Two years ago super hero films, as The Avengers puts it, received a game changer in the way of Thor. According to Box Office statistics it didn’t do that remarkably in way of profits – at least not in comparison to other Marvel films that were being released – but it still managed to make a marginal profit and help Marvel lead up to their biggest film yet, The Avengers. However, how this film changed the game wasn’t in money or franchising but by being the first of Marvel – and all superhero films of this era in film — that didn’t hang on the crux of the alter-ego but rather to land entirely within the supernatural and mythic. Instead of the world being saved by a super soldier that symbolizes a nation, a warmongerer that had his eyes opened and used his brilliance to the world’s benefit, or even a failed science experiment that made a monster be the destructive beast that can save as well as dismantle worlds; this time we had a God save the world. The distinction of God (or demi-god if you want to be specific) changes the scope of things to a whole new level of not only destruction but in weird that can be done in narrative.
Thor: The Dark World, does just that try to change the game again. In Thor they managed to make the film serviceable, in the realm of reality, by making it not so much about Gods fighting for power or frost giants enacting revenge, but really about a son trying to find the meaning of humility and empathy. Thor learning that there’s more than one way to live a life and that it isn’t always fixed by smashing his hammer around – though I could name a few people who wished the film skipped that lesson. In The Dark World, having dealt with all the human elements of this story we begin to get into the supernatural where Dark Elves want to ruin the cosmos and they have a weapon that is so super awesome that no one can destroy it, but it can destroy all.
In a very Lord of the Rings feeling film it seems out of place to have the minute level of character development in a mediocre action film. Revisiting Thor this past week I recognized that what I loved about that film wasn’t seeing a hammer smash worlds to bits but seeing Thor and Loki go through their own changes and discoveries. In The Dark World both are relegated to very minor character arcs and are asked to exist in a typical “superhero sequel” film where the filmmakers are demanded to provide action instead. However, it fails on almost every attempt to make action enticing. With the exception of maybe two sequences – especially one with Heimdall (Idris Elba) – there is nothing here but a mixture of unintelligible scenes that give us nothing. Even as a Loki (Tom Hiddleston) fanzine the film doesn’t quite deliver. His scenes, which tend to be of the better side of the spectrum, can be fun but feel as if they were from a different movie where people get to be entertained.
I am left wondering whether Marvel is really ready for the weird? They have The Guardians of the Galaxy coming up soon enough and a lot of discussions of characters like the Mandarin and Dr. Strange eventually being called on film goers are going to be attacked with more esoteric storylines that don’t fit into the four quadrant studio system. Does Marvel believe they can make the strange marketable or are they planning on just placing what’s marketable into a strange shell and count their dollars later?
Thor: The Dark World is a barely watchable film with moments of joy peppered around it. Seriously, thank you Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings for sticking around for these films, you’re amazing.