25 Quick Thoughts on Thor: The Dark World

Thor_-_The_Dark_World_poster

So I finally got around to seeing Thor: The Dark World , two weeks after the fact.

I haven’t been to an opening night since the shit-show that was Star Wars: Attack of the Clones in Boston.  As a moviegoer, I haven’t missed it a bit, but I will admit that it’s a handicap to a reviewer.

It was a good night, overall.  Dinner and a movie with dear friends, especially when you suggest the eatery and it’s a hit, is a great way to spend an evening.

As for the movie itself, well…it was a grand spectacle, and I’d recommend seeing it on the big screen for that reason, but it failed to match the emotional power of the original.  The first Thor film was a Shakespearean tragedy of fathers, sons and brothers.  This movie went over pretty much the same territory, except that it made a clumsy effort to involve Mom.  They needed to bring back Kenneth Brannagh.

Since I’m pretty sure that anyone interested in seeing this has done so already, I won’t go to the trouble of working up a full review.  Instead, I’ll just jot down some thoughts that occurred to me as I was watching, in no particular order.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, beware: spoilers ahead.

Svartalfar 02

1) I don’t know if it’s canon with either the comics or the original myths, but portraying the Svartalfar as essentially prettier-than-normal Old Ones was probably the best idea in the movie.  Centuries of bowdlerization has completely neutered the terror the Fair Folk once wielded, and even fantasy fans are more likely to see elves as a Good Guy race – perhaps annoyingly snobby – than the riders of the Wild Hunt they once were.  Turning them into Elder Things striving to restore what they consider to be the natural order was a good antidote to that – and the filmmakers did a good job of taking every opportunity to give everything from the Svartalfar’s armor to their ship an uncomfortable, alien aesthetic.  Those blank, emotionless war-masks (what were they, some kind of ceramic?) are utterly terrifying.

Svartalfar

Where the first movie gave us a monster race and then impressed me by assigning some actual value to that monster-race’s lives, this movie gives us a monster race that doesn’t give us the option of mercy.  Unlike the Jotun, who were merely brutal conquerors, the Svartalfar are completely antithetical to the universe as it now exists, and will never stop fighting until they unmake it.

Malekith

2) If the Svartalfar are Old Ones, then I suppose that makes Malekith Cthulhu himself…not inappropriate if he really does have personal memories of an existence before the current universe.

Dark World Aether

3) Why name the liquid Macguffin of doom “The Aether”?  Most people today only associate the word “Ether” with the anesthetic, and those few of us who are familiar with the older meaning of the term associate it with something completely harmless.  There had to be something better.  The Shadow Essence, maybe?

4) Erik Selvig is back, and he’s somewhat the worse for wear.  This makes perfect sense.  Having a god in your brain, as he put it, will probably cause psychological problems the DSM has never even heard of.  I think it’s a good sign of how well the MCU is thought out that he isn’t completely okay after untold trauma like characters always seem to be in movies, unless the whole point of the movie is how okay the character isn’t.  I just wish they hadn’t done the “I’m well now, I don’t need my meds anymore” thing.  That shit gets people killed.

5) Jane contains the MacGuffin of doom that the villains need, and it’s slowly killing her.  Those things needed to last longer than they did.  Also, it needed to be more difficult and dangerous to her to remove said MacGuffin.  There had to be the risk of death to remove it, to be weighed against the certainty of death if it remained.  It would also have been interesting if she had been able to draw some power from the Aether, at the expense of being infected by its destructive nature.  These things are all formula, but at least they make Jane a factor in things.  As it is, she’s little more than a MacGuffin herself.

6) All of that said, I like how Jane was not only not overawed by the Asgardians, but able to understand what they were doing, if not how.  Far too often, humans’ job in fantasy stories is to sit back and be awed by the Wise Elder Race…or look like assholes for failing to do so.

7) Speaking of assholes, since when has Odin had such a problem with mortals?  It’s one thing to want your son to marry a woman of your own noble class instead of someone who’ll leave him bereft in a mere 50 – 80 years, but calling her a goat and ordering her thrown bodily from Asgard?  If humans are goats, why do you care if Loki slaughtered a few thousand of them?  I guess that answers my earlier question as to who counts as a person on Asgard.

Frigga Dark World

8) What little time we have with Frigga is very well handled.  She’s clearly the one who taught Loki his magic (which isn’t canon with the myths in itself, though having her be more talented in magic than her husband is), and how to fight.  She kicks Malekith’s ass.  We see how she’s such a valuable asset to her husband’s rule.  Too bad she promptly gets shoved in the refrigerator. 

9) Speaking of the elder gods, wouldn’t it have been nice to see the most powerful god in Asgard do more than blast a single straggler when it came time to defend the palace?  Here was a perfect opportunity to show what Odin could really do, and they missed it.

10) “If you even think of betraying him…” “You’ll…kill me?  Evidently, there’ll be a line.” That line is why trickster gods exist.  Coyote, Anansi and Kokopelli are all sitting in the audience saying “Holy shit, I should’ve said that.”

11) Does anybody else get the feeling that the escape from Asgard is a glimpse into how Thor and Loki worked together back in the day?  Even their fight was two brothers fighting over who hurt mom, not two epic enemies.

12) “Mother wouldn’t want us to fight.” “No.  But I doubt she’d be shocked, either.”  Still brothers.

13) Huh.  I guess Loki really does like Jane.  If throwing himself on top of her when the Svartalfar weapons started going off was a ploy to win Thor’s trust, it was an awfully big gamble.

14) Speaking of Svartalfar weapons, why do they have grenades and energy throwers when the Asgardians still use swords and shields (however enhanced they may be)?  How in hell did the Asgardians pacify the Nine Worlds like that?

15) Guess I was wrong about that bit of authenticity I thought I saw in the trailer.  Apparently the creature there wasn’t Mokkurkalfi, but one of Thor’s earliest enemies from the comics, a Kronan, or stone man from Saturn.  The resemblance is uncanny, though.

16) The true identity of the Tesseract is revealed…and it had me fooled!  Like many out there on the internet, I had seen a glowing cube in Captain America and automatically thought “Cosmic Cube”.  Just because it isn’t the same shape as the Infinity Gems from the comics, it didn’t occur to me that it could be one – I’m going to guess Space.  How the Aether, a liquid, could be another one of the Infinity Gems, I don’t know.  Anyone else think that, like myself, the filmmakers’ comic-reading heyday was in the early Nineties?

17) The “Thor on the London Underground” joke should have been cut.  It was funny, yes, but it messed up the timeline even more.  We establish at the beginning of the fight: “Then we only have to keep Malekith busy for eight (minutes).”  I’m going to guess that his train trip back to the fight took at least that long.

18) It’s established at the beginning of the movie that Asgardians are mortal.  If nothing else gets them, they die of old age.  What the hell does Thor expect to happen when Odin dies in five hundred years or so with no heirs?  Or what if his physical or mental faculties fail before that?  Do Asgardians get Alzheimer’s?  It’s not like they have a framework in place to transition to democracy.

19) I liked that callback to the last movie, with Volstagg throwing his cup aside and shouting “Another!”  Turns out Thor has very good manners – they’re just Asgardian.  Back home, the proprietors of that coffee shop would have been flattered (and using less-breakable mugs).

Odin Helm

20) Seeing Odin at Frigga’s funeral (and the funeral for all the others who fell in that battle, I suppose), it occurred to me that he hadn’t been wearing that helm in the battle with the Svartalfar.  Just as well, because all those horns would make it worse than useless for the purpose of protection.  By the same token, the only time I’ve seen Thor wear his famous winged helmet was during the ceremony that was supposed to be his coronation.  I think those helms are actually their crowns.

21) That reminds me – I appreciated that glimpse of Odin with a raven early on, when things were good.  I wonder if it was Hugin or Munin?

22) They telegraphed that ending way too much.  I’ll admit that I went in spoiled, but even if I hadn’t, from the moment I saw Loki’s glamour-shimmer on that soldier’s spear, I would have known.

23) The scene where Loki talks to what turns out to be an illusion of Frigga reminds me of the scene where Azula talks to a hallucination of her mother in Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Both heart-rending (though the one with the 14-year-old girl is moreso).  Odin said Loki would never see Frigga again, and he never does.

24) Once again, Tom Hiddleston commits Grand Theft Movie.  This is probably going to be the last movie where they bother to do anything more than sit back, let him Loki at the screen for two hours, and mint them another billion dollars.

25) After watching all this grand spectacle, I mentioned to one of my friends that what I really wanted to see was Jormungandr.  He explained to me that no, I didn’t, for two reasons: 1) Properly done, Jormungandr would be too big to even see, let alone understand.  2) Unless it was Ragnarok, there would be no suspense.  Did I really trust Marvel with Ragnarok?  I don’t want to see Jormungandr anymore.  As much.

Bonus number 26:

The transition from comic page to big screen was not kind to the Collector.

Awesome Elder of the Universe!

Awesome Elder of the Universe!

Weird old guy with iffy hair and makeup.

Weird old guy with iffy hair and makeup.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “25 Quick Thoughts on Thor: The Dark World

  1. Good points (and some things I can’t respond to with any validity). Here are a few counterpoints.

    1. The elves of Norse mythology aren’t the Wild Hunt—that’s more of a Celtic thing. They’re more like dwarves. In fact, the sources are mixed on whether Norse dwarves are in fact svartalfar. The Ljosalfar (Light Elves) are a little closer to the popular concept of elves, but they’re not Fae like the Wild Hunt. Then again, Norse dwarves are more like literary goblins or trolls, so it’s kind of a mess. The Great Scandinavian Melting Pot, I suppose.

    5A. Jane Foster was very clearly The Girlfriend here, not the scientist/ethicist she seemed to be in the first flick. “Hey, some weird shit just happened to me and I don’t know where I am. How about I stick my hand in this sinister goo because I don’t remember the safety lessons from high school chemistry!”

    7. Maybe they’re having a bad famine or drought in Asgard, because otherwise Idunn could feed Jane a golden apple and she’d have the longevity and vigor of an Asgardian. The Aesir eat them too, and in fact they have to. This is Marvel canon as well as mythologically appropriate. I guess they left that out.

    14. Good guys want a fair and honorable fight. Bad guys (or, ya know, real soldiers) want to win and will use whatever technological or tactical advantage they can get their hands on. Even if they were just using technomagic hunting bows or thrown spears/axes, the Einherjar should have had something with which to answer back.

    17. This occurred to me briefly while watching, but didn’t stay in my mind long enough for me to discuss. Thanks for reminding me.

    20. Hey look—they do have bows after all! I guess they save them for funerals instead of battle. I too was wondering where Thor’s helmet was every time he got into a fight.

    25. That “friend” should have pointed out that Thor spent a fair amount of downtime hunting (fishing for) Jormundgandr. Apparently, that guy you saw the movie with is a putz. 😉 To be fair, though, the World Serpent should be unimaginably big, and I always wondered what the final battle would look like. It seems from the myths that the Aesir and Vanir weren’t much different size-wise from the Jotunnr, except when they were (like the story of Utgardloki). Gods. Magic. Whatevs.

    • 1) Huh. Well, all the more reason they needed to make an extra effort to make them scary, I suppose. As far as I’m aware, dwarves were never dangerous until they became good guys.

      5) Yep. So much the worse because we saw what she could be last time.

      14) Perhaps I should rephrase the question. I get why the Svartalfar have grenades and those laser-staff things. I just don’t know why the hell the Einherjar don’t. My question as to how they conquered the nine worlds with enhanced medieval weapons stands. Interesting thought: I can’t remember the last time I saw a sci-fi movie where anyone used grenades. Does the idea die out when we start using energy weapons?

      25) Yeah, but the only time where the battle would be conclusive would be Ragnarok. No one wants to see the story where Thor gives Jormungandr one whack on the head and Jormungandr swims away to nurse his migraine.

  2. I’m glad you pointed out how disappointing Jane was in this movie.

    • Sadly, it was hard to miss. And it was a very large flaw in the movie. Having a character be The Girlfriend is bad enough; if nothing else I don’t think Thor would be interested in a woman who only existed for his benefit. But it was made that much worse by the fact that she was so much better in the last movie. And this movie was a chance for her to really shine! A scientist in an alien society where her branch of science is much-advanced – she should have been like a kid in a candy shop.

      • Youre right, such a wasted opportunity! Then she spends all of the time with Loki completely incapacitated. Of course, I prefer Darcy to Jane, and I have since the first movie.

        • Sidekicks are often more interesting characters than the heroes themselves. So are the villains, for that matter. Just look at Loki. Heroes, even anti-heroes, have to walk a very fine line or they’ll lose the audience. If Jane was as snarky and silly as Darcy, the audience wouldn’t take her seriously. If Thor was as sarcastic and witty as Loki, he’d probably look like a bullying ass.

          It can be done…theoretically…though I’m having a hard time of thinking of an example.

          Now that you mention it, though, it does seem that they did a much better job even in this movie with Darcy. It’s like the writers were able to relax and have fun with Darcy while making Jane So Serious.

          • You’re right, audiences will give sidekicks and villains a lot more leeway in their personalities and behavior. If Thor behaved the way Loki did, he might lose the audience. As for Darcy and Jane, Jane has no personality so to speak, and I prefer characters with ditzy personalities over characters with no personalities. Jane has the personality of Mjolnir.

            Maybe the writers were laboring under the belief that the main characters need to be bland and formless so that the audience could imagine themselves in the shoes of the main characters (or The Girlfriend) and supply their own personalities.

          • Well, it worked for the Twilight series.

            Actually, if I had to guess, I’d guess that the writers had trouble putting themselves in the shoes of the main characters. If my suspicions are correct and the writers are a bunch of grown comics nerds from the early Nineties (there’s no question they’re all male), then they can do snarky and ditzy. But writing for the Football Captain and his girlfriend is beyond their experience, so they fall back on the characterization they got from the comics (of that era) themselves.

            Of course, that’s no excuse. Comics nerds from The Nineties can and do successfully write people who are not themselves, so a failure of imagination is a failure of imagination. Also, Jane is not The Girlfriend. Heck, she’s a nerd in her own right – somehow, the first movie remembered that.

          • I’m glad you pointed out that the writers are probably grown comic book nerds and cannot identify with the football player and his girlfriend. I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and I think it’s also a huge secret to Loki’s popularity. If someone was to ask me why I prefer Loki to Thor, I would answer, “Thor is the guy who wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence in high school.” It’s a little more complicated than that, but I identify with Loki’s journey more than Thor’s. Including the part where Loki tries to subjugate all mankind. I’ve done that too.

          • It seems your plan is more subtle than his, but perhaps it’ll work better.

  3. Pingback: Dwarven Renaissance: Why I Love The Hobbit Films | Dreams of the Shining Horizon

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