Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Thor: The Dark World" review

When "Thor" came out over two years ago, the response was favorable but muted. It didn't go crazy at the box office, but it was solid enough. Personally, I thought it had its moments but, as far as Marvel movies go, I felt Thor's introduction was the weakest. Thankfully, one year later, "The Avengers" came out and was a smash hit. More than that, Thor actually wound up looking pretty damn good, and it got me excited about the character for the first time. He's actually pretty funny sometimes, and when used right, can be very effective. Even Loki came off much better in "The Avengers" even though I never thought of him as a serious enough threat to the likes of Iron Man, Capt. America, Hulk, and Thor. Still, even Loki managed to have a little fun. The question remained, how would that all carry over into the next Thor film? Would they try to build on the momentum that was built thanks to "The Avengers" movie or will "Thor: The Dark World" go back to the old, plodding ways.

The answer turned out to be both... kind of. The Thor sequel is a lot more fun and takes itself much less seriously than the first film, but the film's humor does little to mask the sheer amount of stupidity and nonsense that is prevalent throughout the film. Because the film has a humor about itself, much of the nonsense can be forgiven, but it gets frustrating when you get the feeling that the movie is literally making up the universe's rules as it goes along and that there doesn't seem to be one legit, tangible moment in the film.  A character could have a dramatic death scene one moment and then come back to life the next, completely negating the earlier drama. Because Thor is a near-immortal god-like figure, it's hard for the filmmakers to give the character high enough stakes for him to succeed. You never feel like Thor is truly in danger, you find out in one scene that he can actually re-grow a hand, for crying out loud. What the hell is going on here? There's just never a sincere enough moment that could make you really care about his plight, or Asgard's plight. Thor is a god! He's going to be ok! Of course, it's a superhero, they're always going to be ok at the end, but you at least hope that this superhero will go through legitimate struggles. You wanna see Thor in serious harm's way so that it feels that much sweeter when he finally succeeds. You never got that in the first movie, and you don't get that here. What you get, ultimately, is a charming enough film with absolutely zero drama.

It gets to the point where you're thankful that the film allows time for some dumb, cheesy fun. Now, trying to explain the plot of the film is a fool's errand, so I'll be doing some heavy cribbing from See, unlike Rand Paul, I'll actually acknowledge when I'm taking the easy way out, but there's simply too much shit going on in Thor 2 for me to try to attempt to make sense out of it all. So, bare with me as I do some paraphrasing.

The Dark Elf Malekith wants to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. Bor, King Odin's father, was able to defeat Malekith and take the Aether away from him, later safeguarding it by hiding in a stone column. In present-day Asgard, all is pretty good. The Nine Realms are all peaceful, everyone's having pool parties and getting their freak on. Woo hoo! Actually, in Asgard, they like to have fun by practicing their sweet sword moves. Seriously, nobody here just sits down and relaxes. They're gods, why do they need to practice doing anything? Why not just eat all kinds of food, have orgy after orgy, and just have a hell of a good time?

Anyway, on Earth, Jane and her useless interns has been noticing some strange things have been a-brewing in London, England. Objects seem to be disobeying the laws of physics and are disappearing into thin air! Some objects will disappear in one end, and reappear in the other. Of course this makes Jane think of Thor and she snoops around, eventually getting herself into trouble by disappearing and re-appearing into another world. This world happens to be the one that holds the Aether and, despite Bor's best efforts to safeguard the damn thing, Jane winds up being consumed by the Aether pretty easily. Plot device activated!

Thor immediately senses something's wrong because, oddly enough, Heimdall has the ability to pretty much stalk anyone he wants while standing on the bifrost bridge. When he can't see her, and she reappears on Earth, Thor immediately goes to Earth to see what happened to her. And yeah, considering how easily Thor can go back and forth from Earth to Asgard, why can't he see Jane for two years? She's had this mind-blowing experience with this god and apparently he's hung up on the girl, but he can't sneak off and go see her? Also, what about the contractors on Asgard? Remember when all this shit was destroyed in the first movie and we all thought Loki might be dead because he, presumably, plummeted to his death? Well, seems like they all did a pretty damn good job making everything look exactly as how it did before. So, good job, guys!

I get it though. King Odin has probably been blocking Thor from seeing Jane, seeing as how she's a mere mortal and true love can never blossom between them. So, why not be with this other hot girl we keep putting the camera on, which is supposed to symbolize that she might be interested in you? Nah, Thor's all about Jane. Sure, she's in the middle of her prime and in about 20 years she won't look anywhere near as perfect as she does now, but so what? Thor is in love! Ok, I'm going way off track here.

Thor immediately takes Jane to Asgard, hoping his doctors can figure out what's wrong with her. He notices something's wrong when a police officer tries to touch her and gets blown halfway across town. The doctors can't exactly tell what's going on, but whatever's inside her is not good for her. In spite of the fact that it prevents rain from falling on her and she apparently is invincible, this energy inside her is "bad" so we won't explore it to its full potential. Wouldn't it have been cool if the Aether actually made Jane as immortal as Thor and they could maybe have a serious relationship together? And she has to have the very real, tangible debate within herself of whether or not she wants to leave Earth behind and stay with Thor for the next hundred years. Wow, that actually sounds dramatic and interesting. Naturally, this is never considered because, once again, this Aether being inside Jane is a mere plot device for Malekith to come to Asgard and destroy the universe. It actually has no real effect on Jane at all.

So, yeah, that's basically what happens. They find out it's the Aether, they fear for their lives and for Asgard and Thor attempts to come up with a plan to defeat Malekith and destroy the Aether forever. Meanwhile, the reason why things on Earth aren't obeying the laws of physics is because the Nine Realms are about to align. This brings about the only real interesting part of the film, a great fight sequence where Thor has to fight Malekith and his cronies and subsequently winds up jumping from realm to realm. It's a fun scene and is actually pretty clever, but once again, you just wish that it didn't all look so easy for Thor.

I can't go into my one biggest complaint and outcry with this film unless I spoil it severely so, if you don't want to be spoiled don't read the next three paragraphs.

When Thor goes into Malekith's world and tries to destroy him and the Aether, he brings along Loki (and Jane) because Loki's the only one in Asgard who knows a secret way to get there. On numerous occasions, Loki is told not to betray Thor by just about everyone in the film and there's a great sequence when Thor is flying through Asgard and into Svartalfheim where Malekith lives. But then Loki, surprise surprise, betrays Thor by stabbing him in the side and throwing him off the aircraft. Loki continues this "act" of betraying his brother in order to trick Malekith into drawing the Aether out of Jane. It works, initially, but Loki winds up being severely, perhaps fatally wounded when the attempt to destroy the Aether fails.

Loki looks up at Thor, seeming to be in near death, and they have an emotional moment before Loki passes on. Until the very end of the film, when after Thor tells his father Odin that he doesn't want to be king, it's actually revealed that Loki has taken the shape of Odin. Thor actually told Loki that he doesn't want to be king, not Odin! It's Loki! He tricked Thor! Thor has already turned and walked away when Loki reveals his true identity and this of course means that Loki will live to fight another day in the eventual third Thor movie.

To say the least, this has gotten pretty goddamn exhausting. Can Loki not die? Whenever Loki looks as if he's been killed, can we ever believe he's dead? Loki reappearing at the end effectively robs the movie of its only real emotional moment. And it reveals an unsettling reality about the Thor movies: Loki could, theoretically, never be defeated. Whenever we think he's about to die, it can turn out to be a trick. His specialty is trickery, after all. But this is like that 10 year old who's playing cops and robbers with you and everytime you shoot him with your imaginary hand-gun, he doesn't die. Dude, just play by the basic rules of "cops and robbers"! No, he has immunity. He's declared himself immortal, he can't die. Thus, rendering the game completely useless. This goes for the Thor movies as well. Apparently, the film's producers find too much value in Loki to actually ever kill him off. I don't know what game they're trying to play here, but you can't keep giving Loki serious death scenes and then taking them away, revealing he's not dead after all. Especially, when you're not going to reveal how he tricked everyone. It's stupid and it makes the Thor movies completely meaningless, as if they weren't meaningless already. It makes me seriously debate ever wanting to see another Thor movie again because if this shit is gonna keep happening, you can count me out.

Spoilers over.

And that's the problem with the Thor movies, overall. Nothing tangible happens in them. They're the worst kind of popcorn fluff. It has just the right amount of action beats to keep itself going and you can forgive much of its stupidity because, at least in Thor 2, it's at least playful about what it's doing. But these movies just don't work as a whole because without any moments where there are serious stakes at play, it's completely ineffective. If the action doesn't matter, then there's no reason to watch. If you're going to attempt to establish a set of rules for this movie and then subsequently subvert all of them, there's no real reason to watch this. The other Marvel movies, especially Iron Man, has a character that goes through actual struggles and he has serious foes. While not all the Iron Man movies are great, they at least work in its most basic function as superhero films. You have fun watching them and, by the end, it's a fun ride overall. The Thor movies is like a ride that promises to be an actual rollercoaster ride, but then turns out to be one of those cheesy simulator rides where nothing actually happens. It was...stimulating. But you ultimately get nothing tangible out of the experience. Your heart never races. You never have that exhilarating feeling of fear that's ultimately alleviated when you're allowed to get off the ride.

The Thor movies, "The Dark World" in particular, is just too vanilla. The reason why it's not a complete disaster is its sense of humor and the overall sense of fun it has with itself. It has its fun moments, absolutely. It's oddly enjoyable in some ways, but in the end, it's a dull, hollow experience. And, for a superhero movie, it's really kinda shitty.

Grade: C-

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