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Saturday, November 9, 2013

DAMN Good Movies -- THOR: THE DARK WORLD


Yes, I'm back with another of my infamous movie takes, this time with the film Thor: The Dark World, the sequel to 2011's Thor, based on the Marvel Comics character. As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then in the name of Great Odin's Raven, please stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...you are worthy to hold the hammer of Thor...
 
After the first Thor movie grossed almost $450 million worldwide, a sequel was pretty much a given...but not without some production issues.  Previous director Kenneth Branaugh dropped out early on, citing the length of time for the special effects and the urgency of the script process to meet Marvel Studios' 2013 target.  Game of Thrones director Brian Kirk entered negotiations and passed due to contractual sticking points, then was followed by Monster director Patty Jenkins, who later left due to the traditionally vague "contractual differences."  Finally, another Game of Thrones director, Alan Taylor, ended up with the gig.
 
And while all of this was going on, the script from returning writer Don Payne went through rewrite after rewrite.  Saving Private Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat had the first crack, with Christopher Yost, Christoper Markus and Stephen McFeely ending up with screenplay credits.  If five writers isn't enough for you, Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in (by plane no less) to rewrite several scenes in the film that weren't working.
 
So with all this upheaval and six different writing voices in the script, it's to Alan Taylor's credit that the film actually turns out to be a pretty decent sequel.  The movie starts off with backstory narrated by Anthony Hopkins' Odin, involving new Big Bad villain Malekith, Odin's father Bor, and the MacGuffin superweapon called the Aether and how this is all really important.  Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki is thrown in the Realm Eternal Slammer for that awkward bit of business in the first Avengers movie.  Thor's off with the Warriors Three and Sif fighting off a bunch of marauders on Vahaheim, while his love interest Jane Foster is hanging around London these days still looking for a scientific way to find her Honeybunny of Thunder again.
 
All of this ties in together eventually, thanks to a plot device called the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms (Earth/Midgard, Asgard, Vanaheim, Svartalfheim, etc.) that brings about Gozer the Gozerian is very bad.  Things hit the fan when Jane is infected with the Aether, resulting in Jane being brought to Asgard and Malekith being woken up from his eons-long nap.  And to make things more interesting, Asgard is attacked by Malekith's army of Dark Elves, forcing Thor and his friends to spring Loki from jail for help.
 
Yeah, to say there's a lot going on in this movie is something of an understatement.  Taylor jumps back and forth across Realms with considerable skill, although I'm not sure how someone walking into The Dark World completely cold is going to keep things straight without a scorecard.  But it's lovely to see London and Greenwich getting trashed for a change instead of New York and Washington, D.C., and Asgard feels more of an actual place this time instead of just a few elaborate sets.
 
There's a deliberate attempt to inject humor throughout as well, with some scenes such as Thor's ridiculously simple defeat of Korg the Stone Giant (a great nod to Thor's first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83) feeling like pure Joss Whedon.  Overall though, the film lacks the impressive majesty of the first movie and comes off patched together at times, most likely because of numerous scriptwriters.  Some scenes are absolutely wonderful, such as the powerful funeral scene at night on Asgard, while others like subtitled conversations between Malekith and his Dark Elves are a chore to get through.
 
Thankfully, Taylor is blessed with a talented cast to make the uneven script work and bring the film together.  There are a lot of great character moments in this movie and here's some of what I noticed...

THOR ODINSON -- In his third film as Thor, Chris Hemsworth brings considerable maturity to his character.  He's not the arrogant hothead God of Thunder we saw in the first film, still having disagreements with Odin and Loki but now played with more rationality and subtlety.  It's going to be interesting to see where he ends up by the third movie.

JANE FOSTER -- Natalie Portman falls victim to the plight of being the Superhero's Girlfriend, with Jane being still hung up on Thor, failing at moving on with someone else, being infected by the Aether, and having to be protected several times by various Asgardians.  She does get to use her scientific skills during the Greenwich battle sequence, however. 
 
LOKI LAUFEYSON -- Yes, once again, this is Tom Hiddleston's movie in Loki: The Dark World, no matter what the title says.  Even imprisoned for most of the movie, Loki still owns every scene he's in that doesn't involve The Hulk.  But apart from expected smarmy villainy, we do see another side to the God of Mischief with his reaction to Frigga's death and his desire for vengeance.  And you have to wonder how his and Thor's relationship as foster brothers will change with Thor keeping his word to tell Odin of Loki's bravery...even if it wasn't actually Odin he told.

ODIN BORSON -- Sir Anthony Hopkins thankfully reprises his role as the All-Father, but now at 75, it's no real surprise that he's not doing all that much here.  Oh, he gets to shout at Loki and shout at Jane being brought to Asgard, but you don't really get to feel for him losing his wife.  And with the revelation at the end that Loki is impersonating Odin, there's now a nagging question if we've seen the last of him.
 
MALEKITH THE ACCURSED -- As a Doctor Who, I was really looking forward to seeing Christoper Eccleston as Malekith.  So you can probably guess my disappointment that even as the Big Bad, he's not actually in the film all that much and when he is, he's either speaking Dark Elvish with subtitles or given generic Bad Guy dialogue to rattle off.  Such a waste of a great actor.
 
ALGRIM THE STRONG/KURSE -- And speaking of wasted actors, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was positively stellar as Mr. Eko on Lost, so why is he given maybe two lines before being turned into the monster Kurse?

ERIK SELVIG -- Stellan Skarsgård also gets some character development this time.  It seems poor Erik has had a spot of bother ever since he "had a god in his head" thanks to Loki brainwashing him in The Avengers.  As a result, he's way more eccentric now and also way more interesting as Dr. Walter Bishop taking off his pants to help him think better.

DARCY LEWIS -- Kat Dennings returns as the Comic Relief Intern Sidekick, only now she has her own Comic Relief Intern Sidekick named Ian.  Her primary role is to snark strange events and be interrupted in the middle of saying "What the--?!", but still a welcome way to offset Jane's dry personality.
 
SIF -- Reminding us all that Warner Bros. is insane not to cast her as Wonder Woman, Jaimie Alexander gets to show off during the early Vanaheim action sequence then becomes horribly neglected for the rest of the film.  She gives Jane the look of death, then gets briefly paired with Volstagg to stall some Asgardian warriors, then doesn't do anything until the mid-credits bonus scene at the end.  Sigh.
 
HEIMDALL -- Idris Elba reprises his role as the all-seeing Heimdall, but thankfully gets to leave his observatory this time.  He gets a small showcase scene with him running down one of the Dark Elves' blade-looking spaceships and proves he's down with Thor by distracting Odin.  Still would love to see him get more screen time, though.
 
FRIGGA -- In presumably her last appearance as Frigga, Renee Russo gets a little screen time with Loki inside his cell but it's her scene defending Jane from Malekith that truly matters.  Frigga doesn't go down in defeat easily, giving Malekith a few nice cuts to his face, but still ends up getting Whedoned.

VOLSTAGG THE VOLUMINOUS -- Ray Stevenson isn't the presence he was in the first film, but we do see a brief glimpse of him with his large family along with a couple of fun scenes with Sif. 

HOGUN THE GRIM -- Tadanobu Asano's Hogun gets a brief showcase at the beginning as his home of Vanaheim is rescued by Thor, Sif and the rest of the Warriors Three.  After smiling (Say what?) in gratitude to Thor, he leaves the Warriors Three (Say what?) and stays behind in Vanaheim.

FANDRAL THE DASHING -- Zachary Levi takes over for Josh Dallas, who had more pressing duties as Prince Charming on ABC's Once Upon a Time.  Levi has his Errol Flynn voice down cold but is little more than background scenery.
 
OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" turns up as a patient inside a psychiatric observation facility listening to Erik Selvig explaining the Convergence.
 
CHRIS EVANS AS TOM HIDDLESTON AS LOKI AS CAPTAIN AMERICA CAMEO -- Evans gets a much better cameo than Stan, giving him the chance to make fun of his patriotic persona.  Too bad it was in that horrible Avengers version of his costume and not the USO one.
 
THE COLLECTOR CAMEO -- In the mid-credits bonus scene, we finally get our first look at Benicio del Toro as The Collector, which teases his upcoming appearance in next year's Guardians of the Galaxy.  More importantly though, we learn that the Aether and the previous MacGuffin called The Tesseract are actually two of six Infinity Stones/Gems that are ultimately used to make the Infinity Gauntlet, one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel Universe.  Oh, yeah.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a fun film worthy of its predecessor even if it doesn't surpass it.  For a movie that had to be a sequel, as well as follow up on what happened in The Avengers while setting up a third film and other Marvel Universe movies, it does pretty well.  And yes, even with all these characters, I'd still like to see Balder the Brave and Beta Ray Bill fighting Surtur.  Maybe in summer 2016?
 
And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Man of Steel (2013)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Batman Begins (2005)

8. Watchmen (2009)
9. Iron Man (2008)

10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
11. X-Men: First Class (2011)
12: The Wolverine (2013)
13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
14. X2: X-Men United (2003)
15. X-Men (2000)
16. Thor (2011)
17. Batman (1989)
18. Superman II (1981)

19. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
20. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles


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