Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

2013, Alan Taylor -- in theatre
(Countdown to the World's End, day 4)

This one's going to be unapologetically geeky and perhaps a little unobjective.

My thoughts on the first Thor movie have changed somewhat since I first wrote about it.  I liked it okay when I saw it in the theatre that first time, but after watching it for a second time with my wife, I found I quite enjoyed it to the point that I now think of it fondly.  I don't doubt that it is flawed, but the tone it was going for -- the sort-of comedy meets mystic royal melodrama meets fantasy meets action-adventure meets romance meets superhero amalgam -- a monster of a genre mash-up has in the years since become far more acceptable and palatable.  There are a half dozen TV shows that try to recreate this very thing on a weekly basis, and while the Avengers didn't dally in so much in different genres, what it did do is solidify the awesome tandem of Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki.

This second feature reunites the cast of the first, the rather expansive cast.  There's Thor and Loki, naturally, and Natalie Portman's Jane Foster with Kat Dennings Darcy tagging along as highly able punchline deliverer.  There's the heroic warriors of Volstagg, Hogun, Fandral and Sif, the latter of which an unnecessary foil for Thor's affections.  There's Thor and Loki's parents, Anthony Hopkins returning as Odin and Renee Russo as Frigga, and also Stellan Skarsgard returning for a third time as Dr. Selvig, and of course the always, always incredible Idris Elba as Heimdall.  It's such a robust cast of characters and an awesomely impressive cast of actors, that it's no wonder the villains are given the short shrift when it comes to screen time or character development.  Christopher Eccleston steps in as the main adversary in the film, a dark elf looking to return darkness to the universe (what happens when the darkness returns isn't clearly explained, but we're to assume it's bad and probably shouldn't happen).

While this main plot of the film is thin, what I really bit down on was the characters, with Thor's relationship with his father and brother so deliciously rocky.  The reunion of literal star-crossed lovers plays out nicely, with prolonged frustration leading to a fast rekindling of passion.  But there's 9 worlds to save so the god-love has to wait.  They attempt to beef up Heimdall's role, and it gives Elba an impressive action sequence, but it's still not enough for an actor of his caliber.  I hope the next film has him fighting right alongside Thor throughout.  Equally beefed up is Hopkins and Russo's presence, and this presents a particularly surprising and enjoyable sequence involving Frigga and a short blade.  Thor's warrior buddies, however, are still as ancillary as they were in the first movie... it's a "they're critical supporting characters from the comics so they need to be here, but we don't know quite what to do with them".

Outside of the characters and the action, there's the humour and, most surprisingly, this film is really, really funny.  There were some charming and entertaining moments in the first, but this matches the Avengers for some sharp line reads and visual gags.  Also bolstered from the first, and this is where the budget boost comes in, there's many more action set pieces here, and most are really quite great.  The climactic finale finds Thor and Malekith fighting, bouncing between the 9 realms as the fabric of reality disintegrates, and scriptwriters and director use this unique situation to create a really unique fight that also lends itself to some terrifically funny moments (poor Mjolnir seemed so confused).  The effects are also much bigger, particularly Asgard looks more lived in, and with its defensive capabilities on display, more formidable.

Like the first film, it's far from perfect, but it is quite entertaining.  Hemsworth remains mid-bogglingly attractive (Natalie Portman's incredibly pretty, but he way out-pretties her), and Hiddleston's Loki deserves his own movie at this point.  I liked the strength of the female characters in this film (the sub-plot with Sif mooning over Thor, and Odin trying to push his son towards her either needed to be reinforced or removed altogether, it was far too slight a sub-plot), and it's really the humans, Selvig, Jane and Darcy, along with her boy toy intern, that save the day, with a little help from Thor.

As I said in my last review, I'm not a fan, at all of Thor in the comics, but I'm absolutely invested in these films.  It's done well enough that a third is inevitable.  Given the great reveal at the end it should be marvelous (no pun intended...okay, yes it was).