It’s two steps forward and one step back for the custodians of the Marvel Universe. If THE AVENGERS took a rudimentary storyline — bad guy wants to rule the universe — and created something fleet, exciting, and witty, THOR: THE DARK WORLD takes the same outline — with Chris Hemsworth as the hammer swinging god going up against a universe-destroying Christopher Eccleston – and pretty much stops there. With some nice production design, good special effects, and Tom Hiddleston once again giving the proceedings a much-needed shot in the arm as the sardonic Loki, the film is a serviceable example of the superhero movie, but not much more.
Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons sit down to discuss the film, spotlighting the stuff that makes it stand out, for good or ill. Then, Dan gives his capsule thoughts on the Lynchian, dark coming-of-age fantasy, ANIMALS, and Steve talks about the career-spanning documentary, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN. Plus: What’s coming to theaters this weekend.
Is this the most convenient superhero movie ever?
Thor: The Dark World is not the worst superhero movie ever made, but it may be the most convenient. How convenient is it? Well, let us enumerate:
- Thor (Chris Hemsworth) wields a magical hammer that is powerful enough to wipe out legions of enemies when necessary but not quite powerful enough to defeat the villainous elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) except after a protracted climax. Somewhat convenient for the screenwriter.
- The “aether” – the evil force used by the villain – is not powerful enough to protect the villainous elves from an onslaught in the prologue, but it is devilishly hard to defeat in the third act. Rather convenient for the screenwriter.
- After capturing the aether in the prologue, the soldiers of Asgard supposedly hide it in a place where it will never be found, but it turns out that to find it, all you have to do is look. In fact, Thor’s mortal girlfriend and all-round great scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is able to find it without even looking for it. Very convenient for the screenwriter.
- Unhinged scientist Erik Selvig has some sci-fi gizmos that he claims can stop the negative effects of the alignment of worlds that is the plot’s MacGuffin. Extremely convenient for the screenwriter.
- Perhaps sensing that #4 is too convenient, the screenwriter later has Selvig doubt his equipement will work: it was designed to detect gravitational anomalies, not create them, he abruptly opines at a crucial moment. In spite of this, Jane is able to manipulate the effects – zaping elves out of our world and into one of those aligned with Earth – by spinning a dial on a little black electronic box that looks like something you could buy at Radio Shack. This is convenience taken to the ultimate power.
Is THOR: THE DARK WORLD entertaining enough to make you suspend disbelief and overlook this convenience? Well, it ups the ante on the de rigueur superhero plot: the film is about the end of not only this world but the entire universe. Pretty exciting, huh?
Well, no. Not unless you think the sight of a long-haired blonde guy swinging a slightly ridiculous hammer is exciting. Helmsworth is an engaging on-screen presence, but Thor is a bit of a second-rate superhero. He underwent his entire character arc in THOR (from irresponsible lout to noble warrior), which leaves little left for the actor to do with the character this time, except express some mixed feelings about ascending to his father’s throne. (Because swinging a hammer on the battlefield is suitable for a superhero; sitting on a throne is not.)
But wait, there is depth of character in this movie. For instance, Thor’s sneering brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is not only sardonic, smug, and sinister; he is also very annoying. Selvig isn’t just smart; he’s crazy (apparently the aftereffect of his encounter with Loki in THE AVENGERS, but really just to give Stellan Skarsgard something to play). And Jane is not just beautiful but…well, smart – we know this, because she can spin that dial on the Radio Shack device.
And not only is their depth; there is also comic relief, thanks to the quirky supporting characters. The question: What does “comic relief” mean? Is it:
- Humor used to diffuse possible laughter at the wrong moment, by giving viewers the “right” moment to laugh.
- An attempt to be funny, that isn’t.
If you picked Answer #2, you probably just got through watching THOR: THE DARK WORLD.
The film’s few good moments revolve around the relatively low-key family drama. The plot contrives to get Thor and Loki working side-by-side after (SPOILER) their mother (Rene Russo) is killed, fueling their mutual desire for revenge. (END SPOILER). Lokis’s shtick is getting a bit worn-out by now, but his scenes with Thor actually generate some interest, as Thor admits he wishes he could trust his brother, and Loki responds, “Trust my rage.” The script carefully avoids going too far with the reconciliation, finding just the right note and bringing the narrative thread to a satisfying conclusion.
Which turns out to be a problem, because the film is not over at that point and must continue with that whole universe-in-peril thing, even after our interest in the character interaction has been satisfied. With no drama left to fuel the film, THOR: THE DARK WORLD relies on rote spectacle – which is not quite spectacular enough to sustain the movie all on its own (though the aether effects are pretty cool).
If you manage to sit all the way through the end, you will be treated to two of the worst “yes, there will be a sequel” moments in recent memory. The first is a simple “surprise” twist in which (SPOILERS) Loki turns out not to be dead, having someone replaced Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on the throne (which come to think of it, is extremely convenient, but let that pass).
The second is one of the Marvel Comic Book movies traditional post-credits (or in this case, mid-credits) sequences, in which two of Thor’s friends place the aether in the hands of a character named The Collector (a slightly over-the-top Bencio Del Toro). Now, if I were a Marvel Comics fan, I’m sure I would know who The Collector is, but you know what? I’m not, but it doesn’t matter, because I know exactly everything I need to know about the Collector, and so will you when you see the movie, which is two things:
- Thor’s comrades trust The Collector with the aether.
- Thor’s comrades should not trust The Collector with the aether.
Loki makes occasional comments about Thor’s lack of intelligence. If Thor okayed this plan, then Loki certainly seems to be right. (END SPOILERS)
Whatever its flaws, I don’t to give the impression that THOR: THE DARK WORLD is an absolute disaster. It’s not egregiously stupid; it’s simply dull. It’s loaded with special effects and action, but it’s all rather lifeless. The end-of-the-universe scenario never builds up any suspense, and Eccleston, though he strikes a menacing figure as Maleki is never given enough to do to create the towering portrait of evil that would dramatically energize Thor’s quest to defeat him. But at least the Thor-Loki narrative thread is worth unwinding. Too bad it’s twisted up with all the overblown blockbuster nonsense. At least it’s mildly intriguing to note that THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a superhero movie in which the superheroics are the least interesting element. The character interaction outshines the effects. If only the filmmakers had realized where the film’s true strength was…
Update: By the way, I forgot to mention that THOR: THE DARK WORLD is in 3D. Draw your own conclusions.
THOR THE DARK WORLD (Marvel Entertainment and Walt Disney Studios: November 8, 2013). 112 minutes. Rated PG-13. Directed by Alan Taylor. Screenplay by Christopher Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, from a story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Cast: Christ Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jamie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenon, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Alice Krige.
Probably looked good on paper. A “grown-up” retelling of Snow White, featuring the stars of THE TWILIGHT SAGA and THOR, with additional star-power in the casting of the wicked queen and the seven dwarfs and a lush, stylish mounting courtesy of the director of many, visually innovative commercials, here making his feature film debut — what could go wrong? Well, forgetting to put the term “entertaining” into the precis for SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN may have been the first problem. Ripping off concepts from far better films such as NEVERENDING STORY and TIME BANDITS for no particular reason certainly didn’t help.
Come join Cinefantastique Online‘s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they discuss how one film manages to confound not only the talents of the easily susceptible, such as headliners Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, but also such seasoned performers as Charlize Theron, Ian McShane, and Bob Hoskins. Then: Steve gives his capsule review of the satiric gore-fest PIRANHA 3DD, and Dan weighs in on the animated adventure A CAT IN PARIS. Plus: What’s coming to theaters.
There are so many ways a grand conglomeration of super heroes could turn into a car wreck (case in point: THE FANTASTIC FOUR), that we should be grateful when a film manages just to clear that bar. Fortunately, and quite happily, THE AVENGERS not only manages that base-line feat, but goes far beyond it, becoming a rare example of a top-notch comic book movie. Granted, the team-up of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), aided and abetted by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), doesn’t boast much more than a bare-essentials plot — demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to take over the Earth ‘cuz… well, just ‘cuz — but under the direction of Joss Whedon, the proceedings offer enough kick-ass action and delicious character moments that plot barely matters.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they break down the first official blockbuster of summer 2012 to find out what makes it pop and where it fizzles. Also: What’s coming to theaters.
Joss Whedon has just been the busy, busy little bee lately, hasn’t he? He was one of the producers of the Morgan Spurlock documentary COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE last week; he’s the director of eagerly awaited THE AVENGERS, coming up in May; and this past weekend he produced and helped co-write THE CABIN IN THE WOODS with first-time director Drew Goddard (who previously wrote CLOVERFIELD). A deconstruction of the by-now-well-known stock “slasher” horror movie, CABIN takes its clutch of cliche teenagers (played by Kristen Connolly, THOR’s Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, DOLLHOUSE’s Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams) besieged in a country cabin by a family of zombie sadists, and twists the scenario around by having it being monitored and manipulated by a bunch of shirt-sleeve, nine-to-fivers (including Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, and Bradley Whitford), for mysterious ends.
Join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they critique the critique, looking into what Goddard and Whedon bring to the (torture) table above and beyond a replication of the form, how the film’s mythology holds up under close scrutiny, and whether the SCREAM franchise has anything to worry about. Then, the gang takes a capsule look at the outer space prison riot film LOCKOUT. Plus: What’s coming in theaters.
Most Mother’s Days, loving children show their gratitude with flowers and breakfast in bed. This Mother’s Day, the kids had the option of taking Mom to the multiplex, where she could drool over the handsomely chiseled Thor in the newest, big-screen adventure out of the Marvel stable. Is THOR — directed by Kenneth Branagh, starring Chris Hemsworth as the mighty-thewed (thewed?) God of Thunder, Natalie Portman as his potential love-interest, and Anthony Hopkins as Big Daddy Odin, with a special guest appearance by Gort’s younger, more ambitious brother — the film that will bring a Shakespearean gravitas to comic book drama, or is it just so much table setting for the impending THE AVENGERS movie? Join The Chronic Rift’s John Drew and Cinefantastique Online’s Dan Persons as they discuss the movie behind the myth.
Hawkeye (Jeremey Renner) seems to be perched in a bucket lift aiming at Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is this clip from the upcoming THOR.
The video originally came from IGN, but their code doesn’t seem to like our software, so this is via Fancomic’s YuuTube page.
THOR hit the screen in standard and post-rendered 3D on May 6th from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it also stars Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, and Idris Elba.
Via Marvel’s YouTube page comes this new THOR clip, in which an angry god of thunder gets a taste of a little man-made lightning.
Via Marvel’s YouTube pages comes this new theatrical trailer for THOR.
And I’ve gotta admit — it’s a mighty preview for the god of thunder.
THOR is set to strike like lighting in theaters May 6th, 2011.
Until versions that fit our coding, and without added comercials are available, here’s the CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and THOR Super Bowl spots, via Yahoo Movies.
The first real look at CAPTAIN AMERICA is pretty impressive, with seamless appearing FX putting Chris Evan’s head on a shorter, frail-looking body.
The THOR footage is fun, too— giving us the “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor” voice-over as Chris Hemsworth locates Mjolnar, and a brief shot of Thor in his winged battle helmet.
Videos may play with or without commericals.