Marvel within a little more decade has gone from being a comic book company that was beginning to fade away, to a mecca of entertainment in film. At the start of the millennium, their first property X-Men was released which started a superhero craze that is still going strong, maybe at its strongest, with a slew of superhero flicks like Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, and The Avengers all being known as not only some of the biggest hits of all time, but some of the better films of all time. Personally though, I am very mixed on Marvel and their films so far, especially of recent.
While Marvel has gained many supporters with their Phase One project, most of their films really did not work for me. Iron Man is thought of as a great superhero flick, but seemed largely formulaic in story for me. While I am a fan of the underrated The Incredible Hulk, both Thor and Captain America suffered from drastic tonal problems, messy storylines, and even poor action sequences. Then came The Avengers, which to this day I seem to be the one guy who was not a fan of all, with the film being a mildly amusing cartoon lacking in stakes or well-developed characters.
Phase Two seems to be starting to win me back though. Despite not being a fan of either of the the first two Iron Man flicks, Iron Man 3 turned out to be one of my favorite superhero films of recent memory, with a fantastic screenplay, bold action setpieces, and a well established Tony Stark. Luckily, Phase Two is continuing its success with the massive improvement of Thor: The Dark World.
Starting off where The Avengers left off, Thor: The Dark World has everyone’s favorite Asgardian Thor face his toughest challenge yet, against a mysterious foe from Asgard’s past. To do so, he must find himself, and enlist the help of his girlfriend, friends, and one true mortal enemy, his brother Loki.
As performances go, Thor: The Dark World is largely improved, mainly due to these actors getting more time to get comfortable in their respective roles. Chris Hemsworth was not a good actor back when he stared in Thor in 2011, but has slowly but surely developed into a solid actor. Here, Hemsworth is able to balance the fun-loving spirit of Thor, while being able to show off his dramatic chops. Thor here feels like a more unique and and developed character than in Thor, which is a major improvement.
Natalie Portman has been mixed throughout her career, going from stunning performances (Garden State and Black Swan), to dreadful performances (Star Wars Prequels and Brothers). Here, she is not really breaking any new ground, but is having fun in the role and that pays dividends to the character. Portman’s Jane Foster feels much more alive and interesting in this flick than in the original. Also, both Portman and Hemsworth’s on-screen rapport continues to grow well, as they feel more and more convincing together in the film.
Each supporting cast member does equally as good of a job. Tom Hiddleston has gotten a big fanbase for a reason. His take on Loki is just fantastic, as he finds the perfect balance between being sinister but likable at the same time. It’s hard not to root for him despite his sinister ways. Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, and Stellan Skarsgard all are back reprising their roles, and each do a nice job adding to the film with their respective talents.
One of the glaring flaws in Thor was the screenplay, which was largely full of lackluster jokes and messy storytelling. Surprisingly, despite this film having five writers, the script is much improved. The film feels far more cohesive has a story, moving smoothly from point A to B with ease and clarity. Humor is a trademark in Marvel films, and this film continues that, with some great references generating huge laughs.
Despite Kenneth Branagh doing a fair job with the original, he has been replaced by long time television director Alan Taylor, who does a nice job improving on Branagh’s work. While Branagh strived at creating the big scale of the scenes in Asgard, he really struggled with creating a balance between those bits and the scenes at Earth. Here, Taylor is able to manage a nice balance between the humor and fun the film has to offer with its Earth scenes, and the dramatic weight it has from the Asgard scenes.
That to me is the biggest reason why Thor: The Dark World works, and works well. The biggest issue with Thor was the unbalanced nature of the film, going from really big dramatic moments to silly slapstick comedy, doing so without fluidity. Here, there are both some very dramatic moments, but also a lot of good laughs, but these two mix together well, as the film does not have constant tone changes that ruin it.
Marvel films have had their fair share of great action setpieces, but these have to be the best I have seen from the brand. The Thor universe has such potential to have great action, mixing swashbuckling swordplay and science fiction-like technology. Here, Thor: The Dark World takes full advantage of this potential, as the film’s action is just fantastic. Ranging from spaceships attacking Asgard, to dashing swordplay by The Warriors Three, to Thor with his amazing hammer, the film shows you anything you could have wanted to see; it’s like playing with your action figures on a large scale.
One issues Marvel continues to struggle with is creating a good villain. Aside from Magneto and Loki, almost every Marvel film has featured a sub-par villain, who is a weak threat. Here, the main villain is a dark creature named Malekith, who despite looking kind of cool is extremely weak. He is basically just given a generic villain arc, and really never posed as a major threat in my book. Marvel should start work on creating better villains for their films, because it’s hard to have a great hero without a great villain to counter.
A major issue for me is how these Marvel films are all starting to feel a bit too similar, almost like its just one big formula that these studios are following. Sure, this one has some notable differences, but like many other Marvel films, hits several of the same beats in storytelling and even in the jokes. These studios that Marvel is a part of should really give more power to the director and writers to create a more unique vision, rather than following a similar formula to the rest of the films.
The universe of Thor is a large one, which is turning out to be somewhat of an issue for the film adaptations. There are so many interesting characters, like Heimdall played by Idris Ebla and then The Warriors Three. Despite all of these characters shining in individual action set pieces, their characters are still lacking. I’ll pitch this now: making a Warrior Three movie spin-off would be a fantastic idea to round out these characters.
A quick side note, while I am not counting this as a flaw against the film, the 3D is passable for sure. While it is enticing to see that five minute Captain America: Winter Soilder clip, it overall just looked really flat. Just save your money and see the film in the lush standard 2D.
Despite a few gaping flaws, Thor: The Dark World creates tons of funtastic moments that make its audience feel like a kid again. It’s got heart, it’s got laughs, and most of all, it’s got Loki!
Do a Shot: for each major cameo.
Take a Drink: during the odd after-credit scene.
Take a Drink: every time the hammer flies.
Do a Shot: during the news scene, you will see!
Stick around for the obligatory Marvel sneak peek at… Guardians of the Galaxy, I think?