Thor is a favorite Marvel super-hero of mine precisely because he is both like yet so much unlike the rest of his peers. Don’t get me wrong: I would buy Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow (especially) a pint any night of the week, but Thor seems to be one of those few characters who is truly in his own league. I doubt that it’s only been the artwork and writing that’s kept Jack Kirby’s and Stan Lee’s creation alive for several decades although both have been excellent in several instances. I think it may also be largely that Thor is both a god in the traditional sense as well as a super-hero in the modern sense (Though one could make the case that our current super-heroes are our current gods. Does no one else possess a Daredevil shrine?) Arguments can be made that the likes of Galactus and Thanos are gods in their own right, but it occurs to me that their look is largely that of a mid to later twentieth century design. That goes for a bulk majority of Marvel’s characters, god or not, but here Thor stands apart from the rest in that his character seems timeless. That is to say, give me Spider-Man and I’ll say, “20th to 21st century”, but give me Thor and I’ll say, “…” Incredibly enough, knocking the hell out of Doctor Doom and Magneto in New York can get old when repeated ad nauseam, but as Thor has been able to alternate between mask and cape battles to cosmic warfare to Tolkien like fantasy, I cannot think of any time that his character has become stale. The character is versatile, and this has kept Thor from going the way of, say, Wolverine and Venom who can sometimes seem stuck in their own skin (and symbiote).
It is because of all this that I’m almost always excited to get my hands on a Thor comic and why I so eagerly anticipated the release of the first movie. Like with many of the comics, 2011’s “Thor” dazzled me with its impeccable design, mixture of magic and science, and fierce enmity between the titular God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and the inimitable Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The question then becomes, for anyone similarly impressed with “Thor” or with the battling brothers’ roles in “The Avengers”, “Does Thor: ‘The Dark World’ stack up to its predecessors?” The answer is yes… but also no.
“Thor: TDW” is akin to “Iron Man 2”: both are solid entries in Marvel’s series of continuity tied films, but both are flawed enough that they don’t reach the level of greatness that their precursors soared through. To start with, here’s the gist of the movie: after destroying his army of dark elves in order to flee a war with Asgard, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his remaining soldiers begin a relentless campaign to obtain the Aether, an ancient source of the dark elves’ power (think Sauron and his Ring) that will allow them to return the universe to darkness (something whose motives are never really explored thoroughly; unless you’re some kind of sadistically nihilistic space zombie, I can’t really see why anyone would want to live in a universe where it’s that much easier to trip over your own feet). Thor, still enamored of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and protective of both Earth and Asgard, decides to take the threat head-on and frees Loki from prison in order to aid him.
I’ll get the defects of the film out of the way first. One, Malekith felt under-developed and shallow. Malekith’s animosity with Thor never reaches the tension that the Norse god shared with his freak-show of a sibling, and I had more fun watching the brothers try to work together amongst all their quips and retorts than I did listening to Malekith’s back story and plans. The dark elf king did look pretty cool (despite lacking the long hair usually associated with the villain, the make-up for him and everyone else is as excellent as it was in the first), but it felt like Malekith was less of a primary antagonist and more of a way to bring Blondie and Hannibal Lecter’s intern together.
Moreover, the dialogue of “Thor: TDW” lacks the wittiness and freshness “Thor” and “The Avengers”. In fact, the discourses can feel stilted, repetitive, and inconsistent at worse. Here’s what I considered to be a rather jarring
example: Odin (Anthony Hopkins) tells Thor early on that he and the rest of the Norse pantheon are not gods because they live and eventually die like all mortals, but soon afterwards compares Tor bringing Jane to Asgard as akin to…
bringing a goat to a banquet. Way to stay humble and wise, All-Father.
However, the effective attributes of “Thor: TDW” outweighs its shortcomings. The look of the sequel is every bit as fantastic as its forerunner, if not even a little bit more so. The combination of sci-fi aesthetics with an equally strong sense of fantasy feels seamless, as if someone decided to combine Star Wars with the Lord of the Rings. Watching the space-ships of the Dark Elves attack Rivendell- sorry, Asgard- reminded me why I read Thor comics in the first place: feuds and wars that seem mostly inaccessible to Marvel’s non-magical characters are able to take place with the likes of Thor, Doctor Strange and the Ghost Rider (don’t get me started on the latter’s movies…). Likewise, the fight sequences are exemplary especially (and ironically) with Thor’s final battle with Malekith, an exciting brawl that sends the two hurtling throughout Earth, Jotunheim, and the Dark World itself. The rest of the fights are clever and well executed, helping set the table for arguably the most thrilling sequence of the entire film. In addition, the 3D
version of the movie that I saw did what, in my mind, 3D movies should do: enhance the depth of the film subtly yet conspicuously. To put it another way, the 3D definitely adds a greater sense of texture to the film without becoming
distracting. You might as well catch the 3D version in theatres before you check out the regular DVD/Blu-Ray version for the same reason you would get a cheese-burger rather than just a hamburger.
The acting in “Thor: TDW” is pretty good, but it is Hiddleston’s performance as Loki that shines brightest. Loki switches from proud ex-king to a grieving son to a gleefully deranged egomaniac, and he
juggles each role without fail. He is easily the most unpredictable and most fun of all the characters and another reason to keep your eyes on the adventures of Odin’s Prodigal Son.
Lastly, a significant reason to watch “Thor: TDW” is a single sequence that takes place mid-credits. I viewed it with some interest even though Ididn’t realize who the new character was at first and chalked it all up as some foreboding omen. Afterwards, while gathering information needed for the review, I realized who the character was and who was playing him, striking me like a thunder-bolt. I had to check photos of the film to make sure my revelation was accurate, and sure enough my hunch was spot-on. Hmm, how do I explain this without giving away spoilers? Suffice it to say that one of Hollywood’s very best (hint: and hairiest) makes an appearance, unrecognizable and completely
immersed in character. This might not tell you much, but all you really need to know is that like Hiddleston and Robert Downey Jr, this could very well turn out to be one of Marvel Studios’ best casting choices. This mystery thespian is that talented.
“Thor: TDW” is a worthy addition to the Marvel movie continuity and a pretty good time overall. It stumbles at times, but for the most part it sprints pretty quickly. It doesn’t take off and fly like the first “Thor”, but it is still worth the ride.