By Jerry W. Vandal
Thor: The Dark World introduces Malekith the Accursed to the cinema world—a dark elf bent on bringing Asgard and the other eight realms into the dark. Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston (G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra) is not a poor soul whose trying to get back at the world for some awful event in his life. He’s not a character trying to make the world better through his own image. He’s just not a very nice dark elf. While I don’t think Eccleston is captivating in the way that recent portrayals of Joker, Loki, Dr. Octopus or Magneto (both Fassbender and Mckellen)have been, I do think he served his role and it was a different to see a villain who was motivated simply by a need for destruction for the sake of destruction. Malekith is evil—there is no redemptive quality in him the way there is Loki. He’s a little two dimensional, but I think for Thor 2, that’s allowed to fly because Malekith isn’t the real story in this movie. His search for the Aether (a mystical energy that has substantial power) helps move the story along and gives Thor a direction in which to throw his hammer. That’s it though. He’s another conquest for Thor. And it’s an entertaining conquest—though not a thought provoking one. The bigger conflict in Thor: The Dark World is the familial relationship at the head of Asgard.
Oddly enough, Thor: The Dark World does what the Fantastic Four movies were meant to do—differentiate itself by highlighting family. Whether it’s Odin scuffing at Thor’s affection for Jane Foster, Frigga reaching out to her admonished (though adopted) son Loki, Odin’s disappointment in both of his children, loving them both and being unable to simply say it. Whether it’s the hurt that comes from watching a family member die or two brothers working together for a common cause, Thor: The Dark World, villains aside is about family. It’s about Father and Son. Mother and Son. Brother and Brother. That’s more interesting than most villains can be. And what this does is something I’ve always felt is difficult for characters like Thor: it humanizes them.
And the key to this has so much to do with Tom Hiddleston. While Anthony Hopkins makes for a great, thundering Odin, and Rene Russo, a very loving Frigga, and even Chris Hemsworth as the cocky and boisterous Thor , it’s Hiddleston who makes those characters leap off the screen. There are actors who are clearly playing themselves. And then there are guys who thrust themselves into a role and become someone else. Hiddleston does that. And while I’m not sure he gets the chance to do that as well in Thor: The Dark World as he did the first Thor, he still draws in the audience enough in a way you understand why he is the way he is and he keeps the tension in the house of Odin evident. So as Thor and Loki unite to take on their mother’s slayer—there’s a great sadness, even for all of Loki’s ill deeds, when he dies in his brother’s arms.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor turned out to be a great gamble—and that’s what it was. When we look at Thor in the comic book, we immediately think of a muscle bound man. While Chris Hemsworth is no body builder, he physically created a realistic image of Thor and carries himself with that Nordic flare that really sells him as a viking god. He has charisma and an ability to come off as both strong when he’s in battle, yet caring when he’s with Jane and even his brother.
Now, I’m a very big fan of Natalie Portman. I suppose if I’m going to judge her performance there’s a single element that has to be considered—because her scene with Odin is pretty funny, in that awkward girl meeting the guy’s parents sort of way. So she does a lot of things to make create an interesting character, the question is s it believable that a god would fall for Jane Foster? I’m slightly torn on the answer. Portman does an excellent job of coming off as a damsel in distress and she’s rather courageous even in the face of these gods of myth. However, I do feel there’s something missing and it’s likely because it’s only been teased—and that’s Sif’s affections for Thor. I feel, especially with an actress of Portman’s quality that someone involved in the script writing or directing needs to not waste the chance to define why Jane Foster has caught Thor’s eye and not Sif. Unfortunately, for all the time the screen time Portman had in this movie—we never see her interact with Sif—only a momentary glance from Sif at Thor. And I’m not sure if I’m entirely sold on Thor’s affection until I see that dynamic between the three played out.
My sole complaint leaving the theater was a lack of a sense of the supporting cast—Heimdall, the Warriors 3 and Sif. Each of the warriors 3 received a brief fight sequence to remind us that they not only exist, but are pretty good at fighting. Sif received a few more scenes, but I can’t help to feel that she could have had a bigger role. Or maybe I’m just enchanted by Jaime Alexander and want her to have some more screen time. And Idris Elba, who does an excellent job in the scenes he’s in goes against his oath (again) and we never really see the consequence for that. Clearly time considerations are made nd there’s much more room for that type of exploration in the comics themselves, but with a fun and interesting supporting cast of this sort I’d hope for a little more. Now, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard and Johnathan Howard do get a decent amount of screen time—and they each add some comedy to the movie that works. It would have been cool if Thor’s friends had gotten some mirroring time—a contrast perhaps to Foster’s crew.
Thor 2 is a very good movie. I love seeing Loki and Thor together on screen—there’s just so much to work with there. Natalie Portman does a great job of playing the quirky scientist who makes a god fall for her. Asgard continues to be stunning—though there’s nothing really new offered here that we didn’t see in the first film. While it does not have a remarkable villain, it offers a continuing conflict between family members as father and son continue to question each others decisions. Even though action is entertaining, it’s the moments between characters that make this the kind of movie you want to see in theater—and if anything I wanted to see more of. Thor 2 is a fine addition to what Marvel has been doing for a while now. And that’s making their characters shine on the big screen. So, while the subtitle is The Dark World—especially considering the post credit, assuredly a link to Guardians of the Galaxy—it’s a pretty promising future for the comic book cinema offered by Marvel Studios.