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'Thor: The Dark World': Where It Saved The Day & Where It Left Us Wanting More

Features
by The Playlist Staff
November 11, 2013 2:22 PM
19 Comments
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After rolling out first in the rest of the world, this past weekend saw the U.S. release of "Thor: The Dark World," the third adventure to feature the Norse god of thunder, after "Thor" and "The Avengers," and the eighth movie in Marvel's cinematic masterplan. As you might have assumed, the movie's a massive hit: an $86 million opening weekend, to add to the $240 million it's already taken abroad.

But unlike this summer's "Iron Man 3," it hasn't been met with absolute love. An A- Cinemascore suggests that Joe Public is having fun with it, but critical responses are more muted: we called it "the most deeply flawed Marvel movie since 'Iron Man 2' " and the film holds the lowest Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic score of any Marvel film to date. With the film now in release pretty much everywhere, we wanted to dig a little deeper into it, so as we've done with many major movies before, we've laid out what we think worked (or was Thor-some) and what we think didn't (Thor-ful) about the movie. Take a look below... and duh, spoilers ahead.

Thorsome!

Hemsworth & Hiddleston

For all the flaws of the first "Thor" movie (let's say we weren't missing the Dutch angles this time around), there's one thing, on reflection, that Kenneth Branagh absolutely nailed the first time around, and that was the casting of his leads. When they starred in the first "Thor," Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston were, for all intents and purposes, unknowns: two-and-a-bit years later, they're two of the fastest rising stars around, and with good reason. Here, Hemsworth again proves that he's at least as important a casting coup as Robert Downey Jr. was for "Iron Man"—no part in these movies so far has as potentially ridiculous as a six-foot-something space Viking, but Hemsworth makes him a real figure, leavening the heroics with humor and honor. And while we'd question the necessity of Loki's involvement in the film at all (see below), Tom Hiddleston's far-from-unwelcome in the film. The character is by far the most complex and compelling villain in the Marvel movie universe, and gets his best showcase as of yet here: true to the nature of the character, he works best as a trickster, an unknown quantity who could tip either way, and Hiddleston walks that tightrope of ambivalence nicely. He also gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie, and even proves oddly sympathetic; no mean feat, given that he was last seen attempting to commit genocide in "The Avengers." As long as these films feature these two together (and they have strong chemistry together, which always helps), they're likely to be at least a little watchable. 

The Humor

It's weird to think that in a $100 million + fantasy blockbuster with alternate worlds and zooming spaceships that destroy large swaths of England that the greatest moments are also the quieter ones: Darcy (Kat Dennings) asking Thor how space is; our hero hanging up his hammer on a coat rack; and, best of all, Thor riding the subway in London (though we have to note here that to get from Charing Cross to Greenwich, you need to go south two stops on the Northern line to Waterloo, then take the Jubilee line east to Greenwich: perhaps it was meant to be part of the long tradition of Londoners deliberately giving the wrong directions to tourists for their own amusement).  As we said, Loki provides many of the laughs too, and has one of the very best moments as well, a humorous interlude when he transforms into Captain America (Chris Evans), complete with a bit of Alan Silvestri's theme music playing over the soundtrack, and even Chris O'Dowd's extended cameo works nicely, even if it's rather tacked on (to be honest, we were left with the feeling that a film told from his point-of-view—the ordinary guy who falls in love, but can't get past his inadequacy over his new love's superheroic ex—would be way more interesting). The humor in "Thor: The Dark World" is the obvious highlight in a sequel that often aims for glowering darkness but instead comes across as a kind of camp blandness. Many of these moments were undoubtedly engineered by an un-credited Joss Whedon, which is probably for the best; in unifying the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he hasn't forgotten that they are often based on comic books.

The Final Set-Piece

The action in the film is, for the most part, solid without ever quite raising the pulse (we're struggling to remember too many memorable beats in that big opening battle, or the mid-movie attack on Asgard). And when the final confrontation in Greenwich kicked off, our eyes started to glaze over: clearly, we were about to see yet another superpowered throwdown without much to distinguish itself from any of the others that came before. But then something clever happens: in a canny bit of screenwriting, the tears-between-worlds conceit pays off, and Thor and Malekith (& co.) find themselves battling across the nine realms. Though clearly inspired by video game "Portal," among others, it's an inventive way to make the final sequence feel 'big'  without the overwhelming carnage of "The Avengers" or even "Iron Man 3."  And it's a cunning set-up, as well, introducing us to more of the nine realms than the ones we've visited before while also throwing us back to the original with a return to the land of the Frost Giants. It overplays its hand a little in places (Thor and Malekith sliding down the Gherkin is a little too broad, even for this film), but if the rest of the film was as much fun as this, we'd have had a much better time with the whole. 

It's Earthier & More Grounded Than Before

The fantasy world of "Thor" was never the film's most convincing element, a slightly garish green-screen world that had a somewhat weightless feel to it. It remains true that the fish-out-of-water, Earth-set sections of the film are more effective in the sequel, but Marvel's stated aim of fleshing out Asgard and the other realms is at least semi-successful. Alan Taylor's "Game Of Thrones" background is put to good use, and an increasing use of location work makes it feel that some of these realms might conceivably be real places and not just places filled in later by visual effects technicians. There's still work to be done, but now there's at least more of a sense of Asgard as something other than "where Anthony Hopkins lives."

Stands Alone Reasonably Well

As we know at this point, the Marvel movies are continually interlocking with each other, with the various films generally leading up to an "Avengers" installment every few years. At times, Marvel have misstepped a bit when it comes to the interlocking and the Easter Eggs—"Iron Man 2" felt like it was treading water to get the pieces ready for "The Avengers," and even "Thor" had Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye awkwardly pasted in after the fact via a reshoot. But Phase Two suggests that the studio have the mix about right: "Iron Man 3" neatly dealt with the aftermath of "The Avengers," but told its own story, without obvious set up for where it was going next. "Thor" isn't quite as successful on that front (the cliffhanger ending might as well feature Hiddleston looking into camera and saying "see you in summer 2016, kids."), but it does at least pick up Thor and Loki having grown and changed from the events of "The Avengers," references earlier films without bringing things to a grinding halt, and, the conclusion aside, doesn't spend too much time foreshadowing or hinting at future installments. We don't resent the mid-credit easter eggs: if you're going to trail future movies, that's the place to do it, and while we hope "Guardians Of The Galaxy" has better production value than the brief clip we saw, it was still fun to get a glimpse of Benicio Del Toro in character.

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19 Comments

  • Chloe | June 12, 2014 2:29 AMReply

    The elves were way to much like aliens. With their weird space ships and what not. I think that part kind of ruined it for me. If that's how it was in the comics, great, but I can't say Tolkien would be to pleased. It was disappointing and a tad bit lame, but hey, I still love my Avengers.

  • Allan | February 28, 2014 11:31 PMReply

    This movie missed a great opportunity. Loki, being the mental case that he is suppose to be. would never abandon the fight to avenge his mother. He even said "You can trust my rage!" to Thor.
    But then he just left the fight. I kept hoping to see him appear in the final fight to help avenge his mother, but he was completely left out.
    This was completely out of character for Loki. I mean really, his plans would have come to nothing if the whole universe was pushed back into darkness.

  • AJG | December 4, 2013 11:32 AMReply

    While I may agree with most of your analysis, I have to STRONGLY disagree with your insinuation that Marvel is doing a disservice to viewers by not creating their own characters. It's a comic book movie. The whole reason the fan base watches these movies is to see their favorite characters be brought to life on screen... including their favorite villains. Don't encourage them to create new characters, they have PLENTY to work from. If the newest Batman trilogy taught us anything it's that you can take these beloved (well loved to hate) characters and give them new life for a fan base that may never have thought of these characters in that way. Still loved by the true comic book lovers. Still interesting for a new generation. Still original. That's Marvel's problem: not that they need to create new characters but that they need to develop their villains further.

  • raf jordan | November 15, 2013 7:17 PMReply

    this article is nuts lol. THOR: TDW was the best marvel film to date, and may well be the best sci-fi film in years. it's fantastic and virtually every single level.

  • JT | November 15, 2013 4:22 AMReply

    you left out the subsection for story continuity... like how loki would have known what thor said to odin at the end of Thor's first movie about being a wiser king when apparently he fell off the realm. I mean little mistakes like that are glaringly stupid and there were several along the way in Thor a Dark World. But I must say the infinity gems would be a nice set up for Avengers 2 idiots in lots of space battles that they somehow keep winning

  • Michelle | November 14, 2013 9:51 AMReply

    A decent review of the movie, with some good points. That being said, you might want to refrain from implying that your readers are blockheaded idiots (I'm referring to the "if you really thought Loki had cut Thor's arm off, congratulations on seeing your first ever movie" line).

  • James | November 13, 2013 11:20 AMReply

    The only thing I'll say is that in the first Thor film, Loki snuck a bunch of villains into Asgard using a path that even Heimdall didn't know about. That was why they brought Loki along this time, so they could escape without anyone knowing how to follow them. They followed a plot point established back in 2011.

    Otherwise, great review!

  • Maha | November 17, 2013 2:19 PM

    Exactly. They've followed a point made in the first movie- one point for continuity, Marvel!

  • Freddie | November 13, 2013 12:49 AMReply

    Ya'll are just duped by this Hollywood claptrap. Really a blonde norwegian looking cat with a damn mini-hammer. Ya'll actually went 2 movies of that shit?

  • Bforreal | November 21, 2013 11:21 PM

    Lol. You guys have the best two comments of the night. Bravo! And, oh, I definitely saw both and liked them for what they were - silly, entertaining, simple.

  • Joe Realism | November 13, 2013 8:49 PM

    Dude, I totally believe you're black.

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  • ugh | November 12, 2013 3:55 PMReply

    So are we to assume Anthony Hopkin's Odin was killed by Loki? Or are they gonna take the safe route & Odin was put in "The Forever Sleeping Chamber" or whatever other inane third tier comic book artifact that was put in the books decades ago?

  • Maha | November 17, 2013 2:25 PM

    I think Odin slipped into his (convenient) Odin-sleep again.
    There's a scene in the movie where Odin is arguing with Thor and stumbles, for no reason.
    It's not a mistake, that stumble. It's quite ambiguous, and never explained- he doesn't explain it himself, and never says anything regarding his health. I'm sure with Thor giving him troubles and his queen being murdered, Odin is not in the best of health.
    I have 2 possibilities regarding Odin:
    A) Loki has imprisoned a weak and ill Odin (not at his full power) somewhere.
    B) Loki is hiding a sleeping Odin somewhere.

  • ck | November 12, 2013 1:16 PMReply

    What really pissed me off was the totally unnecessary 'woman in a refrigerator' trope applied to Frigga, who gets a small badass fight scene to compensate for the fact that she is transparently killed off to fuel Thor's heroic battle against the Big Bad... and I just don't buy the Thor/Jane romance, which was lacking in chemistry from the first movie, and has less dimension than Megara and Hercules as far as mortal-woman-and-heroic-god romances go.

  • Alan B | November 12, 2013 4:09 AMReply

    I love how the ONLY entertaining part of the film - the late second act with Loki (i.e. the ONLY interesting character in the film) - is the one you have a problem with. Jesus, yeah Loki selling FUNNY gags (i.e. not Kat Dennings running into a restaurant and riffing) and Loki and Thor having believable and entertaining conflict ... yeah, that's the part of the film that should have been excised. The first act and the start of the second is clumsy and unfocused, filled with completely boring, nothing characters and dumb motivations, yet the Loki sequences should have been deleted? Wow.

  • elenat | November 12, 2013 4:06 AMReply

    Loki isn't necessary)))) May I ask you, who needs all those movies, if not a fandom?)))

  • Said in Los Angeles | November 11, 2013 11:00 PMReply

    Though I felt the main villain was lame, the thing that irked me above all else was Odin being cheated out of getting revenge for the murder of his wife. He gets made enough at Thor’s arrogance to banish him to Earth in the first movie, and cast him as unworthy to hold the hammer. Yet in this movie, Odin's wife is murdered and he doesn't get the urge to do some revenge/avenge killing? Would have been great to see Odin/Thor fight back to back to back against Dark Elf/The Horned Bad Guy.

    Also, Thor’s mother is murdered and his brother killed and the only thing he can think about is getting back to Jane ‘Dark Phoenix’ Foster? A wasted opportunity.

  • Mugroar | November 11, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    Totally agree with this article. I saw the film on Thursday night, and as excited as I was for it, I can't say I was terribly into it as I was watching it.
    -The lazy opening voiceover providing 100% exposition in regards to what the film's story is going to be about made me roll my eyes.
    -Loki was indeed completely wasted until 60% through the movie. Even pacing-wise, I didn't feel in the first half of the movie that it was building up to the point that he was going to become a major player in the story. Obviously it was going to happen (this isn't the first movie I've ever seen), but in the realm of the MOVIE, I didn't feel that urgency or the nagging feeling that Loki might have to be the key to defeating Malekith.
    -The villain was horribly bland and so were his intentions.
    -Killing off Frigga was so out of nowhere and I didn't feel any emotional impact. Her death was literally a mechanic to push forward the plot/reveal more of Loki's character, yes, but it wasn't done so very gracefully.
    -Once Loki joined up with Thor, the movie did get quite noticeably more enjoyable. From there it was fun, humorous, and Loki's antics always had me grinning.
    -At first, the heavy amount of humor seemed completely imbalanced. Subtle little things are well and fine, but then you throw in a news broadcast showing a naked Erik running around like a madman at Stonehenge. Not subtle in the least. By the time the final climactic battle came around, the humor was in full force, and it practically turned into a fantasy comedy! So many little things happened in the final battle that were hilarious, and all of it combined in a short amount of time - well, I'm not sure if it was all supposed to overshadow the heroics of saving the world, but it sure did.

    All of this said, I will definitely see it a second time in a few weeks, and knowing what I know now, I'm sure I'll enjoy it more. However, I will always have this handful of complaints, but no movie is ever 100% perfect.

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