Thursday, November 14, 2013

Five Things I Loved & Five Things That Bug Me About Thor: The Dark World

Yeah, I went there. You'll see why.

I saw the new Thor movie a couple of days ago, and a few things about it have been bothering me. I enjoyed the movie, mind you, and am planning to see it a second time with different friends just to catch a bunch of details that I’m sure I missed on the first viewing. But as a comic-book fan, a superhero geek, and a writer, I can’t claim to be fully satisfied with it. So if you’re thinking about seeing Thor: The Dark World, or just interested in how it looked to someone whose writer-brain never shuts down, here are the major highlights of that first viewing. I will avoid spoilers wherever possible.
Fine, here's the real poster.

1. Hello, Loki. Let’s be honest. If you’re going to see Thor: The Dark World, chances are pretty good that you or somebody you know is Team Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s performance as the character—by turns megalomaniacal, satirical, and emotionally broken—was a major highlight of the first Thor movie and The Avengers. Those movies just wouldn’t work without him. As I’ve pointed out to several people by now, one of the interesting things about his character arc is that, up to a certain point, he’s the good guy. For about the first half of Thor, it’s easy to believe (if you ignore the film’s marketing) that Loki’s doing the right thing. Thor would obviously make a horrible king, and Loki (as seemingly the only person in Asgard other than Odin who can think more than ten seconds ahead) would at least be an okay one until he gets emotionally screwed up by finding out he’s secretly blue. Of course, then he does get emotionally screwed up, and the result is the spectacular downward spiral that ends with his defeat in The Avengers. But we’re with him that whole way, at least a little bit, because he’s made us love him before he went bad.

Well, if you were looking for more of Loki’s character arc, you’re in luck. This movie starts by wrecking him completely, and then follows him as he tries to claw himself a few inches out of the darkness. I won’t spoil whether he makes it, but it’s entertaining as hell to watch him scrabble. Also, he gets almost every genuinely witty line in the movie. His dialogue is one long string of snarkasm. Even his serious bits are better than anyone else’s. (Hint: Watch for broken furniture.) Massive kudos to whoever was steering his character this time around; you took someone who wasn’t supposed to be a lead and made his story way more interesting than the main film.

2. Thor is still a goofball. I’m not going to lie. I love anything that makes Thor look like an idiot on Earth. Whether he’s smashing coffee cups or getting confused by flying monkeys, the big fish is a lot easier to take when he’s out of water. Well, he’s a goofball again here, even though most of the action takes place off earth. He hangs his hammer on an apparently worthy coatrack; that’s all you need to know.

3. Heimdall is a badass.
Heimdall, memorably played by Idris Elba, got short shrift in the first Thor movie, what with getting turned into a guardsicle. This movie shows why he’s still got his job. And it is glorious. That’s all I’m going to say.

4. Frigga!
Much as I enjoyed the character of Jane Foster in the first Thor movie, I did feel a little cheated that Frigga practically wasn’t in it, except for an occasional eyeroll. The movie was a story about two brothers competing for their father’s approval. There is no way a mom is not getting involved in that conflict somehow. Well, this movie puts Frigga into a much more central role, and her scenes are some of the film’s best. She tries to help Loki deal with the consequences of, y’know, going evil. She handles the obligatory meet-your-son’s-mortal-girlfriend scene with queenly grace. She talks back to Odin with an easy familiarity that sums up their whole marriage beautifully. And she even gets a fairly badass fight scene. Again, I could spoil here, but I won’t. I’m mildly disappointed in the way her character ends up, but since the quality of the movie goes up for every scene she’s in, I’m very glad she’s there.

5. Darcy?
I’m of two minds here. Jane’s intern, Darcy, was pretty much a flat comic sidekick in the first movie. In this one, with Jane starting out an emotional wreck because of Lack of Boyfriend Disease (see the notes on Jane below), Darcy is very much in charge of the whole science thing … and it turns out she’s good at it. Here we get to see Darcy competent, mostly in control, and still quite funny. She’s still a bit too fluffy and comic-sidekicky for my taste, but she’s a lot better. And while Jane is pining for Thor and Thor is being clueless and large objects are falling out of the sky and smashing into London, it’s nice that Darcy is keeping the plot running.


1. Where’s Jane?
Seriously. Everything I said about Jane in the first movie? How she got her own character arc and seemed to have something to do in the story? All that’s gone here. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the entire main plot revolves around Jane getting infected with evilness and everyone else freaking out about it. And she just stands there, pining for Thor and being mostly silent. Her most active, interesting moment is arguably the bit right before she hides behind a pillar. Yeah, we get that she’s been taken to Asgard and she’s wowed by everything, but at a certain point you’ve got to adjust and take an active role in your own life. If you’re dying of evil magic-stuff and you’re a freaking scientist, you could do some research on how to not die of evil magic-stuff. Maybe perform some experiments. Or, hey, call Odin on some of his obvious bullshit, of which there’s plenty. But getting infected by evilness seems to completely sap Jane’s free will, to say nothing of her personality. Natalie Portman’s dress is more interesting than she is. I am Very Disappointed, Marvel.

Pantslessness not shown for your safety.
2. Put some pants on.
Poor, poor Stellan Skarsgard. You were the token sane guy in the first movie and the person we worried about most in The Avengers. Now you’re supposed to be crazy because Loki’s been inside your brain, and we totally get that. But did the writers have to play you for straight slapstick? It was funny once to see you running around Stonehenge naked, carrying mysterious scientific equipment, but there was no need to replay the footage over and over. And there was definitely no need, once you went off your obviously crazy-making meds, for you to refuse to wear pants. You bluffed Phil Coulson once, and you teamed up with the Black Widow. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I am embarrassed for you, token authority figure. Please put some pants on.

3. Poor Christopher Eccleston.
All my sympathy for Stellan Skarsgard goes up an order of magnitude for Christopher Eccleston. Whoever cast him as Malekith did him no favors. I’m going to wave my Doctor Who flag here, and risk getting strangled by the David Tennant and Matt Smith fans to say that I actually liked seeing Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. He was the first Doctor I genuinely enjoyed, and he had a dark and dangerous edge that was never quite replicated in later incarnations. More importantly, though, Eccleston is an actor who knows how to use his instrument very, very well. His versatile rubber-face and his expressive voice are two of his greatest assets. He could do more with a look and a twist of his accent than the entire Who effects budget all at once. So who the hell thought it was a good idea to weigh him down with heavy facial prosthetics and make him speak a made-up language through a digital voice changer? He didn’t have a great script to start with—we honestly have no idea why we should care about his quest to return the universe to primordial darkness—but I can’t escape the feeling that Eccleston could have turned Malekith into something much more than a cardboard villain if the effects guys and the makeup department had just let him do what he does. You gave him pointy ears, guys—can’t he move them, just once? It’s a big mistake to force your main villain to get lost inside his costume, but that’s just what happened here. Mr. Eccleston, you got shafted, and I am angry on your behalf.

Yes, another face shot. REASONS.
4. Hello AGAIN, Loki.
This one’s brief. As stated above, I love the character of Loki. But even I think there was too much Loki in this movie. He didn’t need quite so many zingers. He didn’t need quite so much screen time. Seriously, there could have been a real movie going on around him, you know? It’s not his fault that it didn’t show up. And it looks like he was supposed to be a subplot, so he really should not have been allowed (or possibly forced) to take over the film like he did. He was only able to do that because there was so little in the way of compelling story going on elsewhere, and his own arc was not quite strong enough to carry the film on its own. Thor: The Dark World tried to turn its B plot into its A without letting the B grow into the role. Either let Loki be a strong supporting player or give him his own movie. Which brings me to …

See, now it's appropriate.
5. Behold the Frankenmovie.
I don’t know whose movie this is supposed to be. If it’s Malekith’s, he should’ve been allowed to talk. If it’s Thor’s, he should’ve had a real problem to solve (Malekith is not a problem because he’s almost not there). If it’s Loki’s, well, you’ve heard enough about that. It can’t be Jane’s because she doesn’t do anything. This whole movie feels like several very different comic-book storylines, of widely varying quality, thrown into a blender and set on “big chunks”. The result is a movie that feels … well, lumpy. Uneven. Sort of smooshed together in a way that doesn’t really work that well. There are some good parts, but they’re all parts of different movies. Honestly, the last scene would have made a better premise for a film than anything that came before it (and that last scene is why I’ll be showing up for the third movie, so good job there, marketers). I fully expect the “all Loki version” to show up on the internet any day now, and it will be an improvement.

What did you guys think of the movie? Let me know in the comments, and label spoilers, if you can …

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