Fighting Darkness with a Hammer and Love
I stood there, by the back of the theater, endlessly waiting the post credit teaser of Thor: The Dark World that is now a staple in the Marvel Universe viewing experience. I stood there for a while and started reading the credits to pass the time, time that elapsed slower than usual because of how many people were involved in this movie. Specifically, under the heading of CGI and Special Effects, there may have been at least one hundred people, names crammed together into large paragraphs. At first it seemed like a lot, but after recalling the last hour and fifty-two minutes, it made perfect sense.
Undoubtedly, the amount of computer-generated imagery has been on an exponential incline recently within the comic realm, as each movie’s stakes have grown progressively higher with every new addition, in tandem with technological innovation. Certainly it is an important tool when New York City becomes a demolition playground for The Avengers or the venue for a mid-air boxing match in Man of Steel. But in Thor, located primarily in his kingdom of Asgard and part of a distant universe, it becomes paramount. It also becomes a desensitizing and rather homogenous element in a collection of not so much movies but feature length trailers.
This is not much different. Thor: The Dark World begins with long exposition about dark elves, their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), and the Aether, a black nebulous virus that searches for a host. It finds one through a London portal and attaches to Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman reprises her role), whose eyes then occasionally turn black, like glimpses of Black Swan. Unfortunately the acting from that movie doesn’t transfer over here. Soon, our chiseled, golden-locked Norse-God takes her home to Asgard where his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), surmises the Aether’s power is what Malekith craves.
The director Alan Taylor, who has primarily worked in television (most recently Game of Thrones) brings back all of the familiar faces and set pieces. Asgard is its usual sunny self, its portal guarded by Idris Elba, protected bravely by Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, and queened by Rene Russo. Back in dreary London, Stellan Skarsgard returns to the lab clearheaded from his Avengers mind-control as does Kat Dennings, providing her usual quirky shtick. Chris O’Dowd aims to win Jane Foster’s astrophysicist affections, but unfortunately an accented comedian just can’t compete with a Thor played by Chris Hemsworth. And then of course there is the exceptional Tom Hiddleston, returning as Loki, that squirmy little brother who never seems to be without a scheme. He is locked away beneath Asgard for most of the film as prisoner but when his pale-faced comedic touch is allowed to breathe, it’s a grateful moment. People speak in nice, crisp sentences in these movies and everything echoes with a self-serious importance. Loki is at once slippery and accessible because he refuses to proclaim his course of action with such grandiosity like his brother and father.Without his balance, Thor: The Dark World mostly feels like a picture book being read.
Even when that picture book changes illustrators and authors though, nothing changes visually. Continuity within the Marvel Universe is something each addition strives for and also constantly overshoots. Is it a problem that stylistically, Kenneth Branagh’s first movie and Alan Taylor’s sequel feel and act on the same plane? Should it be? The problem with these movies, so wrapped in effects, explosions, armies and death, is that there is little to feel. When someone dies in The Dark World, there is little sense of pain or suffering to experience. Death can be central, but it too often is meaningless.
There are ounces of fun in here, most notably in the final act’s humorous brushstrokes and fraternal quibbling. Malekith hopes to use the Aether’s power when all nine realms of the universe align together, a particularly creative conflation of worlds stacked on top of each other in the sky. Unfortunately that creativity, used mostly in London, is fleeting. When Hemsworth slams down his hammer, it’s a beautiful act of power. You just keep hoping (or wondering if) those people in the ending credits haven’t already taken away all of its strength.