It’s fair to say that Marvel Studios decided to play things a little safe with Iron Man 3 (although there were certainly plenty of key moments that helped to redefine Tony Stark’s character, propelling him forward to begin a darker journey within future instalments). So to all intents and purposes Thor: The Dark World was a more ambitious and bold next instalment in terms of storytelling and scope. Or was it?
For many this film serves as one of (if not) the weakest instalment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For me personally I don’t believe that for a second. Sure the film has its clear flaws, inconsistencies, but then again so did The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and the first Thor film. It’s not the first film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe to not fully meet the mark within its different criteria’s, so why does it get all the flack it gets as if it was utterly shit and had no redeeming features.
Thor: The Dark World is easily superior to Thor because it was a lot more interesting. I got so bored watching the “fish-out-of-water” plotline and bland settings of New Mexico (my sincere apologises, I’m sure New Mexico is a nice country but for the purposes of cinematography it just doesn’t deliver that “wow-factor”). Plus, we got our wishes of seeing more of Asgard (which was rudely pushed aside for a bland Earth setting) and we got to explore more of Thor’s world, civilisation and how the hierarchy of the Nine Realms truly works.
A lot was added to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is exactly what Phase Two had already started doing in Iron Man 3. Phase One was there for introductory purposes, and now that was out of the way Phase Two wanted to hit the accelerator button and began throwing in larger elements to showcase the true depth of this expansive universe.
Okay, the clear flaws of this film is the tone and awkward relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. A lot of the latter is down to the fact that Natalie Portman (bless her) is riding on the back of the Star War Prequel Trilogy, to which didn’t receive a highly positive reception, especially where her character and romantic sub-plot was concerned. In many ways, this current relationship reminded the audience too much of the cringe-worthy dialogue and shallow chemistry we’d seen between Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker. Heck, even the backdrop of the pretty lake in Asgard is a clear comparison, bringing back the horrific memories of those scenes set of Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
Now, like I said in my Thor Review, they’re chemistry certainly isn’t the worst. I do believe they have feelings for each other to a certain extent. What ruins this sub-plot is the execution, which often makes it feel forced and unconvincing. In fact, it’s sometimes quite awkward to watch, especially when Jane just has these weird fucking moments where she gets lost in Thor’s dazzling eyes, pausing for a moment like a teenager pinning over a jock.
I think what cements the deal is the lack of genuine reasoning why these two have affection for one another. It’s barely present in Thor, to which it’s not really apparent that their feelings are truly serious, but come Thor: The Dark World they are both very sulky over the fact that they are apart. I really don’t know what the fuck Thor saw in Jane in his brief exile but he’s clearly now got it into his head that fate draws them together (which doesn’t say much when Jane is completely absent from Thor: Ragnarok). This, in turn, starts distracting him from his duties as air-to-the-throne as he looks down upon Earth to see her, knowing he cannot be with her due to convenient rules.
And Jane has been spending the last two years trying to find Thor, practically becoming obsessed over the task because apparently she can’t be without him. I don’t know, it all seems like a bullshit love-story that was forced into the narrative because it happened in the comics, or someone in-charge just wanted it to happen, forcing the director to be like, “Fine, okay. It’s gonna fucking suck, but you’re the boss I guess.” Whatever the reasoning, it certainly drags down Thor: The Dark World‘s quality and credibility (but not as much as Thor because at least this sequel has more focus and cooler shit going on to help mask the negatives).
As for the tone, it’s clear that Thor: The Dark World wanted to be more bold and exciting, pulling in even more fantasy elements to make it this big, dramatic story in order to stand out from the rest of the instalments we’d seen thus far. But, at the same time they wanted to incorporate comedy, which ends up derailing the more serious plot to tell a story about Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig and their shannigans in London. These segments, like the ones in New Mexico, really dragged the film’s quality down because they felt completely out of place.
I mean, I liked Darcy in the first film but here she could’ve done with fucking-off. In fact, this is why Jane and her crew feel so awkward within Thor: The Dark World because they serve no real relevance except being plot-tools to conveniently move certain aspects along (most obviously Jane conveniently stumbling upon the Aether, thus setting the film’s chain of events in motion). And then you have Erik (who was a decent enough character in Thor, to which got a really interesting role to play within Avengers Assemble) running around bollock-naked. What the fuck Marvel Studios?
You pretty much just degraded a perfectly good character, not to mention ruined a perfectly good opportunity to expand upon his character, i.e. explore (in an interesting way, and not turn him into a fucking joke) the after-effects of Loki controlling his mind and making him open a portal that nearly led to the destruction of his world. Instead, his character is just played out for laughs, made worse by the fact he doesn’t contribute anything except tell the audience what they already know, before becoming a boring tool for exposition to which conveniently helps Thor in saving the day. What a wasted fucking opportunity.
But the irony is, the rest of the film (in my eyes at least) is fucking brilliant, redeeming all the problems I had with Thor. We got to see Asgard in all its glory, to which we even had a massive battle as the Asgardians are invaded by Dark Elves (which felt like a nice blend of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings).
There are many scenes where it either looked stunning or was extremely explosive and riveting. This is why I find Thor: The Dark World is very bold in its approach to storytelling, pushing Thor’s storyline forward in the best possible direction (minus his awkward relationship with Jane) as he continues to grow compassion (as well as strength) to become a wiser warrior who feels completely selfless in his actions to protect those he loves.
This is a clear contrast to his character at the beginning of Thor, to which he was a mere child bent on selfish ambition and glory. I guess that is the one aspect of his and Jane’s relationship that always feels true, i.e. Jane showing him his humanity. Through Jane Thor was able to look within and find his true-self, a man that was fit for the throne of Asgard, to become a great king that would protect his people and swear to be honourable with his decisions. What’s even more compelling is Thor’s change in desires, wanting to find a world of peace and happiness, thus moving away from even wanting the responsibilities of the throne.
It becomes a really interesting character study as Thor witnesses the corruption of power to both his father, Odin, and his adopted brother, Loki. Both are clearly rulers in their own minds but Thor looks into their acts deeply and begins to grasp what burdens he would have to endure being king, as well as the fears of losing himself in the process. After Loki took over the throne in Thor it shows how the power corrupted his mind, and perhaps aided in his insanity, pushing him towards becoming the orchestrator of madness and destruction seen within Avengers Assemble.
And after the Dark Elves invaded Asgard, resulting in the tragic death of Thor’s mother, Frigga, Odin becomes blinded by vengeance and begins losing his way, uncaring about the consequences of his actions and how many of his people will perish in his pursuit for justice. It’s clear in those moments that he is no fit king as he casually declares his people pawns to be used for his own desires, uncaring of their lives because he is king and his word is law (ultimately making him no better than his enemy).
It is this conflict that drives Thor into understanding himself, which again (like Iron Man 3) raises the bar in pushing The Avengers forward, making them endure some of the most terrible decisions and losses in order to redefine how they see the world.
Of course another highlight of Thor: The Dark World is the continuation of Loki’s journey. Given now that he’s featured in three instalments (and became the first major villain within the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to his presence in Avengers Assemble) Loki has become just as important as The Avengers in terms of status, development, and fan appeal. A lot of that is down to Tom Hiddleston and his superb performance, to which shows how far his acting career has come, because (like with Loki) is progressing throughout each film, becoming more confident and daring with his performance.
A lot has changed for Loki, from learning that he’s adopted – the son of Asgard’s enemy, to trying to take over the throne through a petty scheme, before being exiled and driving himself to become a dangerous threat, to which Earth nearly paid the price for. Despite his schemes in Avengers Assemble failing Loki’s spirits aren’t dampened, to which he gloats about his invasion to Odin during his trial, unashamed by his actions, even daring to call Odin out on hypocrisy. Even his time in prison doesn’t alter his confidence and sly attitude which spills out mischief and manipulation.
The turning point, however, is when Frigga is killed, making Loki actually breakdown both physically, and mentally. He tries to cover this up with further illusion upon Thor calling him for help, but even Thor can see through the deception and asks for him to show himself properly, and beneath the apparent uncaring nature lied a Loki that was broken and devoid of power. The narrative grew more confidently as Thor is forced to team-up with Loki in order to take Jane off-world, disobeying his father’s commands in order to do what is right, i.e. keep his people away from the crossfire of war.
It is in this section of the film we get a really engaging and well thought-out character driven story as these two brothers come together in the most unlikeliest alliance. Thor admits that he is past the point of trusting Loki, no longer believing that he can bring his brother home from the darkness that now shrouds him. In return, Loki isn’t shy to admit his feelings towards his brother and Odin, but at the same time there’s this intriguing doubt within his mind about his place within the family due to his affection towards Frigga (the only person that still called him family despite everything that he had done).
In my eyes, this is one of the best aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because their relationship is so fascinating to watch, with Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth‘s chemistry being incredibly powerful and genuine. These scenes make Thor: The Dark World a great successor to Avengers Assemble in terms of character development and pushing the narrative forward. Both characters now struggle to find themselves and despite their changes in attitude (both to the universe and each other) they still have undeniable love for one another and it helps to make their chemistry deepening.
The only thing I don’t get about Thor: The Dark World is why the Dark Elves (and in particular Malekith the Accursed) are hated so much, and regarded the worst villains within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m sorry, but I find it hard to believe that Malekith is worse than Iron Monger, The Abomination, The Frost Giants, The Mandarin, and Yellowjacket (who isn’t necessarily bad, but certainly not special either). And if we’re going to go with the bullshit excuse that he’s generic or underdeveloped, well guess what, the majority of villains within the Marvel Cinematic Universe are in the exact same boat (with some of them being worse than Malekith is terms of motivation and purpose).
Maybe it’s just because Christopher Eccleston is in the role (I don’t know) but I always enjoy Malekith’s presence within Thor: The Dark World and enjoy his desperation to return the universe to darkness (thus reclaiming his specie’s right to rule as they once did before the Light) as well as redeeming his somewhat questionable actions as king, thus giving a true meaning to the death of those he’s lost in his quest to control the Aether. I felt he was a necessary villain to up the stakes for Thor’s latest instalment, and grant his journey more urgency, with Malekith’s plans threatening the entire universe, as well as threatening his loved ones (with Jane being merged with the Aether and Frigga being murdered).
It’s just really annoying that the third act is quite bland in comparison to the great second act structure we received, and this is down to the tone forcefully shifting to accommodate the more useless aspects of the narrative. Plus, the setting is just dull. I know I said that New Mexico dragged things down but at least a dessert has a bit of character. London is just depressing (and I’m saying that as someone who lives in the UK). It took away the grandness that the rest of the narrative built-up and laid out a really uninspiring battlefield for Thor and Malekith to have their epic fight. At least the teleporting during the Convergence was kind of cool (if there just to create comedic effort at the wrong fucking moment).
Overall, I really enjoy Thor: The Dark World, but I will admit to its flaws in terms of certain character inclusions, their negative affects on the overall quality, thus creating a lot of inconsistencies. But I guess Marvel Studios have learnt their lesson by taking these aspects completely out of Thor: Ragnarok and concentrating solely on the aspects that people actually enjoy, almost like a soft-reboot. However, this may just create more problems if it results in unfinished plotlines and the abandonment of the core elements from the previous two films (which will just ultimately screw over Thor’s storyline more than it already is).