Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Thor: The Dark World" Review

I'm going to break this review up into two parts. Non-spoiler and then spoiler. The non-spoiler part should be more or less complete, the spoiler part will just be where I get into the nitty-gritty geeky specifics that I love to go nuts over.


The first "Thor" movie, despite being pretty good, had a number of problems. Asgard looked too pristine and unused for a multi-millennia-old kingdom, the side characters were often under-defined, and the whole plot felt overly rushed and compressed into a short period of time when it didn't have to be.

"Thor: The Dark World" manages to at least fix those first two problems. While Asgard still looks gorgeous and impressive, it feels like people actually live there. Less Naboo Starfighter, more Millennium Falcon. Additionally, while the side characters probably have about as much to do as before, what they do actually has more relevance to the plot than it did before. Also, the background characters aren't just completely ignored either. When soldiers die, the movie finds subtle ways to make you care. The bodies (when bodies still remain) are left strewn across the once-spotless halls of the All-Father. They are mourned.

It is fairly easy to say that "Thor: The Dark World" is a notable improvement over its predecessor for the reasons above as well as a few others that I'll get into later. However, one thing that remains unchanged from the original film is that this sequel feels even more rushed and compressed.

Very little time is devoted to giving characters room to breathe. It can often be a bit exhausting. While the first "Thor" movie suffered partially because it was hard to believe that Thor could change so much and fall in love within the span of a day or two. Thankfully, there's not a lot of enormous character whiplash this time around, but instead we simply end up with a movie that kind of feels incomplete.

Characters are introduced and then ignored. New conflicts emerge and then are left to be dealt with in a sequel. A lot of people say that a good movie should be able to stand on its own, and I don't entirely agree with that, but if a movie CAN stand on its own, that's usually a point in its favor. The fact that "Thor: The Dark World" is in no way a self-contained movie doesn't make it a less enjoyable movie for me, but it does mean that I'm far less likely to watch it on its own rather than as a part of a Marvel movie marathon or something.

Still, while what we got was a bit rushed and perhaps slightly incomplete, it was still incredibly entertaining.

Probably the one thing about "Thor: The Dark World" that I didn't expect was how incredibly funny it was. The "Iron Man" movies were funny, but "Thor: The Dark World" is hysterical. I was laughing almost the entire way through. The movie realized that one of the best things about Thor is how much he stands out. The best parts of the first movie were the parts where he clashed with modern-day Earth. It was funny, not just because he didn't understand the nuances of Earth culture, but because he genuinely didn't care. He treated the whole thing as just another adventure where he would mix and mingle with the local populace and then move on. Eventually it meant more than that, but at first, it was just very funny to see Thor throw a coffee mug on the ground or ask for a dog large enough to mount and ride like a horse.

While Thor doesn't spend much time on Earth in this one, that element of Thor and his kin having a very larger-than-life persona is never forgotten. Some of the best comedy is built on confusion or contradiction, and Thor is very much an inherently funny concept. That an advanced alien race would behave like characters written by Shakespeare is comedic gold when played right, and this movie manages to do that without straight-up making fun of the source material. It never apologizes for it's apparent silliness, but it does acknowledge how peculiar it is.

Most importantly, the movie always remembers to have fun. Too many action movies lose that element of fun and it can often make the set-pieces feel dull and detaching. This movie doesn't have that problem.

The only other criticism I can give is that Thor doesn't really have a lot to do in his own movie. Oh, he's in most of it and he does things and feels things, but almost every critical detail of the plot is acted upon by someone in his supporting cast. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Thor is often the one arranging all of the moving pieces and making sure they're in the right place and ready to do what they need to do when he needs them to do it, but when all is said and done, Thor's role in pretty much every plan he directs is to show up and the right moment and hit things. And perhaps Mjolnir deserves more credit for that than he does.

Still, despite Thor's lack of doing stuff, he remains an interesting and entertaining character to follow through the story and his supporting cast is really given time to shine and develop.

Overall, I'd say the movie is thoroughly enjoyable, I just think it's a bit... peculiar. Not necessarily bad, just... particular. Slightly off-putting.


OK, time to get detailed and nit-picky. This part is going to be more stream-of-consciousness than anything else.

First and foremost, I'm still disappointed that they killed Frigga. They really didn't need to. I'm glad she at least got to die a hero and all that and it's good that the movie doesn't lack for proactive female characters, but a fridge is a fridge. The movie wanted a reason for Loki to cooperate, and so they decided that Frigga was expendable to achieve that end. I find that upsetting and while it didn't ruin the movie for me, it certainly didn't help.

Next, the reveal at the end, while pretty cool, is incredibly maddening. Too many questions are left unresolved. Where is Odin? Is he alive? Will Loki continue to pretend to be Odin? Will this mask his presence from Thanos, who I imagine is still pissed at him for failing to get the Tesseract? It feels like a huge cliffhanger with serious potential consequences and it's pretty irresponsible to just leave this hanging.

Speaking of the Tesseract, I was a bit surprised that they decided to make the Tesseract one of the Infinity Gems. Er, Infinity Stones. Presumably the Mind Stone, since the Mind Gem was also blue and Loki's staff, which was somehow connected to the Tesseract, had the ability to possess people's minds. Similarly, I'm assuming the red aether is the Power Stone as it seemed to give its users the ability to perform impossible feats of strength and power. Also, yeah, because it's red. It's interesting because this basically means that any artifact, regardless of shape or form, can be an Infinity Stone. Makes you wonder if they've hidden any other Infinity Stones in plain sight.

On that same note, HOLY CRAP BENICIO DEL TORO IS PERFECT AS THE COLLECTOR. "Guardians of the Galaxy" can't come out soon enough.

I really liked how Sif and Jane didn't do the whole love triangle bullshit outside of Odin being an ass and implying how much he ships Thor and Sif because Sif won't die on him.

Loki tends to get over-praised, but he really deserves it here. They kept me guessing from beginning to end and Tom Hiddleston just had so much fun with it. Loki did a lot of frowning and brooding in his previous two outings, but in this movie, he's the grinning mischief-making chessmaster full-tilt. And it's incredible.

I was worried that Jane would be possessed through the majority of the movie a la Hawkeye in "Avengers". Thankfully, she was never robbed of her character or agency and actually probably did more to move and resolve the plot than Thor did.

Odin was way more of an asshole in this film than he was in the first film, which was a bit aggravating, but it is how he usually behaves in the comics, so... yeah, I'll take it.

The Captain America "cameo" is utterly hilarious. Absolutely brilliant. Vaguely surprised that Chris Evans can do such a convincing Loki, but not that surprised.

Darcy is also absolutely great. I love how she cares so much even though by all accounts, she probably shouldn't. Wasn't she interning for the credit? Why is she still there two years later? Did she change her major?

I find it curious that S.H.I.E.L.D. ignored what was going on, possibly because Darcy was the one who reached out to them. I am surprised they didn't do anything about Selvig's naked craziness at Stonehenge. I do hope they devote an episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." to dealing with that random monster from Jotunheim that's bombing around London, but it's probably outside of their budget.

It feels like S.H.I.E.L.D. in general has been pretty hands-off lately. Maybe it's because they wanted to decrease the saturation or maybe it's because something is corrupting S.H.I.E.L.D. from within. Perhaps we'll find out.

Malekith, much like Laufey in the previous movie, felt very underdeveloped. Why did he want to destroy the universe exactly? What did he stand to gain or lose? Can he not survive in a world with light? Does he just prefer the darkness? Did he used to rule the universe when it was enveloped in darkness but lost control after light showed up? If so, why does he want to rule the universe? What agenda is he pushing?

Kurse was pretty awesome though. At least I got that he was completely loyal to Malekith in a Waylon Smithers-esque fashion.

I thought it was pretty much bullshit that Hogun got dumped off on Vanaheim to be with his people. Apparently Hogun isn't an Asgardian in this universe. Whatever. I get that he didn't provide as much comic relief as Fandral and Volstagg, but did we really have to ditch the only Asian dude in the movie? It would be interesting if in MCU continuity Vanaheim is to Ancient Asian mythology as Asgard is to Ancient Norse mythology. I think I could maybe get behind that, though calling it "Vanaheim" seems kinda dumb if that's the case. Maybe this is the realm where K'un L'un is located. Maybe Hogun will show up in the "Iron Fist" miniseries. Maybe this whole convergence thing is how he discovers K'un L'un. I dunno. I guess we'll see.

I touched on this before, but I really liked Loki's master plan. He starts out the movie with a number of problems. His family hates him, he's in prison, and Thanos is presumably after him as well for not holding up his end of the bargain. So what does he manage to do? Get out of prison, regain his honor, avenge his step-mom, fake his death, AND stick it to his father and reclaim the throne of Asgard. Gotta say, he played his shitty hand really well. He's my favorite kind of villain. He doesn't let his petty bullshit get in the way of his true goals. He may not be fond of Thor, but he knew that he would be better off playing nice with him than trying to off him. And he may be an ego-maniac, but he's fine with pretending to be dead and posing as Odin simply because he knows that's the only way he can get what he wants for now. He's smart and selfish, not single-minded and pointlessly evil like, say, Malekith.

I thought it was a nice touch to illustrate how Loki learned his magic stuff from Frigga. It made his devotion to her a lot more believable.

I also like that Loki is perfectly amicable towards Jane. He really has no reason to hate her and so he doesn't. In fact, I think he saved her life at one point, though that was probably just to help convince Thor that he was OK again.

What the hell was with Jane's new boyfriend, Richard? He seemed nice and all, but he seemed to serve absolutely no purpose that couldn't have been fulfilled by something else that already existed in the movie. Maybe he'll be important later? I dunno. He kind of reminded me of Doc Samson in "The Incredible Hulk". He was just sort of... there. Maybe he originally had more to do but they cut it out.

Darcy's intern, Ian, was pretty OK though. I mean, he was about as pointless as Richard, but at least he was funny and had good chemistry with Darcy. He reminded me of Rory from "Doctor Who". 

I loved loved loved the spaceship battles. I dunno, I just have a thing for that sort of action sequence. Maybe that's once reason I love "Star Wars" as much as I do. Man, I am going to have a cow over "Guardians of the Galaxy".