Thor: The Dark World (2013) – The 8th Marvel Cinematic Universe Film – Directed by Alan Taylor – Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo, Alice Krige, Chris O’Dowd, Benicio del Toro, Ophelia Lovibond, Jonathan Howard, Tony Curran, Clive Russell, Chris Evans, and Stan Lee.
The excellent THOR: THE DARK WORLD could easily be titled, THOR: THE DARK BROTHER THAT YOU REALLY CAME TO SEE.
But let’s not be too hasty. The rise of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki as perhaps the second biggest star to emerge from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (after Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark) has done a bit of disservice to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. As fantastic as Hiddleston is, and while he dominates practically every scene he’s in, I don’t think there’s anything Hemsworth is doing wrong, nor anything that he could be doing better, to make Thor any more compelling than he is.
I’m inclined to give Hemsworth (and the filmmakers) full credit for recognizing that a restrained Hemsworth and Thor work best in these films. During my various reviews and reactions to AVENGERS, I noted that the Hulk emerged as the third member of the Big Three Avengers, and that for non-comics fans, it must have certainly felt like Thor was less of an Avenger than the Hulk. I admit that bothered me to some degree.
Walt Simonson’s run on Thor is my favorite comics run of all time. As a kid, I devoured each issue and fell in love with not only Simsonson’s art but his writing, as well. There probably isn’t another writer that’s had a bigger influence on my own writing than Simonson, but over time I’ve come to realize that the selling point of his Thor run, for me, wasn’t as much Thor as it was the entire Asgardian backdrop: Thor, yes, but also Baldur and Sif and Amora and the Warriors Three and Odin and Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder and Heimdall and Karnilla and Lorelei and the Valkyrie and on an on and, yes, of course, even Loki.
The same thing applies to the big screen. Smartly, Kevin Feige and his happy minions have cast in Hemsworth a Thor that doesn’t need to be the most interesting member of a film to be one of the most important. THE DARK WORLD illustrates this perfectly, as Thor stands as a largely stoic rock standing in the middle of a chaotic storm with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s less bombastic than others, but he’s the dependable center that allows everything else to spin wildly, because at a moment’s notice he snaps everything back into place. This is not to suggest that Thor is dull but that he’s the most internal of all the major Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes (or second, depending on how you categorize Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye; as much as I like Hawkeye, he’s yet to have either his own movie or be the main sidekick in another film). It’s not that Thor feels less than his brother, but that he internalizes it to a far greater degree.
Odin (Anthony Hopkins) keeps talking about Thor’s ascension to the throne of Asgard, but Thor is already the heavy-hearted king, finding solace only on the battlefield and in the arms of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
Jane Foster continues to be the weak link in the THOR movies. As bright as she is, Natalie Portman plays the astrophysicist with this sporadic edge of ditzy desperation that drives me insane. Jane is an incredibly smart woman who thinks she’s in a bubbly romantic comedy, at times, where it’s her duty to demonstrate that being in love means you have to act like a giggly schoolgirl. It’s been two years since Thor disappeared on her (though not on Earth, as she’s well aware that he came back down to fight the Chitauri in the Battle of New York) and Jane is still so hung up on him that she can’t even manage to get through a date with a very understanding and likable Richard (Chris O’Dowd) without acting like she’s left her brain back in her apartment.
Once Thor returns to her (only after she’s been infected with the Aether, a powerful substance that was once used as a weapon by Malekith, a dark elf), she slaps him in the face and then largely wakes up. For the rest of the film, she manages to impress the Asgardian physician Eir (Alice Krige), get mouthy with against Odin, be respectable to Frigga (Rene Russo), punch Loki in the face, and then help save the world by turning knobs on the most advanced looking Etch-a-Sketch you’re likely to see.
Then Thor leaves and she’s making sad eyes at her cereal, again.
It’s incredibly frustrating. As an actress, Natalie Portman has been saddled with some truly horrific love interests: the dude who left her pregnant in a Walmart in Where the Heart Is, a genocidal mama’s boy in the Star Wars universe, a scheming, feathered understudy in the The Black Swan, a lovestruck booty call in No Strings Attached, and a medieval Danny McBride in Your Highness. She was in two movies titled for the “Other Woman”: in The Other Boleyn Girl she was the betrayed and in The Other Woman she was the betrayer.
And *shudder* Zach Braff.
She’s not had successful on-screen romantic couplings, is what I’m saying, and maybe at this point she’s got Cinematic Relationship PTSD. Or maybe Jane Foster is the producer’s blind spot in the MCU and they think the mopey cereal eater brings balance to the character. There isn’t another character in any of the MCU movies that feels more out of place than Jane Foster, though, when she’s not in the presence of Thor.
It would be relatively easy for Marvel to have just tossed Loki into the movie for Hiddleston to do more of what he does, but to the studio’s credit, Marvel is continuing to push their returning villains in new directions, as well. Continuing from AVENGERS, Loki is brought before Odin to receive his punishment and an irritated All Father condemns him to the dungeons. (Which, to be fair, are the nicest dungeons I’ve ever seen.) THE DARK WORLD does an excellent job at taking a straightforward concept – one brother wants the throne and the other doesn’t – and using it to infuse and inform each character. Understanding that Loki wants the throne of Asgard (or Midgard) above all else gives everything he does an edge. Even when you can trust him, you can’t trust him. As he tells Thor, who has been betrayed far too many times to ever fully believe Loki has changed, “Trust my rage.”
As I discussed in my review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, Thor bears the weight of Loki’s actions in AVENGERS. After a prologue that establishes Malekith (Christoper Eccleston), Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and the ancient war between the Dark Elves and the Asgardians that introduces us to the Aether, we see Thor, Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three – Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – cleaning up some baddies from Vanaheim.
It’s telling that as Loki is at his most miserable in the dungeons, Thor is at his happiest in the entire film here in Vanaheim. While he’s happy to see Jane, of course, he’s also concerned about her being infested with the Aether. Here on the field of battle, however, he’s joyous, happy to be in the company of his companions. Right from the start, the film is demonstrating why Loki is, as Thor will admit at the end of the film, better suited to be king than he will ever be.
Victory brings no joy to Thor; as his companions celebrate, he rebuffs their partying, he rebuffs Sif’s invitation for a private drink, and visits Heimdall (Idris Elba) at his station. It’s fitting that the one person Thor seeks out is the other loneliest man on Asgard. When Heimdall tells Thor that he can no longer see Jane, it’s off to Earth to kick off the film’s main plot.
Thor brings Jane back to Asgard, which brings Malekith and the Dark Elves to the Golden Realm for battle. Down in the dungeon, Algrim is transformed fully into Kurse, who’s bad-ass enough to break out of his cell and start a prison revolt. Though he leaves Loki in his cell, the adopted son of Odin and Frigga directs Kurse to a more direct path to Odin. By the end of the battle, Frigga is dead, Jane is still infused with the Aether, and Odin locks up Jane as he wants to close ranks while Thor wants to take Jane to Svartalfheim to lure Malekith into battle away from Asgard.
Odin refuses, Thor decides to commit treason by breaking Jane and Loki out of their rather comfortable prisons, and we’ve suddenly got ourselves a movie.
It’s not that what happens before this point is bad, but once Thor decides he needs Loki’s help (Odin has closed the Rainbow Bridge, preventing travel between the Nine Realms, and Loki knows a super secret way out), the film becomes something truly special. When Jane meets Loki, she punches him in the face, declaring, “That’s for New York.”
Thor was in New York, too, of course, and hates Loki for what he did, but he’s pragmatic enough to know he needs his adopted brother’s help. There are several times in the movie where Thor is told his love for Jane is misplaced because of their differing life expectancies, and while we don’t see Thor affected by that line of reasoning, we do see the differences in age play out in subtler ways. The idea of working with Loki would surely be unthinkable to Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and the rest of the Avengers, but Thor has always had, and continues to have, a soft (if not blind) spot for his brother. When you measure time in centuries instead of years, and when you are raised as a warrior, working with one’s enemies becomes a bit easier as one’s actions are evened out by the greater expanse of time that marks your life.
Especially when that enemy is your brother.
It’s fitting that the most emotional moment in the movie comes not between Thor and Jane or Odin and Frigga, but between the adoptive brothers. When Loki sacrifices himself to save Jane is Svartalfheim, it allows Loki a redemptive moment. The beauty of Loki, however, is that it’s a ruse, and at the end of the film, after Thor speaks highly of him to Odin, we see that Odin was an illusion and instead of dying, Loki has ascended to the throne he so desperately covets.
Loki on the throne of Asgard might well be the best ending in all of the MCU films. THE DARK WORLD allows Thor his victory over Malekith and reunion with Jane, but it also allows Loki to achieve victory, too. Having redeemed Loki, the film promptly un-redeems him, setting him up for greater days ahead.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a very well-made movie. I love that it gives everyone some face time with Thor, which manages to give everyone a moment to shine. Stellan Skarsgård’s Dr. Erik Selvig continues his role as one of the quiet glues of the Avengers’ franchise and Jaimie Alexander continues to make the most of her scenes. I doubt we’ll ever get a Lady Sif and the Warriors Three movie, but where Hogun, Fandrall, and Volstagg all get one big moment to shine apiece, Sif moves through the movie in a more significant manner. Partly, this is due to the romance angle, and partly (whether Marvel would admit it publicly or not) this is surely to offer a slight rebuttal to the criticisms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe being awfully white and male, but I want to believe it’s mostly due to Jaimie Alexander’s performance.
Stevenson, Levi, and Asano are all perfectly fine as the Warriors Three, but they don’t pop on the screen like Alexander does. She manages to portray a whole range of emotions through quick facial expressions that make Sif a more well-rounded character than the others, and it was Sif who was called in to hang with the mortals on an episode of Agents of SHIELD when Lorelei got loose from her Asgardian prison. Watching all nine MCU movies, you can see how Marvel Studios will push characters and actors into playing a bigger role the more successfully they work.
Heck, they gave Clark Gregg his own “one shot” short film.
Double Heck, they gave Clark Gregg his own TV show.
I doubt a Lady Sif TV show is in the works, but I’m not going to be surprised if we see her before THOR 3, either. (THOR 3 will, I’m guessing, see Sif and Jane forced to work together to combat the Enchantress.)
In the now-expected mid-credits scene, Sif and Volstagg are seen delivering the Aether to the Collector (Benicio del Toro), offering a connection to the coming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie. With the Tesseract being held in Asgard, it’s decided having a second Infinity Stone hanging out would be a very bad idea. The question I have is who made this decision. Was it made by Odin, prior to Loki replacing him, or was it made by Loki, not wanting to risk discovery so early into his time on the throne?
The ending scene gives us Mopey Cereal Jane (blah) but also a giant Jotunheim creature that had passed between worlds during the Convergence that brought all nine realms into alignment. Seemingly forgotten, the giant creature bounds through London, chasing a flock of birds.
I can only hope he gets his own Marvel One Shot in the near future.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD is another excellent installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a long-time fan of the cosmic parts of comic book universes, it was nice to see so much time devoted to Asgard, Svartalfheim, and Vanaheim. Malekith was, unfortunately, a bit one note as a villain, but DARK WORLD more than made up for this by focusing and advancing the story of Loki. It seems a bit odd to say that the actor playing one of the Big Three is underrated, but Chris Hemsworth continues to prove his worth to the MCU franchise without chewing lots of scenery. I’m not one for making lists or declaring one great thing is better than another great thing, but I do think, in its own quiet way, the first two THOR films are more consistently excellent than either the Iron Man or Captain America solo films.
THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
6a. AVENGERS REACTIONS
THE AVENGERS: THE HAWKEYE REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE AGENT COULSON REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE BLACK WIDOW REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE NICK FURY REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE MARIA HILL REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CAPTAIN AMERICA REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CHITAURI/THANOS REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE HULK REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE THOR REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE LOKI REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE IRON MAN REACTION