All Lightning, Little Thunder

OK, full disclosure time: I skipped the fuck outta Thor: The Dark World when it was first released. I didn’t really intend to, despite my less-than-enthuasistic feeling for its predecessor as my least favorite of all the MCU films to date, but I got too busy whilst the times I’d be able to attend the theater I’d opt to watch better films at the time. Like Oldboy. Yeah, I fucked up.

I eventually got around to catching it on its DVD release, but… I kind of wasn’t really as into the movie and so I feel like I only paid half attention at what was going on while instead deciding laundry and chemistry lab reports were more important.

So today is perhaps the one time I actually took a moment to watch the film with full attention the same as every other movie I review. It is perhaps the only time I had to rewatch any of the MCU films.

And yet Thor: The Dark World is absolutely the movie where I don’t know what the fuck is going on.

No wait, that’s not fully true, but before I acknowledge that, I gotta acknowledge something bigger to me that it maybe took me a while to realize, but not much. Thor: The Dark World is very much an improvement on Thor. Namely in the change of directors – Alan Taylor (taking over at the last second for Patty Jenkins) has a much more firm control on the dire tone and implication of stakes (however much I’m unable to really figure out those stakes beyond “Ey yo, Asgard be in trouble!”) than the first film’s Kenneth Branagh, whose annoying flip-flop between screwball comedy and DAHKNESS made me wish he stepped away from movies that aren’t Shakespearean adaptations. I mean there’s still some of that huehuehue shit comedy as Kat Dennings returns to kill the film and Stellan Skarsgard enters the film literally balls-out to make Erik much more manic than I recall the character ever being, but for the most part, those moments are paced enough (save for an opening that feels more like an interruption including a thankless semi-cameo by Chris O’Dowd) to act like backfired yet admirable breathers in the middle of the film’s action-based setpieces.

Taylor’s lack of visual ambition rather than going through the story motions is a bit upsetting, as at least there were shots by Branagh that felt at least somewhat like splash pages.

But hey, there’s more to impress. Tom Hiddleston aside (as mentioning him as the best thing in the movie is the same as mentioning Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are the best albums ever made, we fucking know!), I forgot up until this moment that this was the first time since the original Thor that I didn’t think Chris Hemsworth is a big blond washboard of face. He breathes a little bit more in the role, has more to do than either be a smug dickhead in the first film or just be a grim killjoy in the Avengers pictures.

He still takes some time to realize what olden speak is coming out of his mouth, though.

And hey, even further, if I hadn’t already seen and adored Guardians of the Galaxy, I would have called this film out as the best damn Visual Effects work we’ve had from Marvel to date. GotG does exist and is superior in every single way (except maybe villain – but villains are rarely the MCU’s strong-suit), but even then the spacey glimmer and the Asgardian ship chase and especially the look of Malekith himself on Christopher Eccleston’s face is so so so impressive to make me not care. I wish Captain America: The Winter Soldier took a leaf out of this movie’s book for CGI.

All in all, moments like Thor vs. Malekith and all make Thor: The Dark World a lot of fun on a visceral level and add to making me prefer pre-Age of Ultron Phase 2 to Phase 1, even if it doesn’t share the sobriety towards stakes as Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3. And so now, I have to sit down and acknowledge what I tried to put off.

Guys, I love and understand Inland Empire and Mulholland Dr. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Inherent Vice are my motherfucking jam and they’re for some reason notorious for being insoluble. Hell, I can even construct a thoroughline in the works of Shane Carruth’s very impossible plots.

So, forgive me for blaming the narrative a bit more than I maybe should when I ask what in the fuck-all is up in this movie’s story?

Wait, no, I can totally pick up the pieces and know what’s going on a scene-by-scene basis: Long ago, the dark-elven race that Malekith is belonged to are apparently made extinct by Bor, Odin’s father, until Malekith and a bunch of Dark-Elves rise to prove that wrong by blowing the hell up outta Asgard. What’s the occasion? Jane Foster, Thor’s squeeze from the first film, has now been promoted from bland female romantic lead that poor Natalie Portman is overqualified for to bland female romantic MacGuffin that poor Natalie Portman is overqualified for (BTW, her first reaction to Asgard as an environment made me fear that Portman had been taking acting lessons from Dennings. Odin forbid!). How? She apparently absorbed the only Infinity Stone that is fluid in form, the red Aether (Reality), and Malekith is claiming it as, y’know, he can’t really fuck shit up without it.

While it’s not entirely unable to find out, the movie’s premise is a mess and it expects you pick up the pieces of the mess to follow along (apparently Taylor wanted a much longer cut than he got and Marvel said no. I can live with that, simply because Thor: The Dark World already feels pretty overlong… I feel if Taylor wanted more room for story, she could have removed much of the Darcy end of the film).

But it is a fun mess and a relatively stable tonal mess compared to its predecessor and so, while not exactly re-inventing the Marvel wheel, Thor: The Dark World kept things spinning enough until Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s ambitions towards the MCU storyline took hold half a year later…

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