I don’t remember much about the circumstances surrounding this film. I can’t remember if I was able to catch the premiere. I can’t remember who I saw it with, if I saw it my ceremonious three times in theaters, if I even enjoyed it. I remember Chris Hemsworth’s abs, because who doesn’t, but other than that this movie exists within a weird fog for me, and I think that perfectly sums up my feelings about this iteration of the Thor legacy.
I feel bad for Thor sometimes. Iron Man has Iron Man, some cool fight scenes and conflicting reviews on Iron Man 2, and a brilliantly underrated third installment. Cap has Winter Soldier. Hulk has The Incredible Hulk, which is no ringing endorsement, but at least we know what we think about it. I feel like Thor movies have yet to find their voice. Its strength was in the small emotional moments that I discussed when talking about Thor last week. One might expect that they might try to dial back this larger-than-life superhero to incorporate more of this intimacy in The Dark World; however, it feels like this movie was just lost in production.
The first thing I noticed in this movie is that the production design got ramped up big time.
Everything about Asgard, and all the other fill-in-the-blank-heims look much better. It all seems more authentic, which is a huge problem that I had with the first movie. I really enjoy all of the Asgard scenes that aren’t just gratuitous shots of the skyline. Two scenes in particular that stand out are the celebration after the battle at Vanaheim, and the conversation between Thor and Heimdall in the local tavern. Both of these scenes provide a much less idealized version of what Asgard is and allows us to have a better grasp on the setting in which this movie takes place.
This is an extended scene, and is pretty pointless. But, you get a good idea for how much more approachable this scene feels compared to any of the Asgardian scenes in Thor. Just watching it makes me want to grow a beard. ANOTHER!!!
Other choices were made to make this movie more approachable. Idris Elba (Heimdall) no longer has a comically deep voice, and is given more material to work with that increase the intrigue of his character (I’m not really going to touch on the fact that as a person sworn not to commit treason, he has done so more than any other character in Asgard). Many things were improved on this second run at the God of Thunder.
However, they moved away from many of their strengths from the first installation, and this proves to be the movie’s demise. There are far fewer emotionally charged scenes, and no amount of Anthony Hopkins’ yelling will convince me otherwise. There is such a lack, in fact, that when the emotions that drove the first movie so well do rear their head, it just reminds you how little you have invested into caring about any of the issues that are supposed to threatening the universe. Loki sits alone in his prison, a shell of his former self, bemoaning his lack of control.
However, the scene is quickly followed by a recovery to his former self that immediately relieves the weight of the previous scene and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
In place of these emotions, the movie offers more crazy Eric Selvig, more Kat Dennings, and inexplicably Natalie Portman doing her best Kat Dennings impression. Jane Foster was established as a strong, driven scientist, who used her love for Thor to motivate her to understand more about our galaxy. In this movie, the quirkiness is ramped up to a level that should never have been tapped, and she is a love-sick cartoon of her former self. It is sad to see a strong female character within the Marvel Universe that doesn’t have to punch people to show her worth get the short end of the cliché straw.
All of this is not to say that there are no redeeming qualities of The Dark World. Its greatest strength is understanding that the franchise’s greatest asset is not Hemsworth’s six pack (although it is a close second), but Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The continued exploration of the star-crossed brotherhood is one of the few things that leaves this movie with any steam. Unfortunately for Hemmsworth, Loki’s continued involvement means that he will continue to take the back seat, because the arc that Loki takes in this movie does an excellent job of continuing to develop one of the most complex characters on Marvel’s roster. Three of my four favorite scenes in The Dark World all center around Loki, and my intrigue in Thor: Ragnarok is entirely fueled by a desire to find out what happens to him now that he sits on the throne of Asgard.
While this interest is useful in driving ticket sales, it does not necessarily spell good news for the big dude with the hammer. Thor desperately needs some personal development apart from Loki if Marvel ever hopes to elevate this character above the lower tier of characters in which he currently resides. The problem is not a lack of stories either. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor now has the greatest reach of any of the heroes. You want to more space stuff? Cool, you can do that. Want to do more earth-bound stuff? I don’t see why not. There just needs to be a reason all of this is happening, and not just making a movie, because two movies a year is what Marvel does now. I have faith in the next installation — Ragnarok — but this is likely the last shot that Thor is going to get in a headlining role for a while. The pressure is on to tie this trilogy together, because right now it seems to have very little direction or purpose. This is very dangerous, as new properties are constantly being released and finding that voice early on in the process. As the market continues to grow towards saturation for superhero movies, the need for characters without a sense of purpose is going to cease to exist. Whether this pressure will destroy the next Thor tale or make it as mighty as it can be has yet to be seen, but it will be a headlining issue as production for the project begins over the next year.