The God of Thunder returns in this sequel that is bigger and better than the first movie in just about every way yet it still doesn’t quite make it into the realm of an excellent movie though, elevated by some truly exceptional acting by a host of supporting characters, it comes really, really close.
Thor: The Dark World continues the tale of the God of Thunder, two years after his encounter with the people of modern day Earth. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is searching for her missing love, leading her to discover something peculiar which unlocks a mystery thought lost for thousands of years. You see, Thor’s grandfather fought an epic battle against the Dark Elves, led by Malekith, who sought to use an ancient weapon called the Ether to plunge creation into darkness. In the end, however, the Asgardians were victorious and believed they wiped out the entire race of Dark Elves and, unable to destroy the weapon, buried it far away in the hopes it would never be found. As with most weapons thought lost, this one was again found.
Now, we’ve already hit upon one of the weak points of the movie. You see, that’s a lot of important backstory that’s needed to establish the events of the current movie and, like most movies, Thor: The Dark World resorts to exposition with periodic flashback scenes to inform the audience. Exposition of this sort is rarely a good thing for a variety of reasons, one of which is it can totally rob a movie of any sense of pacing. Where the movie was trotting along nicely, depicting Thor and his friends battling foes on the diverse worlds of the Asgardian realms, it suddenly slows to a crawl as the characters inform the audience of the backstory. A few movies have managed this literary necessity successfully. Thor: The Dark Worlds is not one of them. While the backstory is interesting and the scenes depicted are enjoyable, the pacing falls dead during this portion of the movie and it’s largely this which prevents me from calling Thor 2 a great movie. Thankfully, however, once the backstory is laid out, the movie gets running along at a nice pace.
I won’t discuss further details of the story since, well, that’s the meat of the movie and the entire reasons you’ll be going to the theater to see it. Most of the important details, however, I’m sure you can predict – Thor isn’t a shocking or surprising movie. I will, however, discuss a couple key things that really make the movie enjoyable.
Star Wars Meets The Hobbit
While Thor does a fantastic job of depicting Asgard, I found The Dark World made the interesting choice of depicting Asgard as a bizarre love child of Star Wars meets The Hobbit. Characters run around fighting in full plate armour inspired by the designs of the brilliant Jack Kirby, swing swords and maces and axes and then they hop into flying ships and get into dog fights over the city while anti-aircraft guns fire upon enemy ships.
At first it caused me to cock my head in bewilderment but I reminded myself that this isn’t Midgard – this is Asgard. Then I reminded myself, as Arthur C. Clarke said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Once I accepted that, the high fantasy space opera setting of Asgard made sense. While this depiction may not have matched what I would have intuitively done if given control of things, they were at least consistent in their depiction of the world they established and, honestly, it was fun, and that’s the point. So, bring on the sword wielding fighter jocks!
I think that Thor: The Dark World, deserves incredibly high praise for their depiction of women who are, top to bottom, strong, confident, and empowered. We could start with Rene Russo’s fantastic Frigga, mother of Thor and wife of Odin. If that alone doesn’t tell you that this is not a woman who should be taken lightly, then her encounter with Malekith most certainly will make it crystal clear that this queen of Asgard was not just a pretty damsel on the arm of a mighty king. She reminds you that the Asgardian mythology is the one created by the norse vikings, a society who’s women were just as capable in the arts of war as their men since they were the ones entrusted to protect the homes when the men went off raiding. Frigga is a kind, loving, compassionate warrior goddess. She exhibits the feminine and motherly traits we normally associate with a woman while backing it up with confidence and ability. She is truly someone who any woman would look up to as a role model.
Which, nicely, leads us to Sif, the next generation of warrior goddesses. Jaimie Alexander’s Sif is proof that a Wonder Woman movie could work. You’re almost certainly going to hear this idea over the next little while but, seriously, Hollywood needs to contact Jaimie and make a Wonder Woman movie happen. She’s bold and beautiful (enough so as to make Jane Foster, portrayed by the exquisitely beautiful Natalie Portman, feel uncomfortable) and an equal to any man in battle. There is a belief in Hollywood that a Wonder Woman movie wouldn’t be successful but I believe that to be a cowardly copout. Back the movie with solid writing by people who understand the character and what makes a strong female character; cast it with a woman who radiates beauty and strength, compassion and confidence and you’ll be well on your way to a hugely successful movie that will appeal to men and women.
(Mild spoiler alert: some vague references to things you may not want revealed if you haven’t seen the movie to follow. I won’t reveal anything that will ruin the movie but, you have been warned.)
But what about Jane Foster who, for much of the movie, is cast in the role of damsel in distress? Well, let’s remember, she’s a mere mortal wrapped up in the machinations of gods. Compared to them, she is in need of saving but, in the end, Jane plays a significant key role in Malekith’s defeat. Would Thor and his mighty strength have been enough to win the day on his own? Probably not. He needed Jane Foster’s help in the final battle to help tip the scales towards victory.
Last, but not least, is Darcy Lewis, portrayed by Kat Dennings. Simply put, look at her as she kisses Ian Boothby, played by Jonathon Howard, to see who’s the one in charge.
Strong women, all. In a movie full of strong, powerful, mighty men, Thor makes certain to balance this with a cast of equally strong and capable women.
The women are not the only ones to shine in supporting roles in the movie. Everyone does an exceptional job in backing Chris Hemsworth’s Thor but two deserve special recognition. First is Idris Elba’s Heimdall, who is given a bigger roll in the second movie, largely due to Hollywood recognizing that Idris deserves more screen time. Over the last little bit, Idris has made the most of the opportunities that have come his way, such as his fantastic role in Pacific Rim to his portrayal of Nelson Mandella, Idris is being noticed by Hollywood and movie fans alike. He makes the most of his time in The Dark World, as well. I expect to see even more of Heimdall in a third Thor movie, should it come.
And then there’s Loki. Played by Tom Hiddleston, Loki pretty much steals every scene he’s in, not because he’s playing against inferior actors/characters. No, he steals every scene he’s in because Tom does such an incredibly good job portraying the trickster god. He’s just too damn awesome. He’s the perfect light hearted balance to Thor’s strong and stoic character, played to perfection by Hemsworth. Without Loki, the movie would be greatly diminished and, without Tom Hiddleston playing Loki, we wouldn’t have Loki.
I feel Chris Evans deserves an honourable mention as Captain America. I can’t say why, because that would spoil it, but it was very amusing.
There’s a great deal about Thor: The Dark World, that I enjoyed. There’s some truly excellent acting by a strong cast throughout backed by some great writing, all enhanced by exceptional visual effects and absolutely brilliant costuming. I didn’t discuss it in this review but, really, the costuming for this movie is absolutely spectacular, bringing to life the visual design ideas of Jack Kirby. All of this greatness, however, is weakend by far too much exposition utilized to set the stage for the movie’s story. Had the film navigated that issue better, I would say The Dark World was a great movie but, unfortunately, it stumbled through the exposition, breaking the pacing of the film, and thus making it just a very good film. As an addition to the growing list of excellent comic-based movies, Thor 2 is very enjoyable.
As a reminder, stay through the credits. There’s a short bit at the end of the cast credits that sets the stage for a future movie (I believe it’s either Avengers 3 or possibly the rumoured Guardians of the Galaxy movie) as well as a second short bit at the end of the crew credits.