Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thor: The Dark World--The Taco Bell Of Marvel Movies

I'm going to make a brief stab at a sorta kinda review of the recent Thor movie. So if you don't want to be spoiled, go read something else. It's OK...the review will still be here later.

Spoilers will commence after the 5 pictures.


I need to make sure I'm clear here at the outset--Thor: The Dark World is not a bad movie. It's well-made, it has lots of fun action, it's enjoyable.

But (strained analogy alert), I also enjoy Taco Bell. Yummy, goes down really well, really hits the spot sometimes. But I can also acknowledge that it's just fast food, empty calories without a ton of nutritional value. And if I wanted a real meal, well, I'd expect a bit more.

Hence, my attitude on Thor--fun, pretty, filling while you're watching it. But empty calories. And it should have been much better.

Here are three specific problems I had, ways in which the movie fell short of Iron Man 3 or Captain America.


I know that sounds daft. But hear me out.

Whatever the film's flaws, the first movie had a character arc for the son of Odin. He was arrogant, he learned a lesson in humility, and became a better man (god).

In Dark World, though? Thor has no character arc whatsoever. He is exactly the same person (god) at the end as he was at the beginning.

It's a good person, no doubt. Wise, brave, noble--and Chris Hemsworth has such astonishing charisma that he just drags you along through the movie, no matter what. It's not until the film is over and you're thinking about what happened that you realize that Thor experiences no character growth whatsoever. Not a lick.

I understand that this can be a fine line in a series of movies. If this were a television series, you can get away without every episode being a "very special episode." You have 22ish shows during the season, so you're not expected to have each episode rise and advance your main character. Same thing with a comic series--12+ issues per year, you've got time. Every episode/issue doesn't have to be about the hero.

When you get only one movie every 3 years, though? I think you're under a little more pressure to justify why this is a Thor movie, as opposed to someone else being the star. And yes, you have to avoid the trap of forcing random character development into each film, making it feel unnatural (I'm looking at you, Star Trek The Next Generation movies). So it can be a fine balance.

But Marvel has set a pretty high standard. In all of the Iron Man films, we have an arc for Stark. The movies are about something more than "Iron Man fights villain X."

T:DW fall short on that level. Thor learns nothing, changes in no discernible way, and is pretty much the same dude (god) at the end as he was at the beginning.

Fixing this would require only a few rejiggers of the script (having 5 screenplay credits obviously didn't ease the task, but still). If you want us to feel Thor's anger at Frigga's death, actually give them a scene together before hand (not just "Hey Mom, here's my girlfriend, gotta run). If you want Thor to learn some lesson about how he just can't wait not to be king, actually show him learning that during the movie--don't just give him some out of context line at the denouement that doesn't make sense with the rest of what you showed us earlier (he says earlier that Odin was blinded by grief and made bad decisions, at the end he says being ruler changes you and forces you to make decisions he doesn't like--the latter comes completely out of nowhere).

Thor is all over the movie--but it's not about him at all.


Look, this isn't a jab at Christopher Eccleston. But I do wish they'd spent as much time on his character as they did on his make-up.

In T:DW, Malekith is nothing more than a force of nature, a motivationless nihilist who's going to blow up everything. Why? Because Dark Elf...what the hell else do you need? He thinks the current universe is corrupt, poisoned, whatever. Why? STOP ASKING QUESTIONS!! 

Seriously, the only difference between Malekith in this film and the "cloud" Galactus in Fantastic Four 2 or the "cloud" Parallax in Green Lantern is that Malekith has a body and about 10 lines of dialogue he's keeps repeating over and over. As a character, well, he's not a character at all. He has not a single line of interesting or memorable dialogue. He's boring. He might as well be a big evil cloud.

As to the plot, there never is really a sense of impending danger. Yes, yes, he's going to destroy the universe. But the movie never makes us feel the stakes. I think we can call this the Alderaan rule--if you want us to be riveted by the Death Star at the climax, you have to have an earlier scene where you show us what it can actually do. Show Malekith actually destroying a world (there are nine realms, right? Who's going to miss Nidavellir, really?). Have something really bad happen when Jane is possessed by the Aether--something more than a couple of random energy bursts. Seriously, Malekith might as well have been trying to destroy the local Costco, for all the movie gives us (or makes us care).

And if you're going to call the movie Thor: The Dark World, you've made that location a title character. Shouldn't you spend more than 10 minutes there? Is there noting more in the entire WORLD than a 50 square yard battlefield and one really deus ex machina cave? Not to slam Iceland (pretty volcano rock, guys), but boring. Asgard gets all the budget, while Vanaheim is just a Xena set, Svartalfheim is just an exotic quarry, and Jotunheim just re-uses an effect from the first movie. If you folks want to call the movie The Dark World, well, give us a world. If you want to make protecting the nine realms so important, well, show us some worlds worth protecting.


Just as in the first film, anything set on Earth is distinctly--nay, vastly--inferior to parts set elsewhere.

And one of the main reasons is that Darcy is the worst character to ever grace a Marvel movie. She is the functional equivalent of the Rob Schneider character in the Judge Dredd movie. Yeah, I went there. Darcy's purpose is to give Jane someone to talk to, and to issue terrible wisecracks in every single scene. And I mean EVERY scene. The writers' obvious default to "how do we advance the plot or end the scene on Earth" was "have Darcy say something funny."

The problem is that Jane is taken away fairly early, so she has no peer left to bounce off of. All that's left is for her to keep making "funny" remarks more and more frequently. Sadly, they're not funny, and neither is she. I literally cringe every time she's about to deliver a line.

Look, Kat Dennings is attractive. I'm sure she's a swell person. But she has absolutely zero comedy timing (I base this not only on the Thor films, but also on a few tortured glimpses of her Two Broke Girls show). She's just terrible at delivering these lines. It's as if she thinks she's still in her poorly made sitcom--she delivers her "funny" line, and just sort of seems to be waiting for the audience hoots and laughter, rather than actually interacting with the others on screen. And she especially suffers in comparison to Tom Hiddleston deftly dropping wit and sarcasm all over the place. He's raised the bar, ma'am--you've got to up your game. Since your sole purpose is (relentless) comedy relief, you need to give us comedy, and relief. Darcy gives us neither.

I'll freely admit that it may be just me--I've seen it twice, and each time there were plenty of people in the audience who would laugh loudly and uproariously at her every line. And obviously some blame can be laid at the feet of scriptwriters/director/editor.

But Darcy just stinks. Sorry.

**In conclusion, everyone wants to say that T:DW is much better than the first Thor film. And that was my initial reaction. But that first film had a better arc for the hero and a much better villain. So, maybe, a more accurate way to say it is that T:DW is a better-made movie than Thor 1; but Thor 1 was better thematically and dramatically--just burdened by the Earth/Asgard schizophrenia.

With a few tweaks--give Thor some arc, beef up the villain into someone interesting, and much (MUCH) less Darcy, Thor: The Dark World would have gone from being just a fast food film to a delicious main course.

But as it is, if you ask me in 5 years which one I'd rather plop into the Blu-Ray player, I'm thinking that I'd be more interested in re-watching the first than this one.

BONUS THOUGHT I: Christopher Eccleston pulling the Aether out of Jane Foster versus Christopher Eccelston pulling the Time Vortex out of Rose. Discuss (and don't tell me you weren't thinking the exact same thing as you watched it...)

BONUS THOUGHT II: Frigga is a total badass.


SallyP said...

Oh heck, I'm only going to go see it for Loki anyway.

notintheface said...

There's this cameo by [REDACTED] that's priceless.