It’s never great to get sloppy seconds on a villain, so there’s something a bit tiresome about having Christopher Eccleston as the Dark Elf Malekith after having threatened the heroes of “28 Days Later” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra.” But the design and makeup on this baddie ensures that the “Dr. Who” actor didn’t have to worry about not casting an imposing shadow (or, for that matter, being recognizable). No, it’s the writing that turns Malekith into less a character and more of a blunt object, an obstacle for Thor to punch in between trading wits with Loki and kisses with Jane. The Dark Elves are said to seek vengeance after having ruled during a dark period, and with light they find themselves as outsiders, borderline minorities. But it’s an abstract concept to hang on such an openly dopey movie that owes more to “Yor: Hunter From The Future” than it does any nihilist’s handbook. Worse yet, we’re not sure how many “Thor” movies the public is going to want to see, but he’s certainly got a deeper bench than one that sends Malekith up right after Loki. Why not the Enchantress, the Executioner, the Absorbing Man, The Wrecking Crew or even Fin Fang Foom? Why not a baddie that actually makes Thor break a sweat? Better yet, hey Marvel: you could try deviating from the comics and actually inventing a character for the screen. Believe it or not, there’s an entire history of movies made that aren’t based on a comic book.
Speaking of a deep bench, the first movie did a lot of world-building in introducing the Asgardian characters—Odin, Frigga, Helmdall, Sif, the Warriors Three, etc.—given that so much of the film was set on Earth. Here, we get more Asgard action, and yet it feels like most of the characters have less to do. The film seems to acknowledge it has too many moving parts in its early moments, when Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) is, essentially, told to stay home and sit this one out because there's no room for him. Rene Russo at least has something to do beyond standing around in the background, but is despatched early on to give some box-ticking personal stakes to the action. But the potential of Sif's love triangle remains unrealized, and while Fandral, Volstagg and Helmdall each get a single moment in the sun, it feels like box-ticking—we let Idris Elba take out a spaceship, so now we can ignore him again. None feel particularly important to the story, and none really justify their inclusion (it's not like, had the film done without the Asgardian characters, we would have gone "you know what that movie needed? More of Ray Stevenson in a fat suit"). If you're going to use them, really use them: if not, spend more time on the characters that actually matter.
Someone seems to think that post-"Lord of the Rings," it's requisite for every fantasy movie to open with a backstory-explaining prologue sequence. Given that even when Peter Jackson tried the trick again with "The Hobbit" it wasn't wildly successful, it's not surprising that it's deathly dull when it happens at the start of "Thor: The Dark World." If you have to do some kind of inelegant exposition dump to introduce your villain, at least try and make it look and feel like it's not directly ripping off "Fellowship of the Ring," but the rather drab design work and uninspired battling feel like a pale shadow of its inspiration.
The Generic Story
Stop me if you think you've heard this one before: an old villain re-emerges, intent on destroying the world. After he kills someone close to him, our hero(es) must stop a magical MacGuffin from falling into the wrong hands, and close a portal in the sky. Yes, "Thor: The Dark World" has exactly the same plot that you've seen in a dozen other films of this type. There's been some talk of the Marvel movies switching up genre, with this being more of a hard fantasy film than a superhero picture, but the filmmakers have confused setting with genre: this is the same old plot served up in slightly different clothes. In our interview with him, Kevin Feige said "People would say, 'How much longer is this comic book fad going to last?' And my answer always was as long as they're different, as long as we keep surprising people, as long as they don't become redundant, it could last for a long time.," and he has a point. And while we hope that "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Guardians Of The Galaxy" and "Ant Man" will provide more variety, there'll need to mix it up a lot more than they do here if audiences aren't going to start to get tired of this stuff. For all the 'you must save the world' going on here, the stakes feel alarmingly low, and that's ultimately not very engaging.
Loki Isn't Necessary
Everybody loves Loki. Well, at least a substantial fanbase does: Tom Hiddleston's become a fan favorite after his villainous turns in both "Thor" and "The Avengers," and given that the latter was the third-biggest movie of all time, it makes sense that Marvel would bring him back here. But while the texture Loki adds is welcome, he's really not integrated into the plot very well. He sits out most of the first half in a prison cell, and Thor needing him to escape Asgard simply feels contrived. Soon after that, he's 'killed off,' only to return in a not-very-surprising twist ending. It would take one rewrite in a screenwriter's lunch hour to remove the character from the film entirely (e.g. "Helmdall, you're the gatekeeper, you must know another way out of this place"), which would at least free up the real estate to develop a proper villain. It seems like Loki's presence here is simple fan service, and of course, to set up a third movie with that final scene, and that's simply not a good enough reason for us.