As Marvel expands its film franchise, we naturally hope that things in the shared universe (aka- not stuff like Ghost Rider) would be able to stay at the high quality level that we have experienced thus far. That being said, Iron Man 3 was an obvious let-down from the prior two installments and The Avengers. However, one bad entry does not make for a trend. The most recent sequel comes to the Thor series.
The Dark World (PG-13, 2013) begins with a flashback to the triumph of the Asgardians over a race called The Dark Elves, who sought to use a weapon called the Aether to destroy the universe and re-make it in a fashion that would restore them to their previous role as the masters of all that is. Thousands of years later, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has the misfortune of finding where the victorious Asgardians hid the Aether and finds that it has taken up residence in her body. The resurgent Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), hunt Jane down to take the Aether and finally fulfill the purpose of their original plan. Naturally, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is trying to stop them.
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get past the feeling that this whole thing was just a way to keep Thor relevant while we wait on Avengers 2. While there were some deeper moments, such as those between Loki and Frigga, the rest of the plot seemed to be just an exercise in going through the motions. You have your first, middle, and final act fight scenes. Splicing those together are bits of exposition to try and make you feel like the bad guys are worth the attention. I’ve debated on whether or not to call it “boring.” The action parts were well-done, but even those seemed intentionally flawed to limit enjoyment. At no point, whether in exposition or in action, were things allowed to be taken seriously.
I was constantly reminded of Attack of the Clones and not in a good way (as if there was a good way). Recall the big battle with all the Jedi fighting off the Droid Army. Tons of cool stuff was erupting all over the screen, yet it was interrupted every 3 seconds so that we could get inane moments of C-3PO being dismembered and dragged out of the arena. It was the same way with The Dark World, except Cat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard were the main perpetrators this time. The vast majority of scenes were not allowed to pass without some kind of absolutely unfunny attempt at humor being injected into it.
They should have advertised Hemsworth’s part as “Thor 2: Now with 5x the Bellowing!” So much of the nuance from his performance in the first movie was completely gone. Hiddleston remains good as Loki, but a lot of his role benefitted from the filmmakers keeping the stupid humor with him to a minimum. His stuff actually elicited a chuckle or two.
Cat Dennings is outstanding if her job is to be annoying enough to have you hoping for her character’s death very early on. Whatever they paid Skarsgard for this, it wasn’t enough. Not because of how good he did on-screen, but because the character of Dr. Selvig has been reduced to this film’s Jar-Jar Binks, who is either running around Stonehenge naked or trying to explain extradimensional physics pantsless
Because he’s funny, see? He doesn’t have pants on, so it’s funny.
Notice I didn’t say much about Eccleston as Malekith. That’s because there isn’t much to say. He stands around and mumbles in subtitled Elvish while looking sinister. That’s it. The Dark World is a good example of how so many super-hero movies rise and fall on the character of the villain. Generally speaking, the more the villainy of the bad guy is pushed to the background, the worse-off the film will be. In this case, they traded Malekith-time for stupid-time with Dennings and Skarsgard.
As with many super-hero films, there is an over-arching celebration of virtue, which is good. One thing we did see in The Dark World that was introduced and then sidelined was the flipside of the first movie. When we first met Thor and Odin, the latter was the restrained one, and the former was the one suffering from the arrogance of power. Here, the roles are reversed and provides a good lesson that pride is something that anyone can fall victim to.
Thor surprisingly continues to provide family friendly fare for the Marvel franchises. Even though it would be easy to have Norsemen fornicating and using foul language, the romantic aspects are almost courtly. The bad language is almost non-existent. Skarsgard’s nudity is shown in a news broadcast and so is adequately pixelated. The violence has a severed hand, but most everything else is typical super-hero stuff.
There are some good moments, especially the twist at the end and some aspects of the middle third, but as a whole, the film was about a hairs-breadth away from just plain dull. Throw in the incessant need for stupid humor, and it’s a bad recipe for enjoyment. Oh, and there are two post-credits bits. The first is awesome. The second, merely amusing. I’d be open to hearing arguments about why it deserves a higher rating, but I sure as heck can’t think of any on my own.
Review by Throwback