy with the help of a mystical substance.  To put it more simply, Thor: The Dark World is a mcguffin film.  It is a mcguffin film much in the same way Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers was.  However, I appreciate that Alan Taylor and writer Christopher Yost used the trick of turning a character, who would be useless otherwise, into the mcguffin.  Jane Foster would typically serve the purpose of being the character who asks questions that trigger all of the expository explanations.  But here, her reasons for asking are vital to her character's immediate survival.  (I'm looking at you Man Of Steel)  The stakes are high, the action is intense, and the scope is much bigger than before.

Alan Taylor is right at home on a medieval battlefield, and it shows.  There is an invasion scene that began to remind me of the one in the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles Of Riddick.  However, the danger and destruction seemed to hold more weight.  The battle was more visceral and imaginative.  Taylor offers the same comforting feeling to the Asgardian material as Branagh did.  The only place where Taylor seemed a little out of his depth was in the scenes shot on modern day earth.  The scenes with normal people.  It was reported that Joss Whedon was flown in to help fix a few scenes in the film, and I wouldn't be surprised if they involved Dr. Selvig, Jane Foster, and Darcy Lewis mucking about.  Thankfully, these scenes are minor bridges in between the battles and bedlam of the story.  Taylor should also get credit, though I'm not sure how much, for the great performances in the film.  None more so than that of Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Tom Hiddleston's Loki.          

Here is a little peek behind the curtain.  I usually choose a picture for my reviews that best personifies what I hated or, in this case, loved about what I'm reviewing.  Those two Asgardian gentlemen up above, and the arc their relationship takes, serves as the main reason to go see this film.  Their chemistry was a bit clumsy in the first Thor film.  Something I attribute to the rush in explaining the origins of these strange characters.  Since then, Thor and Loki's scenes together have become better and better.  This film displays the apex of their relationship thematically and performance-wise.  There is so much subtext in every interaction and argument they have.  It is obvious that these two actors not only have a perfect rapport, but they actually enjoy working with one another.  Natalie Portman's character of Jane Foster is less ditsy and naive then she was before.  However, Portman's talents still feel a bit wasted with this character.  If we didn't live in the generation of impatience, another half hour could have allowed more time to focus on Jane Foster's hinted rivalry with Lady Sif for Thor's affections.  All the other supporting characters come to play and seem to revel in every moment of screen time.  

Now don't let my praise of the Thor: The Dark World lead you to believe it is perfect.  There are a few flaws the audience has to get through.  The story takes a minute to truly get going, some of the well delivered dramatic moments and gravitas are occasionally short circuited by an ill timed joke, and there are some minor plot holes to navigate.  But the biggest weakness of the film, and I never figured I'd say this, is its antagonists.  The villain of the first Thor film was primarily Loki.  An almost perfect morally gray character with varying complexities and nuances.  A villain so rich in character, most fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now cheer for him.  Hell, he all but dominated Comic-Con in a way usually reserved for people with the initials RDJ.  Malekith is a menacing and believable threat to Thor and even Odin.  However, he has about as much complexity and nuance as Inspector Gadget's nemesis Dr. Claw.  He's evil for evil's sake.  We learn little about him other than he and his people want the universe draped in darkness.  I may just be a bit bitter because with a character as deadly as Malekith, played by an actor the quality of a Christopher Eccleston, I expected more depth.

Thor: The Dark World is a rare sequel.  A sequel you'll love if you loved the original, and a sequel you might be more inclined to like even if you hated the original.  The characters are more focused and free to be who they are, the plot is more daring, and the scale is much larger.  Coming off of the mildly disappointing and geek enraging Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World is a terrific cleanser of your comic book movie pallet.  Prepare for battle...watch out for rock monsters...and nude scientists...behold it...then tell me I'm wrong.

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