November 8th, 2013
Oh for the love of the Norse gods, just how much exposition is necessary to understand the story behind Thor: The Dark World? What one would expect is a few lines at the beginning. What the audience gets is a protracted pre-history lesson. To save you, dear viewer, from what feels like an eternity connected to your thinking cap before all the fun begins, Cinema Siren will help.
Follow the bouncing balderdash: Thousands of years ago, a race called the Dark Elves led by the demonically pasty-faced Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) wanted to throw the universe into darkness by using an amorphous energy called the Aether. Although the warriors of Asgard defeat them, they are under the mistaken impression all the Dark Elves and the energy have been destroyed. In fact, the indestructible Aether has been placed “somewhere safe,” and Malekith is just in suspended animation, taking a very long nap.
When something called the “Convergence” begins, creating alignment of and a way to move between the 9 Realms, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles onto the hidden matter while searching for Thor in an in-between world. It attaches to her like a lethal intergalactic virus. This somehow inadvertently awakens Malekith, who rebuilds his army, once again with an aim to destroy the universe and bring back darkness. Hence the movie’s subtitle. After a collective eye roll, let’s move on to why Cinema Siren heartily recommends this movie, despite the absurdity of the story on which it is built.
All the plot convolutions in the universe are nothing compared to the delights offered in screen time shared by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). There is no other duo like them in all of comic book lore. They are family and they are gods. All the betrayal and Shakespearean machinations are tempered with love that can’t be extinguished. It’s complicated.
Their personalities couldn’t be more different, which makes their interactions both highly volatile and highly entertaining. In this installment, Loki accepts Thor’s dire request for help to save the universe. The plan for doing so requires they are on the same team. What a team it is!
When they embark on this potentially self-sacrificing plan, the audience is treated to the sci-fi Nordic God version of a Bing Crosby and Bob Hope road movie. We, the audience, would go anywhere with those bickering brothers and love every minute of it.
The plot matters not one whit. Would that director Alan Taylor and his screenwriters could have filled 100 of the 112 minutes with just Thor and Loki together onscreen. Even in the limited time shared, they create a screen duo for the ages. It is bluster versus disdain, muscled determination versus studied manipulation. This is to say nothing of the nearly overwhelming hotness onscreen.
Competition for most comely male must be fierce on Asgard, where not only the muscled arms and legs are godlike, but so are the locks. We predict a “Saturday Night Live” skit in the near future where Loki and Thor use their impressive tresses to promote the strengthening and volumizing benefits of Pantene.
All kidding aside, this installment allows for both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to expand their roles and show more of their acting talents, in their scenes together as well as those with their co-stars. Thor and Loki are not one-dimensional, but they clearly could have been. It is the characterization both as written by the screenwriters and portrayed by both actors that makes the movie not only worth watching, but worth seeing again, plot be damned.
The scenes with their parents, in particular, enhance what we know about Thor and Loki, and their reasons for their unique perspectives. Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo are Odin and Frigga. As the figureheads for both family and clan, they carry their power in every gesture. Hopkins shows himself as imperfect, in the complications between he and his sons. There is much more to be learned about their relationships, which, it is hoped, will be better featured in the next movie.
Hopkins and Hiddleston have a fiery exchange early in the film that makes great use of Hopkins’ limited screen time. It brings to mind 1967’s The Lion In Winter, when he played the part of a royal in one of his earliest roles. It’s gratifying for fans to see him all these years later as king in another dysfunctional family of Shakespearean proportion. Rene Russo shows her mettle as an iron-tough yet feminine matriarch who loves both her sons and wants to see them thrive and get along, just like any mum.
The other great aspect of this movie is the positive female representation. Hollywood knows better than to ignore the girl geeks at this point, as the number of fans of the feminine persuasion continues to grow. Also, as there is such hotness per scare inch of screen space, the audience is bound to include a fair number of enthusiastic women. Not only does Rene Russo draw older women in the audience in and represent a strong mature presence, she is a woman of a certain age who is not only beautiful, but knows her own power and carries it with grace.
Gal-friend to all Natalie Portman reprises her role as Thor’s human interest and genius astrophysicist Jane Foster. As Foster, she has an easy poise and comfort with herself and her own strengths to which any teen girl geek can aspire. We can forgive her pining for Thor at the beginning, as he is doing the same in one of the other nine realms. After all, looking at them, who among us could blame them? Portman has shown herself to be a great actress throughout her career, from Leon The Professional to Black Swan.
That in part explains why even as she faints repeatedly (the Aether is killing her) she still maintains her credibility as a strong character. At one point she wakes up and immediately starts interpreting data. Atta girl!
Kat Dennings is still Jane’s able intern Darcy Lewis, and with Jane taking on this mystical energy, Darcy becomes something of a stand-in for humankind. Used as comic relief and a tether to the “real world,” she seems meant to stand as the voice of reason and human practicality, but ultimately comes off as an annoyance. Perhaps that was an intended statement about humans in general. Dennings is playing the role as written, so she can hardly be held accountable for the abrasiveness of her character. She is, after all, playing against gods and geniuses.
The climactic fight scenes toward the end of the movie use a combination of locations in the nine realms, from Earth to Asgard. Included are multiple dimensions, holes in space and instruments that bend the laws of physics, as comic books and, by extension, comic book movies, are wont to do. Audiences have not yet been so desensitized by the over-the-top explosive action that it can’t be enjoyed, but one wonders how much more visually flamboyant these Marvel and DC movies can get without losing long-term credibility or interest. It is a good thing Thor himself is so entertaining.
Gaping plot holes and a needlessly convoluted story almost derail Thor: The Dark World. However, all the audience needs is Thor and Loki together onscreen to make the trip an absolute joy and more than worth it. Their “glorious purpose” is to entertain, and that they do. Note to Marvel: More, please!
4 out of 5 stars