The UnPopular Opinion: Thor: The Dark World
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Marvel Studios has built itself as one of the strongest brands in Hollywood. With the unabashed success of the AVENGERS and IRON MAN films coupled with hits like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and most recently CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, there seems to be almost nothing that can go wrong for Kevin Feige and his crew. Even the lukewarm success of ANT-MAN and wavering interest in ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't slowed the studio down from their ambitious slate of every growing superheroes and ill-conceived villains. But, while many of the Marvel franchises have grown or tried something different with their sequels, the one series that had a chance to be something great has become the biggest bust. The abyssmal THOR was nothing more than a big commercial for THE AVENGERS and THOR: THE DARK WORLD ended up being a convoluted mess that bore no resemblance to the best of the Thor comics or anything more than a vehicle to setup another one of the Infinity Stones while giving fan favorite Tom Hiddleston a chance to chew more scenery. THOR: THE DARK WORLD could be the worst Marvel movie released to date.
I will make a caveat to that preceding statement by disclosing that I think Chris Hemsworth is phenomenal as Thor. A brilliant casting choice, Hemsworth is an Asgardian both as a physical specimen and as a fish out of water character. I also really like Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, and Natalie Portman. On the Asgardian front, Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo are well suited to their royal roles and Jaime Alexander is once again a vision as Lady Sif. The problem is that all of these actors are given virtually nothing of substance to work with here. I am sure there is chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth but it never truly manifests itself on screen. THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a sterile and generic exercise that never quite lives up to the potential of the story. Kenneth Branagh's first film had the unenviable task of setting this world up but director Alan Taylor fails to do anything with it. This leaves the film with an aura of requirement which keeps it from ever becoming something more.
One of the strongest aspects of the THOR films is that it has the ability to venture to a world other than our own. It would not be until the year following the release of THOR: THE DARK WORLD that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY would show that audiences can accept an otherworldy setting which would later inspire elements of ANT-MAN and the forthcoming DOCTOR STRANGE. But, for some reason, the creative minds behind THOR: THE DARK WORLD saw fit to still set a great deal of the film on Earth. What made the comic book version of Thor vital was his alter ego as Dr. Donald Blake. Thor's journey to discover his celestial roots gave him an alter ego and something that tied him to our world, much like Clark Kent/Superman. By eschewing this side of the Thor mythology, the films removed a lot of the onus Thor feels towards our world. Instead, his only motivation to protect Earth is his love for Jane Foster, something that never truly comes together in this movie. The fact that Natalie Portman was so easily written out of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and further chapters in this franchise goes to show just how vital she was to either of the first two films.
You might be saying: but Loki is friggin awesome! You would be absolutely right in that since Tom Hiddleston's peformance as the trickster brother to our hero ranks as one of the best comic book portrayals of all time. Hiddleston's fame is thanks to his role as Loki and his inclusion in this film feels obligatory to fans fo the character rather than a truly natural narrative progression. I am not complaining about Loki in this film, but there really doesn't feel like a true connection to the overall story involving Malekith and the Dark Elves. The first film served as another piece to THE AVENGERS while this film feels like another piece of THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. That film was more than four years away and yet THOR: THE DARK WORLD feels almost wholly connected to it and the concept of the Infinity Stones. Yes, the Aether is a powerful and deadly weapon in the wrong hands, but it never really feels like it holds that much of an impact. Loki's sceptre and the orb from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY are both naturally included in the films they are featured in, but when it comes to Thor, every mention of the stones feels forced.
And that is the crux of what is wrong with this film. Outside of three or four key scenes, THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a mess. The pacing goes from breakneck to a snail's pace within minutes which doesn't bode well for the convoluted and layered mythology. Alan Taylor was brought on to direct this film thanks to his work on Game of Thrones. While that series deals with it's own convoluted and layered mythology, it also has the benefit of spreading it over ten hours. Cramming in the concept of the nine realms and a new race of villains without offering an anchor for us to relate to makes this film nearly impenetrable. The shocking thing is that James Gunn found a way to do it and he didn't have the benefit of any Avengers in his movie. THOR: THE DARK WORLD does have some beautifully shot exposition scenes and battle sequences, but any time we have two or more characters talking it loses all focus or immediacy. The final act does hint at just what Alan Taylor may have been able to bring to the rest of the film but it still doesn't feel like there are any real stakes for this film. That is a big problem when the entire film hinges on the potential destruction of the universe.
What bothers me most about THOR: THE DARK WORLD is that everything here worked so much better in other films. Tom Hiddleston was good in THOR, but it was Joss Whedon who really brought his character to the next level. Here, we are teased with Loki as the next ruler of Asgard and yet no one really seems to notice that Odin is gone. All of these characters make nonsensical decisions that are wrapped up in not so witty one-liners and banter that feel like they were copied from other, better written movies. The visual scale of THOR: THE DARK WORLD never quite matches what it is trying to accomplish which is sullied further by the fact that the set design looks like it has liberally borrowed from superior films like LORD OF THE RINGS and STAR WARS. Asgard looks like a slightly less fake version of Naboo which may be why Natalie Portman wanted to get the hell away from this franchise.
With THOR: RAGNAROK coming to us from a Marvel Studios within the creative control of Kevin Feige, there is hope that this franchise could become something akin to the CAPTAIN AMERICA films. Each of those movies has had a different tone and style which have helped the character and narrative grow in fun and original ways. THOR is by far the most fantastic and alien of the Avengers franchises and it is about time that the writers and directors involved were given the free reign to deliver something that can handle such a wide scope. THOR: THE DARK WORLD is the type of movie you get when executives want to cash in and that is not something I have ever felt in watching any of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is great potential here but it cannot be unleashed until someone worthy is willing to challenge the status quo and make a movie that upends our expectations. THOR: THE DARK WORLD is not a terrible movie, it is just an incredibly generic one.
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