The first Thor movie came out a few months before I started blogging, so I never had a review of it up here. But I found it to be a fun, exciting film and its generally light-hearted tone made it very enjoyable. I consider it one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was greatly anticipating the sequel.
I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, but alas, nowhere near as much as the first film. There’s a rather sharp drop in quality between the two movies.
It would be tempting to place the blame on director Alan Taylor, taking over the reins from Kenneth Branagh. After all, the director usually gets all the blame and all the credit both, depending on how a film turns out. But I suspect a lot of my problems with the film would remain the same even if a different director were in charge; the issues mostly spring from the writing, starting with the plot.
In The Dark World, Asgard and Earth and all the universe are threatened by the rise and return of the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith is seeking out “the Aether”, an ancient power source that he can use during a cosmic convergence to destroy all of existence, leaving only Svartalfheim. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) accidentally encounters the Aether first, becoming infused with its energies, leading Thor to bring her to Asgard, where the Svartalves promptly launch their attack. A hasty alliance has to be made between Thor and Loki in order to save the day.
And that’s where a large part of the problem with the film lies. Action films, and superhero films in particular, greatly benefit from having a great villain, and this film doesn’t. Malekith and the Svartalves are just your standard “Out to destroy the universe” crew, with little examination of their motivation or personalities. They’re a threat, but they’re not really characters. There’s a lot more enjoyment to be had with the bickering and byplay between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Thor and Loki, but these scenes are relatively limited. This is another issue, because that’s also where the bulk of the humor comes in… or at least, the humor that actually works.
There are plenty of attempts at humor in the film, but most of it feels tacked on, unlike the more organic humor of the first film. Kat Dennings in particular, who was surprisingly enjoyable in the first movie, sticks out like a sore thumb in most of her scenes in this film. It’s not that she’s doing a bad job, it’s that her role serves little purpose any more. She no longer needs to be a sounding board to Portman’s Foster, because she and Foster seldom share a scene by themselves anyway. Her primary shtick in The Dark World is that the intern now has an intern of her own, doubling the irrelevancy and awkward insertions. But again, it’s not Denning’s fault; she’s working with what was written, and most of the humor that doesn’t involve her is just as awkwardly cobbled together, such as the recurring joke of Stellan Skarsgaard not wearing pants.
But the film’s cardinal sin is that during its big climactic battle scene, I found myself getting bored. It’s very picturesque, but after a while one gets tired of seeing Mjolnir span the universe without actually hitting anything. The sequence is a little incoherent, but mostly it just fails to be exciting.
That’s not to say the film is all bad. There are plenty of good parts in it, such as the interaction between Rene Russo and Tom Hiddleston (with the former as Loki’s adoptive mother, Frygga, the queen of Asgard). And of course, Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Portman all do well, and the visuals are pretty solid. But what’s done well is only what one expects to see done well, and not all of that.