Monday, September 8, 2014

On Thor: The Dark World

I hate this movie. I don't hate it because it's bad. It really wasn't all that terrible. It didn't even rub me the wrong way. 

I hate this movie because it had all the pieces to be really damn good ... and misstepped. 
It's sad to say, but any Marvel movie with Tom Hiddleston
is going to be successful 

Most Idiotic Review 

"It’s sad to say, but Thor: The Dark World marks Marvel’s first serious misfire." — Jack Giroux (Film School Rejects)

I don't know what context this is a serious misfire in, or at least, how this is Marvel's first. As far as I can see, it did far better than Thor at the Box Office, and between this and the two Iron Man sequels ... I'm going to stick to my guns and insist those were far shittier films. Robert Downey Jr.'s star power aside, Iron Man 2 and 3 were atrocious, as I've discussed before. Thor: The Dark World is merely disappointing. 
This scene is sadly an accurate depiction of the movie as a whole. 
Most Accurate Review

“Thor is back in another perfectly adequate Marvel movie that pleasantly killed a few hours of your time with enough cool visuals, action, and humor to keep you from wondering, 'Why does the elf man want to shoot magic Kool-Aid into the sky holes?'” — (Screen Junkies)

I feel like these guys hit the nail on the head pretty solidly. There were three parts of this film that just ... fell apart for me, Thor, the comic relief, and the bad-guy. Now that I've written those out they seem much more dire than I originally thought, but let me elaborate. Specifically, Thor's journey from ignorance to self-awareness (as my professors insist all great protagonists go on) ... isn't. It's there, certainly. We're told so, but we're never given an investment into this struggle. If anyone has a more relatable journey, it's, I hate to admit, Loki. 

The Comic Relief are far more annoying in this film, if you ask me, for the simple reason that their antics are cutaways. They're the peanut gallery, not adding to the story ... and when they are adding to the story, blessed-be, they're not that annoying. 

Lastly, the villains in this story were impossible to relate to: generic, unexplained, unsympathetic, and primarily speaking a foreign, made-up language. How exactly was the audience supposed to connect to these guys? And in a film already rocking fan-favorite, Loki, it really seems like these guys got seriously shortchanged. 

What I Say

Plot — Alright, let's see what we have. There is a mystical McGuffin of great and terrible power, a group that wants to control/dominate/destroy the universe with it, and a lone hero (and his ragtag friends) who are the only ones capable of stopping it. And speaking of the McGuffin, I really love how it's a liquid Infinity Stone. I'm not anal enough to let that bother me, I just find it rather funny. 

Sidenote, Sif deserves way more development and screentime
especially compared to Kat Dennings. 
Yep. It's a Marvel film, alright. The problem here isn't so much in the plot as the pacing. We open with a prologue with narration. I forgive this in films like Lord of the Rings, simply because there was so much damn exposition to fit into the films, it seemed a necessity. Also, one of the highly memorable quotes from a highly memorable trilogy was in the opening prologue, so I can also forgive them for doing it damn well (for those unsure, I'm referring to the, "history became legend legend became myth and that things that should not be forgotten are lost," line). Here, though, it just seems lazy, especially when the same information is delivered numerous times throughout the film. 

They keep hammering the notion of the 'Convergence' into our heads. I know they talk about the rule of threes. I know they talk about the rule of threes. I know they talk about the rule of threes. YOU SEE HOW ANNOYING IT IS? It's not really that foreign a concept. "Once every X millennia the Y realms align and their borders become Play-do." We didn't need that hammered into our heads via 2x4 injection to the cranium.

My other major complaint with the pacing is the film's inability to get serious. Bare with me on this one for a moment. SPOILER ALERT 

We have a really touching sacrifice of Thor's mother, Frigga, to save Jane Foster from Malaketh. We see quite a beautiful funeral scene. It's one of my favorite moments of the film, and right as it hooked me with what I considered pretty compelling drama, we cut to Erik Selvig spouting comedic exposition to a psychiatric ward that includes Stan Lee's goddamn cameo. It killed the mood entirely, and it struck me that almost every time the film reached out and did something moving, it skirted away from it, like it was terrified of scaring away their demographic. 

Character — Thor is the big one (no surprise) so I'll start there. It is hinted that this Norse god is struggling with his duty of becoming King of Asgard, and his love for Jane Foster on Earth. Maybe it's because I'm a dried up old cynic who buried the last remnants of my romanticism in the backyard ... but this is not a storyline that the audience can get invested in. This might be for several reasons. It's not written well, or it's just not that engaging in and of itself. I felt like the film stumbled onto an arc for Thor in that his conflict isn't with being with Jane vs Ruling Asgard, so much as, Thor is a guardian, a warrior, a protector, more than a sovereign ruler. His place, where he feels most comfortable, is wading into the fray, not watching from afar. I thought the film would play with this more ... but it doesn't. It threw it into a few lines and then let it sit. 

Jane Foster continues to be a bland character, although I'm of the opinion that Natalie Portman is doing what she can with what she has. She certainly has more chemistry with Hemsworth than she did with Hayden Christensen. I feel like Marvel, while having a ball, has a limited understanding of what strong female characters can be. It makes me miss the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Tara, Anya etc (and I have to mention Fred from Angel). Whedon's strength isn't just in crafting female characters of notable strength, but they're all different. Marvel's female characters ... like their villains, are starting to become threadbare after so much media attention. 

Then again, I've been single for the past five years.
I might not know chemistry if it bit me in the ass.
Malekith is probably the worst villain Marvel has delivered. It's a real shame because, as usual, Marvel casts some really heavy-hitting talent. In this case, Doctor Who's Christopher Eccleston. As a character, this is what we know about the Dark Elves, of which Malekith is the most ruthless ruler. They come from before the universe. They want the universe to go back to the dark. Sure this flies in the face of 90% of layman physics I'm aware of, but we'll ignore that. So that's what we're given. That's it. There's also a McGuffin called the Aether that can turn any matter it touches into anti-matter. Sure we never actually see it do this, but that's what we're told (in voice-over narration, no less). 

Oh, and I guess I have to talk about Loki or I'd get shivved by the Tumblr Girls (they're out there ... watching, waiting). Loki is probably at his best in this film. In Thor he was weak and mildly whiny. In Avengers ... I honestly just felt sorry for him, since he was so clearly out of his own league. This film, he shined, and many people pointed out the relationship between Thor and Loki was far more engaging than the supposed romance (and slash fiction writers rejoiced). That said, I wished they had actually killed him off, just like I wish they're killed Nick Fury in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Like Moffat's seasons of Doctor Who, there's an impending vacuum of threat. The villains are consistently laughable and their heroes are unkillable. 

The Warriors Three and the Comic Relief return in this movie. One set has a distinct advantage over the other in terms of screentime, and I'll be honest, I was less than thrilled with the film's choice. I'm sorry, but the votes are in, and the comic relief in these films ... they're not funny. They're tonally out of place and obnoxious. Why? Every time they start doing their bit, the plot stops. Merry and Pippin might have been comic relief, but they moved the damn story along while they made jokes, or at least their jokes were interspersed enough not to feel like they were highhandedly dragging the movie into the pits of hell. 
Last I'll mention Odin. I love Anthony Hopkins ... I think. It's been a long while since I've seen him in any roll that struck me as anything other than tired. Maybe that's the idea behind Odin, but all I get from him is that this guy really wants to retire, and neither or his son's will oblige him the opportunity to spend the rest of his days on a beach in Cabo. 

Spectacle — The film is a little more rugged than the previous installment. Asgard feels less like a classic Shakespeare set as a lived-in world. It's pretty clear this is the influence Alan Taylor had in taking over the direction from Kenneth Branagh. Since it's built on the skeleton of the previous film's design, I do personally prefer this film's depiction, but it's just personal taste. I was more than a little annoyed by how easily invaded Asgard was though. For the most powerful race in the Nine Realms, the Dark Elves pretty solidly kicked their asses. I'm not even sure why they retreated at all, except for dramatic purposes. It was pretty well shown that the Asgardian forces posed about as much a threat as the Bulk and Skull from Power Rangers. 

The fight scenes are ... less visceral than you'd think a film about a god wielding a magic hammer would be. 

The final fight does have a fun concept and some colorful visuals, but I was so detached from the characters by that point, I just couldn't get invested. The action scenes were really impersonal, is what I'm getting at. They are well choreographed and stylish, but there's no heart to them. This might just be me, but the only moments in the film that warranted as legit ass-kicking, the deaths of two major characters, were greeted by more mundane and tradition venues of drama. That said, when you kill off two of the people closest to the God of Thunder, one might expect a more intense emotional outburst of wanton destruction. Butts should be liberally kicked. 

And what's my takeaway from all this? Well, as I said at the beginning of the review, it's just sad.

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