I’m sure you’ve probably seen a couple (or more) reviews of Thor: The Dark World out there that are sort of flail-y and excited and filled with all caps that just generally praise this movie for being true to its thing and a heck of a lot of fun, plus, you know, LOKI.
Yeah, this is totally one of those reviews. Maybe with a teensy bit more analysis? I’ll try.
WARNING: Spoilers for the entirety of Thor: The Dark World.
Thor: The Dark World is starting from an advantage when compared to its predecessor. No one has to work to convince us that we want to watch these characters anymore and we already buy into their premise. The awkward (in that it was super rushed) start of the love story between Thor and Jane can basically be glossed over and moved on from because we spend a lot more time with Jane in this film, and the relationship is simply treated as established. We get more of the characters that we loved from the first film, and a lot of pretty Asgardian world-building that we didn’t get from the first film. Most importantly, the Thor corner of the Marvel universe has finally established the tone they seemed to be trying for in the initial romp; truly dramatic moments are punctuated by good laughs the whole way through, which leads to uncommonly pleasant whiplash. The film refuses to let you dwell anywhere comfortably for too long, which is a strength in this case because there’s so much fun to pack in. Chris Hemsworth has grown into the title role gorgeously (and no, I’m not just talking about his biceps), and keeps getting more lovable with every film.
With director Alan Taylor (who has also directed episodes of Game of Thrones), fans were expecting some grittiness from Asgard this time around, and the design didn’t disappoint. At times it did seem to butt heads with what the previous film built—the throne room, for example, is much more reminiscent of a Viking hall this time around, which is really not what it looked like in Thor. How much this bothers fans will depend on how much they enjoy the new aesthetic. Even Odin himself looks far more authentic, a bit more king-in-the-trenches and less shiny-god-with-a-well-designed-eyepatch.
We get a nice pickup from The Avengers, as everyone had to be pretty keen on finding out exactly how Odin reacted to Loki’s bid for global domination. It’s understandable that dear old dad might have some anger toward the kid, but it really doesn’t change the fact that throughout the film he proves himself Worst Dad of All Nine Realms about eight hundred times over. Any ambiguity about his parenting skills from the first film are laid to rest. Frigga, on the other hand (who had a couple essential scenes with her boys cut from the first film, so it might confuse some fans who only remember her vaguely from Thor) proves that she is the Best Mom, so at least there’s that?
It is truly enjoyable to cut between the grandeur of Asgard and the mundanity of our own planet, seeing Jane try to date, watching Darcy continually butt in on her life. After giving Jane Foster such a wobbly start in the first film, it is exciting to see her given a hell of a lot more screentime and to see—for the first time ever in these Marvel films—a real, solid friendship between two women. In the first movie we were watching them bicker and grow accustomed, but it’s clear that Darcy hasn’t stuck around because the gig got better; she’s still not being paid in money. (Are you a trust fund baby, Darcy? Or does Jane just pay your rent and feed you in exchange for your teasing and equipment-carrying abilities? Both of these answers work for me, by the way.)
Malekith is about as paper as paper villains can be, sadly, though Christopher Eccleston still pulls off quite a performance through all those prosthetics. You can’t fake real intent, and the movie gives him none—sure, he wants to plunge the universe back into darkness, but we still don’t know what’s at stake for him personally, why it matters. It just sort of plays like he wants the universe to be dark so he can rule it, and no one’s really going to sympathize with that. Maybe his deleted scene with Odin will be on the DVD release and give us more. It might have helped if he’d spoken in Dark Elvish through the whole film; the character carries a bit more weight when he’s not speaking English. Those masks his soldiers wear are perfectly creepy-making, though.
Because the Dark Elves are a pretty Tolkein-esque/D&D baddie, it makes sense that their Magic Universe-Destructing Aether is basically the One Ring, and turns Jane into Frodo. Really, though. She’s busy fainting and being weighed down by evil and eventually getting Villain-Vision, where the world appears in glossy red. In terms of pulling from a vernacular that movie audiences will get right away, I don’t see how that’s a bad idea. It has the added bonus of making Jane into Frodo. Sorry, that just sort of excites me.
While I’m thinking of them, here are a few specific things that were really awesome to see on screen, in no particular order:
- Odin’s all, “Thor, seriously, just marry Sif.” Which is great mainly because it’s a shout-out to comics canon, where she has been Thor main love interest throughout. It’s also appreciated that they show Sif is, indeed, jealous of Jane without turning her into a “crazed jealous bitch” stereotype because Sif is an adult and awesome, but is still allowed to have real people emotions.
- Heimdall STABBING YOUR INVISIBLE SPACESHIP.
- Frigga could have totally taken Malekith (she literally beats the guy) if he hadn’t brought a steroid-pumped buddy to do all his dirty work. I cannot express how frustrating it is that she beats him, only to get screwed in the fine print.
- CAP. CAP, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? THERE IS NOT ENOUGH CAPSLOCK FOR THIS. This is easily the greatest secret cameo Marvel has ever dropped into one of these films, ever. It helps that you can see how much fun Chris Evans is having playing Loki playing Steve Rogers. The line “Want to have a rousing discussion about truth?” will never be scrubbed from my brain.
- Poor Eric Selvig. He cannot catch a break.
- For a love story that had practically no time to bloom in the first film, it’s surprisingly easy to see why Thor and Jane are sweet on each other in this one. Jane getting all sassy with her medics while Thor watches on grinning, Thor asking Jane about her date only to get called out with a “Really?” We know, it can’t work out in the longterm anyhow, but just let the cute happen.
- On a sidenote, plenty of bits and pieces were cut from this film, including line readings and whole scenes from the initial trailers, so… extras, please?
And now we need to talk about Loki.
For those of you don’t who watch far too many actor interviews (like me), you might have missed Tom Hiddleston’s mention that during the filming of the first movie, he and Rene Russo developed a backstory for Loki and Frigga where they decided that she was the one who had taught him magic and fostered his love of reading, etc. What’s more impressive is that the filmmakers liked their backstory enough that they decided to use it, giving Loki’s part in this tale a real drive that might have been missing otherwise. (One of Loki’s scenes in this movie was filmed after his ComicCon appearance, and came from an idea that Hiddleston pitched himself—could it be their scene?) Knowing that Odin basically forbid Frigga from contact with Loki, and that she roundly ignored him, is exactly right in every possible way. He’s her son. He is probably her favorite, too.
Of course, Frigga’s death could easily read as the old “women in refrigerators” trope particularly since, without those deleted scenes from Thor that I mentioned formerly, we don’t see much of her between both films. On the other hand, death is commonly used as a springboard to action, and Frigga is perfectly heroic in this film, more than a match for basically everybody. Let’s be fair, how beautiful is it that Thor and Loki are completely willing to band together because YOU KILLED OUR MOTHER AND YOU SHOULD DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH.
What Hiddleston is able to bring to the table this time around that The Avengers didn’t allow for is proper emotional layers and ambiguity (which is sort of key for a Trickster God). Loki is in pain, but he’s also enjoying the ride. He’s angry and out for himself, but he also genuinely wants to help. Most of his dialogue here turns on abrupt shifts in tone—he goes from screaming at Thor to joking with him. From tearful to playful. From irate to excited. The question shouldn’t be whether he means what he says at any given moment—the point is that on some level, he means all of it. As a personification of chaos, that’s his job.
Which means that he did love Frigga dearly, but his last words to her were a denial of her. Which means that he loves Thor, but he can never be wholly honest and helpful to him. The person who he has no love for is clearly Odin, and who can exactly blame him for that? It’s hard to condemn Loki, even if you want to, for all that complexity. Giving Thor a little bit of closure in their relationship (though we know that won’t last) was an odd sort of kindness, but also a selfish act on Loki’s part—somewhere in there, he wants Thor to forgive him and love him. If you don’t believe Loki likes the big guy at all, then I point to his last line (as Odin) in the film, where he obliquely tells Thor he’s proud of him. He didn’t have to say that. Thor had already gotten what he wanted from (the guy who he thinks is) his father. But Loki knows that they have both craved the same praise from him all their lives. And he gives it to Thor because he’s in a position to do so.
Don’t mind me, I just have a lot of feelings about this.
Elsewhere, it would be remiss to point out that while the film makes very little effort to support it’s technobabble, the crux of the action is Thor and Jane working together to save the world WITH SCIENCE! Now that is how you use an astrophysicist in your superhero movie. I don’t care if it actually makes sense, I want Jane to go from world to world with Thor and save people with science. Or they could just have a television show for kids on PBS where Thor is her big smiley lab assistant who never wears protective gear.
And then there’s that ending. You know, with Loki. On the throne of Asgard. Is Odin dead? It doesn’t seem like Loki’s style, so then where is he keeping the guy? And how long can he keep up that charade? And could they have possibly set up Thor 3 more perfectly?
The answer is no, by the way.
Emily Asher-Perrin is not sorry for over-analyzing character’s emotional motivations, especially not when Loki is sitting in a ruined jail cell with bloody feet. (*SOBBING*) You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.