Thor: The Dark World is another one of those movies where I’m torn. I remember enjoying it when it first came out, but in the three years since then my attitude toward it has changed slightly. On the one hand, I appreciate more of its intricacies, particularly where the main villain is concerned. On the other hand, I’ve also become much more aware of this movie’s failings. I definitely do not like this movie as much as the first Thor, and there are a lot of places where it tries way too hard to be something that it is not and has no right to even try to be.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, Thor: The Dark World is the second-worst MCU movie to-date, only narrowly beating out The Incredible Hulk on the “strength” of its audience score. Now, I’ve said this several times already in this “Retro-Review” series, so I won’t harp on it too much this time around. Considering how strong Thor: The Dark World is by comparison with other bad movies on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s really not that bad. All of the other comic book movie universes/series have one or two worse, and some comic book movies can’t manage to get any better (*cough*Fantastic Four*cough*). So if this is the worst that the MCU ever gets, Marvel Studios has nothing to be ashamed of.
And really, even with this movie Marvel doesn’t really have anything to be ashamed of. Dark World has quite a few redeeming qualities. Odin, for example, becomes a much more “human” character in this movie—due in no small part to his becoming a widower. When Frigga dies, Odin’s character takes a dramatic turn due to the effects of his grief. He is no longer the wise old man who always has something up his sleeve. Instead he becomes far more driven and far more closed-off, even from his son. This is something that his character really needed after the first movie, and the change in his character in this movie did not disappoint.
Thor and Loki are also both highlights of the movie. The first movie started with Thor as a brash and self-centered spoiled brat, and by the end of the movie he had learned humility and selflessness. The second movie takes that humble and selfless Thor and transforms him to become wiser and nobler. In the first movie his “heroic sacrifice” was to offer himself as payment to satisfy Loki’s rage—in which he played a part. In the second movie, however, his “heroic sacrifice” is to risk his own life and that of the woman he loves, not to atone for his own mistakes but to correct his grandfather’s oversight in allowing the dark elves to survive.
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Loki of course steals every scene he is in, particularly with his banter with Thor during the “jailbreak” scene. Loki actually brings more genuine humor to the movie than any of the other humorous moments. At the same time, though, he also brings a profound depth with his reaction to Frigga’s death. By the time of his own “heroic sacrifice,” we can actually believe that Frigga had such a powerful influence on him that he willingly sacrificed himself to save the brother that he despised so greatly. And then at the end of the movie the pull the rug out from under us with the reveal that Loki never died but in fact overthrew Odin without anyone’s knowledge. That is a huge twist, and that is what really redeems the movie for me. Earlier in the movie we thought that Loki was on a redemption arc; at this point we realize that Loki was the main villain of the movie all along. Loki took advantage of all the confusion caused by Malekith to break out of prison, evade Thor, and carry through on what he had been planning to do from the very beginning.
Having said that, we do need to talk about Malekith himself, considering that he was billed as the main villain. To be honest, Malekith is terrible. He’s certainly powerful enough to give Thor a run for his money, particularly when he’s charged up with the Aether, but it’s not enough for a villain to just be physically imposing; he needs to also be compelling and dynamic as a character. Malekith simply does not. We have no reason to root for him. He doesn’t change one bit from start to finish. He is largely forgettable as a villain, as is his blank-staring paper army.
The secondary characters in this movie actually take a step backwards from the first movie. In the first movie Selvig’s seriousness, Darcy’s ditziness, and Jane’s love-struck awe played well together in how they reacted to the stimulus of a confused Asgardian crashing to Earth in front of them. In this movie, however, that dynamic does not work at all. Jane is still love-struck, but she is far more of a stereotypical “damsel in distress” than she was in the first one—which is ironic after the marketing claimed that she would actually have a stronger role than in the first one! They said she would have to find her way to Thor’s world, but she really didn’t. Instead she stumbled into finding the Aether (and getting into trouble) and then got dragged around without showing any initiative of her own until the end of the movie. Darcy’s ditziness fails at generating humor most of the time, and the problem is only compounded by the addition of her intern, Ian. Selvig is a bit of a redeeming element on this regard, but that’s only when you consider his part in this movie in the larger context of his part in The Avengers. In that movie Loki turned him into a pet; in this movie, Selvig is clearly suffering the aftereffects of Loki’s mind-rape. As far as actual humor goes, Selvig is really just pathetic.
Long story short, the humor in this movie just plain does not work at all when Loki isn’t on screen.
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The effects in this movie are certainly impressive, but there was one aspect which just did not sit well with me. The first movie made it clear that Asgardians just use more-powerful versions of medieval Viking weapons. In this movie they do a decent job of showing that the Asgardians’ weapons are more than just metal swords and spears in that they would glow a bit when swung or struck. The shields they use demonstrate a similar characteristic. All of these things are just fine, until you considering their ranged weapons and anti-aircraft weapons. The soldiers have nothing ranged, and the larger weapons just look like plain-old lasers. Frankly, that doesn’t fit very well with the Asgard we came to know from the first movie. I think a better option would have been for them to use bows and ballistae that fire lasers—leaning into the “laser-punk” feel that they’ve already given to Asgard.
Let’s not forget about the pseudo-science in this movie. All Marvel movies pseudo-science to some extent, and a movie like Thor or Thor: The Dark World is no exception. However, something about the pseudo-scientific babble in this movie just does not work for me. There really isn’t an explanation for how Selvig’s devices work, just as there is no explanation for how Selvig managed to draw an “X” across the world and come up with Greenwich as the location of the Convergence’s epicenter. Just trusting that those things work would be a whole lot easier than trying to understand the in-universe explanations!
It's not by any means a terrible movie, but it certainly doesn't live up to Marvel's standards.