Yesterday I went into the other weird alien in a red cape. Today I walk about the Space Viking.
Thor the Dark World, or "What if 'Man of Steel' hadn't taken itself so damn seriously."
In some ways this was the best movie I saw last year. It has grand stakes (the fate of the universe), it has numerous environments (alien worlds, cities of the gods), cool costuming, and it is funny.
Thor as a hero has grown in the movies he has been in, from headstrong naive warrior to a much more deliberate and capable leader. Stand this in contrast to Tony Stark in "Iron Man 3" which failed to confront his underlying insecurities almost entirely until the last few minutes of the third movie, symbolically removing the broken shards of metal in his heart that were killing him and discarding the thick metal skin that he used to protect himself from the world. Thor completed that character arc by the end of his first movie, softening and becoming more about self sacrifice rather than personal glory, and by the end of "The Avengers" Thor was on a crusade to bring order to his kingdom. By the end of this film he has become such a knight errant romantic that he decides not to take the throne of his homeland, Asgard, instead going to Earth for love (people claim that this love plot happens too fast and won't last.... To which I answer, all gods in all mythologies have the exact same attitudes toward love: fast and fleeting).
Thor's numerous Space Viking sidekicks also each get their moments, though really they could have gotten more, doing all their heavy lifting in acts one and two then disappearing... In many ways the third act is both the most exciting because of the action, and the most boring because the character interactions are all about fighting the bad guys and not about any sort of interpersonal dynamic (though two of Jane Foster's sidekicks kind of get together in a comedic romantic development).
That brings me to my next point, Malekith the Accursed is a boring villain, he is a very standard evil doer wanting to take the magical item from the non-warrior protagonist, and use it to cloak the world in darkness for his people and way of life. He is a step down from the Mandarin, which is a parody of Malekith's type, and is an elevator trip away from Loki, who is a far more interesting character. I actually think you could have given even less time to the elves and more time to Loki and the movie would still not have suffered.
THE DOUBLE BEAT. Much like "Man of Steel" this movie has a real problem with a scene in the second act and the opener. The opening is a full blown war between Space Vikings and Space Elves for control of the universe (HOLY CRAP "LORD OF THE RINGS") with narration by Odin, explanations of the threats posed by the bad guys and clear explanations of their motivations. Then in the second act Odin tells the protagonist Thor and Jane what was already shown to the audience in the opening scene. Again, much like "Man of Steel" the presentation is very pretty with magical books with moving stylized illustrations. Gorgeous really, and a total waste of time. They could have fixed this too, don't have the battle opening, the heroes confronting weird aliens, and then having giant black ships that can turn invisible mysteriously appear and attack, then have hulking monsters, and magical swirling blood all without an upfront explanation... it would add a lot of mystery. Then in the second act after the initial attack have the magic books open with all of their cool illustrations on display and then transition to show the battle in narrated historical reenactment. That way for the first half of the movie the heroes are under threat from an unknown and powerful force that they don't understand, and the audience is on that journey with them. But whatever.
Another problem is with yet another case of hack job writing just like in "Man of Steel", maybe even more so. "Star Trek" 2009 had a pointy eared villain in a big black powerful spaceship, with a red weapon capable of causing the apocalypse for an multi-world empire, this culminates with the blonde head strong hero (whose father was killed by the villain) and his dark haired emotionally damaged second in command (because the bad guy killed his Mom) using black holes to kill the bad guy. "Thor the Dark World" has a pointy eared bad guy in a big black sometimes invisible spaceship, with a red weapon capable of causing the apocalypse for a multi-world empire (and the universe), this culminates with the blonde head strong hero (whose mother was killed by the bad guy) and his dark haired emotionally erratic reluctant ally (whose mother was killed by the bad guy) to use portals to other worlds to try and stop the villain. Soon all action movies will have this or a similar dynamic, because if it can make the boring old Star Trek franchise into profitable action schlock it can work for any damn thing.
|Their ear mutilation is even the same.|
|Who needs emotional stability to be in charge?|
Regardless, this movie has a very light tone to it, mostly good pacing, lots of distinct characters with a variety of design and flourish, a complex brother and father dynamic at the core, with a romantic science vs magic theme surrounding it. It is fun and does not diminish its characters, it tries (and for the most part is successful) in elevating the various characters, adding to the script rather than detracting. And as a small final compliment, I like how in the climax Jane foster does not just get saved, she uses her scientific knowledge to make weapons and contribute to the action, ultimately providing Thor the means to beat the bad guy (SPOILERS: the bad guy loses), she has her own side kicks, it is cool to see her as a sort of hero in her own right.