November 11, 2013

Movie Mondays: Thor: The Dark World

I'm diggin' Jane's new threads!

I’m diggin’ Jane’s new threads!

Title: Thor: The Dark World
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (Created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber)
Distributed By: Walt Disney Studios & Marvel Studios
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Jamie Alexander, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano
Release Date: November 8, 2013

Welcome back true believers!  That’s right, I said “true believers.”  That means it’s MARVEL time.  This week, we look at the newest release from Marvel Studios, Thor: The Dark World!  In this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we find out that since Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) attack on Asgard in Thor, the other realms have fallen into chaos, and our titular hero (Chris Hemsworth) has been busy restoring order, stopping briefly to help save the Earth in Marvel’s The Avengers.  As the story begins, the audience is told that once upon a time the Dark Elves tried to conquer the Nine Realms using a mystical force called The Aether, which would blanket all the realms in eternal darkness.  The audience is also told that they failed in their schemes and were thought to be destroyed along with The Aether.  Cut to present day: Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) accidentally finds The Aether, and the evil Dark Elves return to claim it and try to take over the universe once again.

The acting and scripting are both handled perfectly, with everyone from the smallest of roles to the starring characters bringing their A-Game.  Hemsworth absolutely nails it as Thor, and this time around the film switches the “fish out of water” element from the first film wherein Thor was on Earth, by bringing Jane to Asgard, so now we get to see a more natural presentation of the character.  Little touches help truly characterize Thor, like Hemsworth stopping to smile at a new opponent before clobbering him in battle.

It's Clobberin' Time!  Oh, wait... wrong character!

It’s Clobberin’ Time! Oh, wait… wrong character!

Great cast of characters and wonderful costumes bring this world to life

Great cast of characters and wonderful costumes bring this world to life.

Portman has a tough job this time around, playing sullen and love-sick for the first act, confused and scared for the second act, and heroic and capable for the third act.  Unfortunately, while she does this all rather well, the movie is so big and so action-packed that she rarely gets any moments to shine as an actress.  The rest of the supporting cast performs admirably.  Anthony Hopkins gives a more nuanced performance this time around as he reigns in some of his more melodramatic tendencies seen in the first film.  In a complete reversal of her tragic lack of screen-time in the first Thor, Rene Russo gets a great deal of character building, whether she’s anguishing over Loki’s turn to evil or bravely defending Jane from Dark Elves, and she handles it wonderfully.  The smaller roles, like Erik (Skarsgard) and Darcy (Dennings), provide great bits of comedy relief while also helping out in the final climactic battle.

Loki steals the show!

Loki steals the show!

Tom Hiddleston gives probably the best performance in the film. After having worn the villain hat for his last two appearances, he gets to show a more heroic, yet still utterly devious and untrustworthy, side to his character.  Getting to play both comedic and tragic scenes, Hiddleston’s exuberance and energy overshadow the other actors every scene in which he appears.  His chemistry with Hemsworth is pitch-perfect, and their brotherly love-hate relationship is the best element of this film.  Whether he’s fighting with his mother, or making dryly witty, snide remarks, or quaintly observing some disastrous situation, Hiddleston’s quiet quirky charm shines in each moment.

Great prosthetic makeup!

Great prosthetic makeup!

The only negatives insofar as the acting and writing go are two-fold.  For starters, Thor’s cohorts Sif and The Warriors Three are given hardly any screen-time, and while characters like Erik and Darcy are entertaining, one wishes characters actually from the comics could have been better incorporated into the story.  The second negative is a bit of a biggy. Our film’s villain is unfortunately a major step down from Loki in this film’s predecessor.  Malekith (Eccleston) is entertaining for the most part, but that’s about all you can say for him.  Nothing against Eccleston, who is a terrific actor; the problem here lies with the script.  He’s one of those one-dimensional “evil for the sake of being evil” characters with no real motivation.  The best villains are the ones with purpose and reason, and Malekith is simply lacking in depth or development.

For viewers that complained that the first Thor didn’t have enough action, you can lay your worries to rest.  The action in this film has been ratcheted up to 11.  Thor: The Dark World is to Thor what Aliens is to Alien.  It’s bigger, faster-paced, action-packed, but still finds time to slow things down for a good character beat, and like all good action films, manages to insert a fair bit of characterization into the action scenes as well.

The action in this film gets pretty brutal, for a Marvel movie

The action in this film gets pretty brutal, for a Marvel movie.

It's time to lay the hammer down!

It’s time to lay the hammer down!

Also, this movie is pure eye-candy.  For viewers that complained about how much time Thor spent on Earth in the last film, rest assured, the vast majority of this film takes place in far-off mystical realms one might expect to see in an adaptation of Thor comic books.  And fans of Jack Kirby’s designs will be pleased to see that Asgard is presented in all its techno-magical glory, with complex structures and machine-like buildings bursting with magical energy.  And the ash-filled wasteland of Svartalheim (the Dark Elves’ homeworld) is realized in a chillingly stark landscape.  Even the costuming has been upgraded, with the citizens of The Nine Realms being presented in visually divergent wardrobes, as opposed to the monochrome color scheme all the extras sported in the previous film.  Thor wears a sleeveless outfit similar to his original Jack Kirby look from the comics, as well as the armored Oliver Coipel look from the modern comics.

Loki's shape-shifting magic provides THE funniest cameo in the series

Loki’s shape-shifting magic provides THE funniest cameo in the series.

Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau and editors Dan Lebental and Wyatt Smith deserve praise for their work.  Long, slow shots, and sweeping pans peppered throughout this film really help to accentuate the visual splendor of each location, whether a fabricated set or otherwise.  And gone are the annoying Dutch angles featured in the previous installment.  In this day and age of MTV editing and speedy cutting, it’s a real treat to see a more traditional looking film.

This film is also full of little details and flourishes that add to its general enjoyment.  For instance, in one scene Thor, wearing a regular looking tunic and cloak, calls for his hammer and leaps into battle, and as his hand wraps around the grip his clothes quickly morph into his traditional superhero attire as if it were no big deal, no long dramatic suit-up moment, just going to work.  Another such moment involves Thor walking into a room and looking around at a coat rack, trying to decide whether or not to hang his hammer up at the door.

Chistopher Eccleston (The 9th Doctor Who) has a new TARDIS and it's scary

Chistopher Eccleston (The 9th Doctor Who) has a new TARDIS and it’s scary.

One last little touch involves a quick cameo (not Stan Lee’s) that could have easily just been a throwaway moment, but is handled so perfectly that the entire audience roared with laughter.  It’s the best moment of the film, and quite possibly the best cameo in the Marvel film series.  Little moments like these fill the film and elevate its status beyond that of a generic action film.

The music this time around is handled by Brian Tyler, who has made some pretty great music in the past.  Yet, as I sit here writing this, I can’t recall a single theme, leitmotif, or even a single solitary note.  I remember a lot of Patrick Doyle’s score from the first film, two and a half years later, but struggle to recall Brian Tyler’s seemingly generic score only a day after having seen the film.  Maybe upon a second viewing of the film the music will be more noticeable, but for right now I can’t say anything about it, and that says a lot.

Despite this film’s few shortcomings, Thor: The Dark World is rather terrific overall, with all of the elements coming together to make a solid action-adventure film that’s not only fun for everyone, but a rousing sequel, as well.

As an adaptation of the comics, Thor: The Dark World earns a respectable 7 out of 10, but as a film on its own merits, it deserves a solid score of 9 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger



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