There are few movies that really make me want to start writing creatively again. Thor: The Dark World (TDW) is one of them. I’m not sure what it was, but I’ll see if I can process some of it for you here.
(WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS)
First off, I loved the first Thor movie. I thought it was an excellent exploration of all kinds of genres. It’s high fantasy; it’s a science fiction space opera; it’s a fish out of water story; it’s a superhero film; it’s a fable about responsibility , growing up, and family ties. It was more than just one thing, and that’s part of why I would rank it really high amongst the best of the Marvel films that have come out. Sure it had it’s flaws (I felt either they didn’t know how to write Jane Foster, or Natalie Portman just phoned it in) but overall, it was an excellent film
Thor: TDW took all of that, and blew it up into a far more immersive experience than I imagined it would.
I was saddened that Kenneth Branagh was not going to direct the sequel to Thor, but then I found out that it was directed by Alan Taylor, the director of Game of Thrones, and I was sold. Overall, I think he handled the direction well. He managed to capture the essence of the world of Asgard, the huge cast of characters, and made the fantastical settings filled with godlike beings seem… human. Intimate. Accessible.
Whereas the first one felt like Shakespeare, this one felt much more ripped out of the myths of the old Nordic gods.
Gods, in most mythologies, are pretty fascinating ideas. While vastly powerful and nigh immortal, they act as humans would act, only moreso. Rage, jealousy, love, ambition, all of them are all too human and yet at a far grander scale. Taylor got that balance of human and alien just right. They were just distant enough to be awe inspiring and dangerous; just human enough to get our heads around.
However, as much as Taylor and the writers of Thor got the Asgardians and the Humans right, they made the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, the villains of the film, seem incredibly flimsy and thin. They were imposing, sure enough, and I can’t get enough of Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith (I have a feeling he was destroying London just to get back at the BBC for all the political nonsense that drove him away from Doctor Who). Imposing, well-designed, dark and mysterious–these are well done.
I just didn’t care for their motivation. I wish they had fleshed it out more.
All I got from them was “WE ARE THE GRIMDARK ELVES OF GRIMDARKISTAN AND WE WANT TO MAKE THE UNIVERSE AS GRIMDARK AS WE WERE BEFORE THE UNIVERSE!” (Yeah, by the way, they never really explained the whole “before the universe began thing”… which bothers me. Interesting concept, never filled out.)
I think there was so much potential for the Dark Elves that was just left untouched. What was life like before the universe? Can they survive in universe filled with light? What would have been much better was if we saw more the war from the perspective of the elves–similar to what Guillermo Del Toro did with Hellboy 2. The plots were incredibly similar, but Del Toro did it with a lot more finesse; the world of the Elves was dying as the humans expanded beyond their territories, and so the Elves were trying to preserve life as they saw it necessary. It was a story about the dangers of human expansion and disregard for the environment, and at some point, we kind of wanted the Elf Prince to win, because he had a point.
These villains had no point. They had no sympathy. They were completely alien and incomprehensible, and perhaps that was intentional; but you can do that in a way that makes the audience understand why they are that way without making them seem just generically menacing.
To put things in a theological framework, these devils had no real visible skin in the game. Wanton destruction was their only aim. It wasn’t anything we could really understand, and there seemed be no sin save wrath at the core of their motivation. Maybe that’s just it. Maybe these are the faceless philistines of the biblical narrative; original occupants of a promised land (in this case, a universe) and they want to defend their land that they see as their own, going to the extent of destroying everything to get their way. However, the philistines of the Bible weren’t exactly faceless; we saw many of them in action, both good and evil, and so the black-and-white exterior seems more grey upon inspection. See, if they alluded more to that, it could have been better. There was no real grey in this movie, save for the relationship between Thor and Loki.
Overall though, I give Thor 2 an -A. Beautiful, exciting, epic, just left me wanting more out of the central conflict. Definitely worth a watch, at least a rental.
Also, Tom Hiddleston needs to have his own Loki spinoff movie. Make it happen, Marvel.