Friday, November 29, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Directed by Alan Taylor
Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, and Robert Rodat
Based on characters created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and Walt Simonson

            The original Thor was one of my favorite Marvel movies after the first watching, but my recent rewatch did highlight some of the problems with it.  Its uneven tone, reliance on slapstick humor, and iffy camerawork stand out more, even if there’s quite a bit of good movie around it.  Nevertheless, I was still excited for The Dark World, partly because I’m excited by all Marvel movies, partly because of Iron Man 3’s wildly different approach to its own franchise.  And while TDW doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it makes the wheel about as good as it can be.
            Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still doing her own scientific research, and when she finds a strange anomaly in London, she runs into a portal leading to another realm and the aether, a powerful substance which the dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) once used to try to take over all nine realms.  Now Malekith is reawakened, and it’s up to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Jane, and even Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to stop him.
            One of the themes that seems to be running across the Marvel movies since Avengers is enemies that feel out of place in the world, villains the heroes haven’t prepared for.  Avengers forced normal humans against aliens, Iron Man 3 had a villain that wasn’t another guy in a suit, and here, the dark elves clash with the fantasy aesthetic.  While Asgard’s forces are in armor and fight with swords and spears, the dark elves fly in spaceships, fire laser guns, and throw grenades that apparently warp people out of existence.  And we ultimately expect good to come out of this triumphant, because after all, it’s a superhero movie.  But there’s a dark sense of foreboding throughout, a sense that maybe, just maybe, there’s going to be lasting consequences from what happens here.  It’s not a sense that’s necessarily followed through on (although there are certainly some shocking moments that leave the audience in doubt), but simply having the sense can’t help but change the tone of the movie a little.
            After all, at heart, this is a Marvel movie, and that means big action sequences and big laughs combined together.  And yes, these are some big action sequences.  While previous movies have held off on them and only deliver on them in small doses, Thor fills the screen with some great action pieces.  Standing out in particular are the assault on Asgard and the final sequence, which takes what could be a normal finale and adds in some dimension-hopping action that makes it move even better.  And the humor freely comes in during these moments, not even slowing down the action as it delivers some great jokes.  It creates a movie whose pace falters a little at the start, during some prologue and London-without-Thor action, but once it picks up, it doesn’t stop.  In fact, this may be one of the briskest paces of the Marvel movies.  It’s still a movie that clocks in just under 2 hours, but it’s so exciting it feels shorter.

            Not just another Marvel winner, but a movie that’s even better than the first and shows that Marvel Phase Two is losing none of its steam.

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