Thor The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

There was probably less pressure on Marvel when it delivered Thor: The Dark world than any of it’s other flicks up to that time. The burden of convincingly introducing a character steeped firmly in magic and Norse mythology had already been achieved. Kenneth Brannagh may have stepped aside after helming the original for Game of Thrones alumni Alan Taylor, Thor wasn’t as quirky or familiar as Tony stark and not quite so precious. While It certainly performed at the box office and improved on the returns of it’s predecessor, subsequent viewings are not quite so flattering.

The set up is simple enough; big bad has an opportunity to kill everything, turning light to darkness. This is a superhero movie after all. We didn’t come here for metahuman intrigue, especially when your main character has a hammer forged in a dying star. Somehow Thor: The Dark World only succeeds in moving along the combined Marvel Cinematic Universe’s subplot of bringing the infinity gems together. While a really good sequel should move things along, come it’s credit roll the baddie has been bested and there’s nothing left that SHIELD’s Clean Up crew can’t deal with and thus reset.

The film opens in much the same way as the first installment. Odin wraps exposition up as a tale of yore. Asgard’s finest go up against a new enemy, the Dark Elves, led by antagonist Malekith because he’s using the Aether ( or red infinity gem ) to turn the universe into galactic sludge…or something. It’s bad anyway. Then we slam on the narrative hand break so we can join Thor and his friends battle against a faceless army that look like a mix between Game of Thrones and Call of duty. It’s an odd pairing to see the clashing of swords and shields while other enemies fire roughed up bazookas and laser guns. Things explode, mud spatters into people’s faces as the fight and someone still has a crossbow apparently. It’s more an intimated idea of a battle than anything coherent to get behind, even when Thor and his Warriors (good band name) quip and chortle against the odds. If they aren’t worried, why would we be? From this point we need to get Thor back to Midgard (Earth) , return him to the arms of love interest, Jane Foster, bring the bad guy out of deep-space-hibernation, almost have him turn the lights out on existence and then vanquish him. Roll post-credit sequence!

For all intents and purposes that’s pretty much what happens. It’s not that “2hor” is awful, it’s just more of a narrative checklist or worse an MCU place-holder. While audiences are used to “filler” episodes of their favorite TV series, movie scenes should inform and propel the story or characters. “2hor” falls foul to taking it’s audience for granted so it can get to the highlights it feels are more important. The culmination of The Dark World should be Thor’s epiphany that his narcissistic goal to be king in the original doesn’t actually suit his altruism. Instead his concluding summation to Odin seems more like obligation than the conclusion of a character arc.

Thankfully the combined charisma and acting chops of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Hopkins bring a real gravitas the Asgardian family dynamic. Loki’s faux nonchelance at his father’s dressing down comes across as nuanced petulance for his actions at the end of Avengers. He’d prefer forgiveness, but has to save face. Similarly his interaction with his mother, Frigga, is loaded with the distance that Loki creates between them. It’s a masterclass in subtlety.

However, the real coup in Thor: The Dark World is when Thor springs Loki from jail to confront Malekith. The brotherly taunts, quibbles and in-fighting is the best part of this flick. If only this story was about the Odinsons. It still could have worked with Jane in-tow and resolve any questions from Avengers and even have Jane mirror Thor’s fish-out-of-water antics from the first installment.

2* – Midsummer Night’s run


Thor – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

The fourth installment of Marvel’s cinematic output, Thor, was perhaps less of a gamble than say Guardians of the Galaxy.  Based on an established Avenger and the re-invented series was seeing new popularity on the shelves of Local Comicbook Stores.  It was still something of a departure from the installments so far.  Iron Man did enough to ground the tale before getting into the techno-engineered whimsy of the suit and Hulk was so well established in the zeitgeist of audiences the premise could be accepted with little effort.  That being said, not only was Thor going to be dealing with Norse mythology, Gods and magic, but our blonde haired Avenger had been trapped in development Ragnarok for 2 decades.

Originally put into development by Mr Spider-Man himself, Sam Raimi, following the popularity of Darkman.  However, 20th Century Fox didn’t understand it.  Then, following the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, it was thought a good idea to make our Hammer Wielding Hero into a TV serial.  Sony even flirted with Odinson and put Batman collaborator, David S. Goyer at the helm, before giving up and passing it all back to Paramount and then Marvel.  But the hot-potato’ing didn’t stop there.  Layer Cake and X-Men: First Class’ Mathew Vaughn took a stab before leaving the project to Guillermo Del Toro, who in turn jumped ship for Middle Earth and The Hobbit.  The character himself seemed like a sure bet, but making it a cohesive blend of reality and otherworldly did not seem easy.  Who better than Shakespearean master Kenneth Branagh to adapt the “verily” into something audiences would embrace as much as Tony Stark’s box-office-busting adventures.

Thor’s celluloid mead is a tasteful retalling of the fallen hero’s tale.  The story is a template as old as the viking tales that birthed Asgard’s pantheon, but Thor is a real victory of detail and unapologetic bombast.

The MCU brain-trust were probably never worried about the performances Branagh could pull from the cast and there are some thunderously powerful emotional exchanges.  When Thor returns from inadvertently sparking an age-old war with Frost Giants, Anthony Hopkins’ growling reproach of his son is so powerful you’re left in stunned silence.  Similarly, Loki’s discovery of his felonious origin and following confrontation is as emotionally charged as bolt from Mjolnir.  However, there’s subtly here too.  Thor’s realisation of his unworthiness is as drenched in mournful resignation as the sodden ground.  Hiddleston and Hemsworth dance a despondent two-step of Loki’s faux-empathy and Thor’s anguish when he’s captured by SHIELD and at his lowest ebb.

However, the real surprise is the visual flare in which Branagh attacks his foray into Marvel’s shared universe.  Much like his control with the script, it’s equal parts brave committal and subtle assurance.  While Odin’s monologue plays and introduces us to the gods we’ll be spending the next few hours with, the camera is all cinematic sweeps that would give pause to David Lean.  There’s rushing shots of landscapes, marauding monsters and epic battle scenes which add a surging momentum to the proceedings.  Asgard’s introduction is all panoramic dynamism that allows you to soak up the wonder of this otherworldly decadence.  Again, there are understated details abound that push certain moments over the edge to fantastic.  Odin’s silhouette in the bifrost before bringing a stop to the Frost Giant’s fracas dominates the moment before he even opens his mouth.  Mjolnir’s enchantment represented visually with a symbol that presents itself when it comes into effect is one thing, but the low thrum that it emanates from it whenever an unworthy suitor tries to lift it is beguiling.

Thor does drop the hammer in parts.  As effective as the humor can be, it’s broad statements don’t quite fit into the jigsaw of it’s more lofty scenes and it creaks a little uncomfortably.  In the wake of the persuasive potency of Asgard Branagh seems to struggle a little to make the dusty americana of earth quite as dynamic, resorting to “the dutch” so much you’ll need a spirit level to readjust come credit roll.

3* – Much Ado About Loki