Friday, November 8, 2013

The Cinema File #272: "Thor: The Dark World" Review

With so many more relatable superheroes still without successful film franchises, it seems a little strange to see a character like Thor catch on as much as he has. The Marvel Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man, but fans and neophytes were already well prepared with the Spiderman and X Men films, and out of all the major properties, the Norse God's high falootan adventures have never really meshed well with the rest of the more relatively grounded adaptations. The producers of the Thor films have tried to bridge the gap between their magic tinged universe and the more science based heroes by emphatically ignoring the difference between them with a sort of mushy, "its all the same but with a different name" approach, but as more and more of Thor's world and greater mythology is introduced, there's going to have to come a point where they either openly allow for the co-existence of magic and science, or render this classic character into something he simply isn't, and shouldn't be. In this critic's personal opinion, that point was sometime before production started on Thor: The Dark World.

Thor 2 finds the Norse God returning to Earth after the events of The Avengers to once again save the life of his human love interest Jane Foster when she inadvertently becomes host to an alien macguffin virus that threatens to limply propel the plot forward, such as it exists, and justify her otherwise needless inclusion into another movie. You see, this strange red floating goo is actually an all powerful weapon called the Aether that can return the world to darkness, whatever the fuck that means, and because the evil dark elf Malekith forgot he had the Casket of Ancient Winters lying around somewhere, he needs to harvest this energy to achieve his dream of, I guess blotting out the sun, or all the suns, or something. Its never really explained, and flippantly passed aside as if to suggest we in the audience who would prefer an explanation beyond what is given are dicks for wanting it so. Because Thor 2 is not about story or character or anything one might want in a movie generally speaking, its about stuff blowing up in space, with lasers and shit. Because gods don't use magic, but they have lasers.

And why can't it be magic? Why is it that in a shared universe of aliens, gamma freaks, super Nazis, and high tech mechanical armored heroes, the idea of an honest to god God from a realm where magic evolved INSTEAD OF science is so hard a pill to swallow? When Jane Foster is being scanned in an Asgardian device called a Soul Forge, did we really need a moment where she points out its similarities to theoretical physics? Couldn't they just be beyond theoretical physics? What are they gonna do when they want to pull off a Doctor Strange movie, give him the holograms from Now You See Me? And speaking of holograms, doesn't it take some of the luster out of a character like Loki when his mastery of illusion is implied to be technologically based rather than the product of arcane forces? The characters of the Thor universe should be larger than life, infused with mysticism and mystery (which is why the original Thor book was literally called Journey Into Mystery). They are interesting precisely as a contrast to the kind of superheroes with (somewhat) more plausible origins. That's why its called fantasy as opposed to science fiction. Asgard shouldn't have laser cannons, because it's not freaking Coruscant from Star Wars!

But even if none of that were the case, Thor 2 still fails just on a basic storytelling level. Nothing is advanced save for one legitimately fun set up at the very end, and most of the movie consists of one mindless CGI enhanced action sequence after another with very little at stake except the same thing that's always at stake ("the woman I love", "the fate of the world", "we gotta save that cat" etc). No character development, no real building of the universe beyond what we already know except that now there are elves with space ships. It feels like a placeholder movie for lack of a better concept, just treading water until Winter Soldier and the next Avengers movie, with the most promising part being the mid-credits preview of Guardians of the Galaxy that apparently the director didn't even want in the movie at all. This wouldn't even be as bad if we at least got a memorable antagonist, but Eccleston is given absolutely nothing to do as Malekith, who is transformed from a mercurial scheming villain into a grim faced bore no doubt to avoid comparisons to Loki, when competing tricksters would have made this movie so much more entertaining.

I want to go on a rant here about all the better villains they could have used like The Enchantress, The Executioner, The High Evolutionary, or even Ego, The Living Planet, but the problem isn't the choice of bad guy (as Malekith would have been fine if handled differently), its that the people behind this particular series of movies don't seem to have all that much respect for the property they are adapting. Because let's face it, that's what the refusal of an explicitly magical background for this character is, a denial of the thing that defines him as worthy of adaptation. In their view, in order for Thor to be acceptable to a mass audience, he must be forced into a completely unrecognizable form that drains him of everything that makes him unique and exciting, leaving behind only a hollow strong man with a hammer and no personality beyond his hard on for a human girl. And if you were one of those comic book nerds who had no problem accepting a world with magic and science existing in tandem, boy should you be made to feel stupid at every opportunity. With all the thee's and thou's peppering the dialogue, Thor has always been an acquired taste, but that doesn't mean that making him bland makes him more palatable.

Thor: The Dark World isn't the worst Marvel movie, or even the worst official member of the Cinematic Universe, but then to be any better or worse it would have had to actually try hard, and that is something the movie seems incapable of doing. It appears that the monumental undertaking of Marvel's film division to build this massive crossover franchise juggernaut has finally gotten to the point where individual movies within need not contribute anything more than reminding the audience that the characters involved still exist to come back in a better movie down the road. With so few chances to add more to the growing meta story of these movies, it would seem like a waste of an opportunity, especially when there is still so much more work to be done to make the fantasy concepts underpinning Thor gel with everything else around it, but then if this film is any indication, they have very little interest in doing that, and would rather just ignore those fantasy elements altogether. It doesn't quite surpass The Avengers in terms of the amount of effort and talent applied for so little return, but the end result is, as if by magic, somehow even more listless and shallow.

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