There’s a lot to be said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), with the box office smash success of The Avengers just a few years ago. Of course there are plenty of hits and misses amongst Marvel’s line of superhero flicks, and while I am a mighty big fan of the first Thor movie, I got to say that there was something missing when it comes to its much-anticipated sequel, Thor: The Dark World.
I mean, you can have a movie with big-name actors like Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth, and yes, the promised return of Tom Hiddleston (much to the delight/ire of the fandom), but fan favorites alone definitely aren’t enough to carry a film that’s trying too hard to stay in the world of the dark and gritty.
Overall, the critical reaction to Dark World has been, interestingly, mixed. While people seem to love to bash on Thor’s Shakespearean overdramatics, there are some good points and certainly some bad that keep the general consensus at: it’s not a bad superhero film, per se.
It’s got a catchy enough plot, in the kind of formulaic need-to-stop-the-end-of-the-world-from-exploding kind of way: an ancient threat–the Dark Elves–led by Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston) emerge once again to try to plunge the world into eternal darkness. Thor is then confronted with a foe who hits too close to home–threatening the lives of his lover, Jane Foster, and those he holds most dear on Asgard. To defeat Malekith, he must force himself to trust a known enemy as well as ultimately choose between his duty to his home realm or to his love who may prove to be a big liability in his task to protect the nine realms.
So yeah, we’ve got a standard action-fantasy formula here. We’ve got our big bad villain, our love interest, our opportunity for personal inner turmoil and angst, and plenty of humor. I think one of the strong points of Dark World is that it follows, rather faithfully, in the steps of its predecessor to alleviate the overdramatic with a healthy dose of good old one-liners and gag asides. Actually, that was one of my biggest fears for this movie based on its trailers, that this movie would be the MCU’s attempt at going dark and gritty.
Thankfully, it’s not. If you loved the snark from Thor, there’s still plenty to go around in Dark World. From the sarcastic quips and the legit chemistry and (literal) punchlines shared between Loki and Thor, to Kat Denning’s Darcy cleverly breaking tension, the movie makes a point to not paint a world with purple angsty prose. Many critics have remarked that Hiddleston and Hemsworth really steal the show with their snipes, as well as their
short-lived teamwork; actually, probably one of Dark World’s greatest benefits is the fact that they are fortunate enough to have a cast that jives together. This leads to unforced jokes, which leads to refreshing bouts of laughter in the midst of space-viking-oh-no-I’m-a-god-she’s-a-human angst.
Another great and wonderful thing that Dark World has tried to improve on was its visual affects. While I do miss the golden, opulent splendor of our first glimpse of Asgard in Thor, this time it definitely feels less CG-green screen with a cool space background this time around. We actually get quite a glimpse into space-viking culture with plenty of opportunities for extras in flowing robes and armor to mill about, again emphasizing that these are actual separate worlds inhabited and populated by actual people (or well, people-looking aliens).
And when it comes to interesting visuals, the fight choreography was pretty darn entertaining. Also, bonus points for letting our human co-stars get some time to shine and take on the bad guys; however, there’s always something satisfying about watching Thor take on hordes and swat them about like flies.
But with all of these great little components that make parts of Dark World a joy to watch… I feel that it’s greatest weakness actually is the overarching “threat”, the main reason we have a problem in the first place: Malekith. The
Ninth Doctor and his team of Cybermen Malekith and his legion of Dark Elves want to plunge the world in “darkness”–and that’s like, about it. We’re given no motivation for Malekith’s desire for “darkness”; heck we don’t even know exactly why “darkness” is bad — it just is. We know he’s a threat of some kind, but we don’t actually feel that threat.
Sure he looks mean, but after some pretty inventive MCU villains that are actually built with purpose and personality–Malekith falls pretty flat. And in the wake of characters like Iron Man 3‘s Aldrich Killian, who was more than a match for Tony Stark as an intelligent schemer and bitter soul, Malekith is a flimsy cardboard stock villain who has to stir up trouble just because. His monologues reveal absolutely nothing about him, save his glower, and again, all that talk about “darkness” does little to affect us or cause much concern. Maybe it doesn’t help that his goons are kind of easily overpowered, too, but the main thing that irks me about Malekith is that he lacks the substance that could make a good villain worth watching.
So while it’s pretty darn satisfactory for the audience when Thor prevails against our otherwise blah villain, it’s also pretty sad when the final fight is won over so easily. We’re built up and told over, and over, and over again that the “darkness” is bad–but hey it’s cool, cause he goes down in about three minutes. Yay! (I guess) After all that nicely planned fight choreography, Malekith’s ultimate defeat and “resolution” just leaves me cold–especially in light of the other, richer interactions between the characters when we’re not dealing with our movie’s main “big bad”.
When the subplots overshadow the main-plot and are actually more interesting is a pretty telling sign that Malekith could have used more work to be more of a threatening, looming presence instead of an easily put-down pest.
Lack of a coherent/well-planned villain aside, the Dark World is a pretty okay movie in terms of following a superhero action-fantasy formula. It definitely is NOT one of the MCU’s strongest movies in my humble opinion, and as much as the first Thor seems to be debated on its quality, I find that Thor was stronger in that it had a much more cohesive story. It wasn’t just a hodgepodge mix of “good” points. Unlike Dark World, Thor had a strong, interesting focus: the political struggles and collapse of a royal family.
Arguably, I suppose Dark World is following in the same way as Thor’s family life is collapsing thanks to the efforts of Malekith to uh, plunge everything in darkness–but in between all the world-hopping, Thor-Loki chemistry, bits of golden humor and brawling, it ends up being those little moments that make a big impact, instead of the overarching plot that should be at the forefront.
If you’re a Thor fan, you’ll probably find something enjoyable about Dark World, but while there’s nothing technically wrong with it, I believe it’s place as one of the weakest MCU films doesn’t make it worth a trip to the theater; you really won’t be missing too much.
– The Humor: Never fear, there’s plenty of puns and slapstick–as well as a hefty dose of sarcastic wit that makes Dark World on par with its predecessor for making space-vikings not such a silly concept when the whole world is in on the joke.
– The Action: Delivering the kind of much-needed punch that is necessary for a superhero movie, Dark World won’t let you down when it comes to watching Thor and co bashing things or hurling thunderbolts about.
– The Main Plot: As I said before, there may be something to reconsider when the entanglements of the subplots seem more interesting and done with more feeling than anything that has to do with Malekith the not-so-impressive Destroyer; perhaps there’s a director’s cut somewhere that has more of those awesome subplot/character interaction scenes and less of Malekith glaring and muttering about “darkness”
– The Romantic Subplot: Okay, so maybe thanks to Thor’s Shakespearean three-day timeline, the sudden romance between mortal Jane Foster and demi-god-space-viking Thor was sweet and charming. Not so cute when we’re dragging out the whole angst of longevity and brooding over lifespans in a way that’d make Lord Elrond proud but, that’s my two cents. Also, there’s something wrong with your romantic subplot when critics are more interested in the tension between Thor and Loki than Thor and Jane–you know, just a thought.