Thor: The Dark World is kind of an interesting film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in that opinions of it fall into two categories, which I will some up as “ugh…” and “what?” A lot of people who have seen it didn’t like it, and probably even more don’t remember seeing it or skipped it entirely. Even after having watched it twice in the past few months while working on these reviews, I would be hard pressed to tell you a whole lot about the film.
From a box office perspective, it was still a hit, but probably not the same level of smash hit that we’d seen with The Avengers (still one of the highest grossing films ever) or Iron Man 3, which both crossed the billion dollar mark. It netted around half what IM3 did, and was made for less, but still that’s a huge drop off (though a lot more than what the first movie made).
The whole story of Thor: The Dark World is kind of a troubled one. Originally Patty Jenkins was hired to direct, and then “amicably split” with Marvel because of creative differences. It has always been rumored that she was fired because her idea didn’t fit with what Marvel wanted with the overall story, something that did happen with Edgar Wright in Ant-Man, but neither Marvel nor Jenkins has ever given anything that confirm it, so take it with a grain of salt. Natalie Portman, likewise, was vocal about being excited to work with Jenkins, and was apparently livid after she was gone… and has never returned for any other Thor movies or stuff with Marvel.
Given what we got, it’s really sad, because we’ve seen what Jenkins can do with Wonder Woman and I would have loved to see some of that color and magic here. I wonder how much of the movie we got was inspired what Patty Jenkins had planned compared to how much was Alan Taylor, who took over the film. If Taylor doesn’t sound familiar, he’s mostly been a TV director (and most of that was HBO stuff) and a Terminator film so bad that the movies had to be rebooted in response. So yeah… there’s that.
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a television director, and there are some who make the jump effectively. But shooting for TV and shooting for movies are two distinct things and a lot of the things don’t work in both mediums; television gets to tell longer stories with more connections, and movies have to establish and build within one picture. It’s telling how much of the cast gets reduced to props to move around our mains, or how many little things aren’t seemingly tied up or seem heavily chopped, and I have to think that a lot of that was because of the director’s comfort zone.
Usually when I’ve thought back to The Dark World, for some reason that Portman phoned in her part (which I always thought was because of the Jenkins thing)… but after this watch through I have to admit I was simply wrong about her. She is far better in this movie than in the first Thor (honestly… everyone was), and the character of Jane had a whole lot more agency and control in it. Yes, a great deal of the movie was still the romance and love story between her and Thor, but it feels more natural and flows better in this.
What was most striking, and something that I never seem to remember, is that Jane was involved in the final fight with the Doctor, she is right in the thick of it. It’s never about Thor saving her as a damsel in distress… in fact, she saved him at least once, and was directly involved in “killing” him by sending him back to Interstellar Planet. Even better was she didn’t turn into some super killing machine to do it (like we saw with Pepper)… she used her established skills and intelligence to contribute to the fight and it was just fantastic. I can’t believe I never realized that before.
The chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleson is in full force in this movie, and everything between Thor and Loki is a highlight of the movie. Loki, in particular, begins a path back to being “redeemed” and more of the bad/good guy that he becomes in the comics. Someone who can easily been a villain and a hero, sometimes switching in the moment, it’s where Loki was always most interesting and that’s what we see here.
The part of the movie where they are together, the escape from Asgard, until they’re on Dark Elf planet (which yes, I know is called Svartalfheim), and then it gets overshadowed by the weird lighting and lame action scenes. I mean, it starts out great, with the whole betrayal of Loki that was part of Thor’s shockingly elaborate plan, but once it’s revealed, and Thor and Loki really fail… it goes off. Yes, he “sacrifices” himself, but they’ve already established he’s more than capable of faking his death, and of course that is confirmed at the end. I don’t know that anyone watching the movie thought for a second that he was actually dead, despite Hiddleson saying that wasn’t the original plan.
Of course, the scene that really steals the show is the one I kind of wish wasn’t there… the funeral scene with Thor’s mom, Frigga. She was a badass I wanted to see more of, and was able to stand toe-to-toe with Destro until she suddenly wasn’t and her son came in to zap his face so he had to put on the metal mask. The short scenes we got her were great, like the fact that we got to see for a moment that she was the same master of magic that Loki was (in a deleted scene, she says that she taught Loki the mystical arts).
The aftermath of it, where she gets the special pyre and the hundred others get fire boats as well, was simply gorgeous and a triumph of the CGI. It was a great blend of Norse history and mythology and the advanced nature of Asgard. We do get to see her go all glowy dust at the end, and they never explain it, but they’ve also never explained Valhalla either and all the Asgardians seem to accept that it really exists as a place.
Nearly everything else in the movie is a big muddled mess. The start of the movie has orcs with rocket launchers and a bunch of action without any context. We’re told it’s on Vanaheim, as if that explained everything, and later that one of the Warrior’s Three Hogun is from there. The only reason they seemed to say that is so he can be written out of the story. Presumably, the whole fighting is happening because the rainbow bridge is destroyed and only Asgard can keep the Nine Realms peaceful (through excessive violence).
When we get return characters like Darcy and Selvig, they’re almost always comedy relief, and often not within the scene, but injected to distract you from anything else that’s going on. The comedy that worked the best in previous movies is when it was interwoven to what was going on, not just an aside that boiled down to “hey, it’s joke time… now back to the movie.”
You know, there were orcs with rocket launchers, how was that not the entire movie? Why not make it so the whole of the movie was about the chaos of the Nine Realms being orchestrated by an unknown foe, and coming up with a reason how that person drew in someone to make Thor more vulnerable (I can think of someone that would fit the bill)?
Instead, it’s the whole convergence which will never be mentioned again and a lot of events that will mostly be ignored. In some ways, this movie was very comic book movie, but in the worst way of comic books where it’s basically just “sudden big bad coming to do things.” We get the stated purpose of Malekith and the Dark Elves wanting to bring back darkness for reasons, despite being part of the universe, but apparently older than the universe (and they made an Infinity Stone or something).
Really, the issue is that Mayor Henry West and all of the
Zombies Dark Elves as a horde that are supposed to be incredibly dangerous, and are for most of the movie but at the end have trouble dealing with a couple of humans who are just bumbling around. We see them kill hundreds of Asgardians, but are made completely inept because the plot needed them to be for comedy.
For the first half of the movie, the Dark Elves speak whatever made up language they have, and it makes every moment of it just dull. That whole trope of Sci-Fi has only worked when you use it properly… strangely, the person who I always think of using it extremely well in movies is George Lucas. He seemed to understand was that you used it as an accent to a scene, not the driver to it. When Han talks to Chewie, he’s speaking basic; same with Luke talking to Jabba… the interaction was only half in a made up language while the rest of the conversation happened as we could all understand it.
In The Dark World, we get two actors that had to memorize a bunch of sounds that are supposed to come off as words and mean nothing. It will almost always just sound like the actors reciting those sounds and loses any of the nuance and inflection that great actors bring to dialog. When it comes to Marvel movies, I can only think of one time where it really works… and it may be the movie that will be covered after this one.
I watched this movie just a few hours ago and I’m already struggling to remember what happened in the start of it. I mean, we got to see that Thor’s grandfather was just as bad as Thor’s father at sharing things and making sound tactical decisions. And then Jane being on a date with the cop from Bridesmaids… and… some drinking stories on Asgard? Yeah, I think it’s gone.
I mean, there are parts that really stand out in the movie, I described them above when talking about what really worked… but the rest was mostly there to give us a little bit of restating a lot about a character we already know. He wants to see Jane but has responsibilities, he has changed from the arrogant and boisterous man we saw in the last two films with Thor.
The problem is that all the time he’s not with Loki or Jane, it comes off as filler. The only time when the supporting characters aren’t just props is during the scene where Thor and Loki are trying to escape from Asgard. Volstagg gets to fight a lot, Shazam gets to jump around a lot, and Sif gets to use her sword a lot. They sit around a table and plan, which is actually a good storytelling mechanism since it’s basically a prison break and/or heist, but that’s really it. And they are in a lot of other scenes where it’s mostly just short action and not much else.
Visually, the movie is stunning, and the CGI and action usually look great (though that’s kind of wasted when your bad guys literally all look the same)… but often doesn’t sound like it. I wonder if part of the problem with this movie, and Iron Man 3 before it, is that these two movies just have completely forgettable soundtracks (outside of a 1999 throwback in IM3). The Avengers used the theme to great extent, Captain America: The First Avenger used period music, and the earlier movies had soundtracks that matched the mood and music. I’m not sure there was ever a main theme to Thor: The Dark World. I mean, I’m certain there was, but I don’t remember ever having heard it.
One thing that the movie does that is important, which sets it apart from some of the other weak films, is that it sets up the coming conflict that will be brewing in the MCU. Odin is the first one that calls out the aether as one of the primordial McGuffins, fragments of what came before… or as we know them now, Infinity Stones. In one of the end credit scenes, we get them called as much, and it’s revealed that the Tesseract is one of them as well and that it’s not safe to keep more than one of them in the same place. I guess that’s why there were three of the things on Earth at one point. We also get the Collector introduced, which serves as the setup for Guardians of the Galaxy.
The other end credit scene is a lot less consequential… Thor comes back and kisses Jane. The most interesting thing about the kiss itself is that it wasn’t actually Natalie Portman. It was filmed after primary filming was done and she wasn’t available so they had to find a body double. So they got Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth’s wife, as a stand in (they’re the same height and build… if I hadn’t read it I would have never noticed). Just a bit of fun trivia about why that particular kiss and embrace was so much more passionate than the rest we’d seen.
Ultimately, the problem of this movie is that it’s just completely undermined by a boring villain and the most generic minions this side of… Minions. It’s just that so much of the rest is between boring to just bad, and most of the secondary characters are just relegated to either jokes or just a prop when convenient. The end fight had all the prospect of being great, and there were some good ideas in it… but the best part of the whole thing ends up being the joke when he’s on the train.
Everything between Loki and Thor is fantastic, Natalie Portman is a lot better as Jane Foster than I remember, and there is setup for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will have a lot of impact and meaning. The movie simply throws out its own rules for the sake of the plot and doesn’t make it exciting enough for us to look past it. While more watchable than the Incredible Hulk was, it’s not really any better of a movie… and may actually be worse. There are things to latch on to, but not enough to make this movie any better than a two out of five. There’s a reason that most people put it at the bottom of their lists.
One Shot: All Hail the King
Sadly, we’re at the end of the Marvel One-Shots with the return of Trevor Slattery for Hail to the King. It’s a very fun little mix, though I’m left wondering why he was actually in prison general population (or prison in general). It happens in Seagate prison, which is a fun little Easter Egg, as it was the place where Luke Cage served his time all the way back in Hero for Hire #1 (and would be introduced in the Netflix show as well).
I’m actually curious of the legal workings that would be here… would he be convicted and imprisoned of the stuff that went on with Killan in Iron Man 3 given that he was just an actor and pawn with very little knowledge other than names (whom he gave up for some perks).
Mostly, though, this was a little bonus mini-retcon of a few things in Iron Man 3 that don’t really diminish that movie at all. It establishes that the Ten Rings are an actual organization, and not just something created by Killian and used by Stane. Beyond that… it throws down a little tidbit that maybe there’s someone out there that used the Mandarin name and he wants some words with Trevor. It’s left unresolved as to what happens, and I simply love that.
We do also get a fun little visit from Justin Hammer. Seems odd that he’d be in gen pop, but always good to see that character. I wish they’d figure out a way to work him back into the MCU… seems like a “failing up” sort of guy.
Since there are going to be a lot of these reviews, and it’s nice to see how all of the movies stack up against one another, we’re going to add a little summary section for the Marvel Cinematic movies. When we’re all done, I’ll have an article that goes over my rankings of all the movies (which won’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of the movie in stars, etc, more of how it ranks within the total collection).
- Iron Man (2008) – 5 out of 5
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 2 out of 5
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – 3 out of 5
- Thor (2011) – 3 out of 5
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – 4 out of 5
- The Avengers (2012) – 5 out of 5
- Iron Man 3 (2013) – 3 out of 5
- Thor: The Dark World (2013) – 2 out of 5
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Guardian’s of the Galaxy (2014)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
- Ant-Man (2015)
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- Black Panther (2018)
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
- Captain Marvel (2019)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)