Man Tripping writer Steve Kinnard attended a recent screening of Thor: Dark World as a guest of Disney and Marvel. All oppinions are his.
For those of you not aware, Thor: Dark World is the follow-up to 2001's Thor that introduced film-goers to the superhero / Norse god.
Usually if a summer popcorn movie doesn't leave a lasting impression on me, that is a good thing. Such was the case with the first film of the Thor franchise. Heading into the theater, I didn't remember too terribly much about the original, but I assumed I knew enough about the characters to enjoy a sequel. With popcorn films though, that’s not always a bad thing. It means the first film did its job of entertaining for ninety minutes or so. And I took my friend with me who is a huge comic book fan. Like “a different costume for each day of Comic-Con” kind of fan.
I figured, at the very least, she could fill me in if I had missed a reference from the first film, and I she would probably have a good time. As a kid I collected comic books, and I was mostly a Marvel fan, so the resurgence of these characters finally getting solid, big-budget film treatments is exciting. Spiderman was always a favorite of mine, and while Sam Raimi’s third film was a giant mess, and Marvel hasn't always made the best choices in how they've ushered their franchise onto the screen, it is fun going back to my childhood for a little bit each time the X-Men or the Avengers take the screen.
But then the film started. Most films like Thor: The Dark World which are based in an alternate setting, the “Nine Realms” in this case, begin with an exposition which explains the world, and the conflicts, and the history, so that the audience has some basic understanding of what they’re watching. This can be as simple as the iconic scrolling text of Star Wars, to the elaborate montage at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But the key point of these sequences should always be that the audience knows the basic details of the story better afterwards than they did before. Now, it might be a bit of hyperbole, but I felt like I knew less about what was going on after the exposition than I did before it.
And it is really just all downhill from there. While we can watch Anthony Hopkins deliver an adept, if somewhat disinterested performance as Odin while he collects a paycheck, several other solid actors are completely wasted on this film. Thor’s sidekicks from the first film are all but forgotten; some reduced to little more than speaking extras. While I’m not sure if this is a bad thing in all cases, the talent of Rene Russo, and the typically solid screen presence of Ray Stevenson are both wasted. I will say though, Natalie Portman delivering awkward and chemistry-free romantic dialog with a male co-star against a lavish and expertly rendered CGI fantasy backdrop was fairly amusing, but perhaps only because it was so reminiscent of the second of those dismal Star Wars prequels.
Thor: The Dark World stumbles along for two hours, jumping back and forth between the Nine Realms and Earth, before the villain comes to modern day London in his quest to destroy the universe, which, very conveniently and only somewhat plausibly, revolves around Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster.
The film isn't all bad though and if you are looking for a big and loud and exciting popcorn movie, it delivers on that. The dialog tends to carry the scenes well enough and there is some suitable comic relief from Stellan Skarsgård. The film also provides some fan service, offering up jokes and references to other Marvel films as well as the previous Thor installment. And there are even a few fun cameos, including Chris Evans as Captain America, and of course, comic book legend Stan Lee.
Ultimately though, this one is probably a rental unless you are the type of fan who must see it in IMAX 3D for the ultimate experience. The battle scenes are fairly silly, and you may puzzle about how warfare works in this strange universe of Space Vikings with glowing swords and dark elves with laser guns. It manages to lift plenty of scenes and inspiration from other films, including one obvious homage to Achilles’ first scene in Ridley Scott’s Troy. And that’s obviously a problem.
I spent most of the movie spotting the influences, and puzzling the details, which means there really isn’t a whole lot of storytelling going on and you never really quite care about anyone, or anything, happening on the screen. This is not high drama or an Oscar candidate but it's still fun. How did my comic-loving friend feel? She was fairly nonplussed, which may be the most telling part of this review.