Directed by: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jamie Alexander, Zachery Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris ElbaRene Russo, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård
By taking a look at the team behind the Thor sequel it would be easy to argue that the film was doomed to failure. First up is the writing team of Christopher Yost and Stephen McFeely. Yost has primarily only written some of the comic books and the animated Marvel films. Anyone who knows anything knows that as a general rule the Marvel animated films have been mediocre at best and disastrous at worst. McFeely is the brilliant mind behind the Narnia films which well….are just bad. Director Alan Taylor hasn’t done anything particularly bad; he just hasn’t done anything particularly good either. Taylor has made his career up to this point directing, TV leaving no real stamp of style on anything he’s done from an episode of LOST to several episodes of Nurse Jackie. So with all of that in mind even the strong cast might not have been enough prior to the film’s premiere to warrant a lot of excitement.
Here’s the thing though; Yost did manage to write some episodes of the Marvel animated TV series that are actually good, not high art mind you but at a minimum they were entertaining. Also, Yost does know the Marvel U proper having worked in the comics for some time. Other writers such as Brian Michael Bendis and J. Michael Straczinsky have proven that comic book writers can spread their wings in film (although it seems like a three name thing could be the key to success based on these examples). Alan Taylor has done mostly television but he has worked a bit in fantasy through the Game of Thrones television series so he has a taste for fantasy, which is a must for Thor on film or in comics. Finally McFeely wrote the Captain America screenplay, a film that was overly long but extremely entertaining. So, it’s not all as bad as it seems which can be an argument for the movie as a whole.
The setup is simple but made confusing by a wonky and poorly assembled opening explanation. An evil dude uses an all-powerful magical red ooze to defeat the 9 realms, or nearly. Odin’s father wins the day and hides the ooze. The bad guy however wasn’t killed so a set of circumstances allows him to find the hidden ooze and give universal destruction another go. Sure it sounds simple but it ends up leading to a slow paced and convoluted opening third of the film. In these early moments I feared for the first epic Marvel failure. I was almost bored, but not quite.
Things change in the film when Thor realizes that there’s only one man that can help him win the day, his evil brother Loki. Thor brings Loki from prison and the movie kind of turns into a buddy cop thing with Loki in the crazy Mel Gibson space and Thor in the serious Danny Glover stereotype. The two actors have great chemistry and make the film suddenly work so well by the closing credits I’d argue that this film is superior to the first one. It’s widely known that Joss Whedon came in back in the early days of production and re-wrote some scenes in the film and you can nearly feel those scenes come and go as they have Whedon’s signature clever and silly humor all over them. The humor from the halfway point forward really works in a film that I’d rather see more like Clash of the Titans or Flash Gordon than Lord of the Rings and the humor just takes the proceedings in that direction. The science is magic and magic is science theme established in the first film continues in this new installment and adds both humor and gravity to the story. The love story feels a little tacked on but it did in the first film too. The action scenes here are bigger and better than those from the first film. The battle in Asgard is truly epic and the dramatic moments are perfectly melodramatic.
The sci-fi sticks are back in this film unfortunately, you know the magic gizmos that Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) used in previous Marvel capers to help save the day. Sure they may not be the same devices from The Avengers, but then again they look about the same. Also, the mysterious magical power ooze thing is getting really tired in modern science fiction. It’s just a handicap for weak writers. We have it here and we had it in the first Star Trek reboot and you could even argue that it has been central in all of the transformers movies (although it’s not red in those films). Finally the one thing the first Thor had going for it over all of the other Marvel films is that the villain was a truly complex and entertaining part of the film. The villains in the Iron Man movies were generally flat as was the villain in the Hulk film. The Red Skull in Captain America was also an above average villain for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now the Thor sequel villain joins the world of Marvel villain mediocrity unfortunately.
Thor: The Dark World is a highly entertaining film rising above its limitations and flaws. The cast is great, even the smaller roles get minutes to shine, the action is exciting and expertly mixed with comedy, the fx are entertaining, and after the halfway point the pacing is great. There’s a lot to love about this film and a lot to talk about over beers post credits even if so much of the story just falls short. Speaking of post credits there are two Easter eggs, the first early in the credits and the second after the last credit. The first one is the one that offers up some hints about coming films and the quality of the image on that one is just terrible. I’m guessing it was shot in 48p just like the last Lord of the Rings film. The scene looked like cheap TV rather than a real cinematic experience.