RECAP: Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (2013): Alan Taylor

After the world-shaking events of The Avengers, Thor flies around the nine realms cleaning up Loki’s mess. He’s also not seen his girlfriend Jane Foster for two years. How will that reunion go?

With a new director, Thor: The Dark World plays as a denouement for The Avengers and a bridge to the upcoming Avengers sequel. That might explain why it grossed half Iron Man 3‘s total and barely beat the unknown Ant-Man released at the end of Marvel’s Phase 2.

Nevertheless, you enjoyed the family bickering, Hiddleston hair, Hemsworth chest, and Asgard aerials. Get ready for round two of Norse gods, because here we go!

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The Dark Elves, who predate the universe’s nine realms, try to destroy all of creation with the indestructible Aether, and only Thor can stop them. 

Hero (5/10)

Between the first and second Thor movie, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has spent his time cleaning up the nine realms, making safe the peace won during Odin’s reign, and not visiting Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). As excuses go, that’s not bad.

As personalities go, Thor’s has not changed. During a peacekeeping mission on Vanaheim, Thor enters single combat with a rock ogre twice his height. Not intimidated, Thor approaches the creature and says, “I accept your surrender.” The rock ogre does not like that, less does he enjoy Thor smashing him to smithereens with Mjolnir. Hammer beats rock.

Your hero, my hero, everyone’s hero.

The subsequent victory party shows how Thor has changed. Once an all night partier, Thor mopes in the corner for his lost Jane, ignoring Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the wonderful warrior who will actually live as long as Thor, 5,000 or so years.

Jane or no Jane, Thor still has a swagger. And there’s a wet torso for people to gawp at (see above). So when Thor finally returns to Earth to meet Jane, we expect some kisses and hugs. Instead, Jane slaps him. She saw him on TV fighting Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) army (in The Avengers). He could have at least called.

Thor from the first movie was prepared to punch his way out of any scrape. New Thor uses different tactics. To counter a threat posed not only to Asgard but to all the realms, Thor decides he needs Loki’s help. He abducts Loki from Asgard’s dungeons and asks his brother for means of escape, all of this a betrayal of his father’s wishes.

Loki, learning of the plan, loves the subterfuge. Thor seems less eager about it. As Loki says, languishing in his cell, “You must be truly desperate to come to me.” Make no mistake, though, it’s not about brotherly love. “You betray me,” Thor says, “and I will kill you.”

However, just like his first movie, Thor offers his life to save everyone else’s. All the people in all the realms see his attempt to save them. He even saves his treacherous brother, a man whom he no longer sees as his brother, from the oblivion of a Dark Elf grenade.

Luckily, Thor still has that deep, slow bellow when he’s happy, probably Hemsworth’s most charming trait and the sexiest male voice since George Clooney. Oh, and the abs.

Villain (3/10)

The leader of the ancient race of Dark Elves is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), an elf of such hate that he’s willing to destroy all the universe to achieve the darkness from which he and his race were created.

That’s what I gathered from the introduction narrated by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The Dark Elves created an indestructible weapon called Aether, a viscous blood-red liquid that possess some kind of intelligence.

For a Dark Elf Malekith’s pretty light-skinned.

Malekith went into hiding eons ago after Thor’s grandfather destroyed his army in battle on The Dark World. Asgard hid the Aether in another realm, where it slumbered for millennia until an enterprising young physicist named Jane Foster woke it up.

The Aether might be the true enemy in Thor: The Dark World, but Malekith quests for it, wields it, and dies by it, so he’s our villain. Plus, he’s got a face.

That’s the Aether on the left, before Jane’s body slurps it up.

He’s rude to his own kind. He bails on his underlings as Asgard overruns them in the opening battle sequence. Their death will be his survival, he reasons. Really a guy to inspire the troops.

Malekith doesn’t do very much, but he sure does menace. During the attack on Asgard that cuts the film in two, Malekith walks into Odin’s chamber and calmly throws a grenade at it. The implosion does nothing to help the attack, but it does make the elf leader feel better.

Malekith also forces one of his troops to undergo a suicide mission that is the key to the Asgard strike. Lucky for him, because he needed that warrior after Frigga (Rene Russo), Asgard’s queen, defeated Malekith in a duel.

For all the work to make and recapture the Aether, Malekith proves it was not the best weapon. Thor’s hammer is an even match for it punch for punch. Though it is indestructible, the Aether seems to require someone to master it, like any old weapon. Malekith was eager enough to try.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Thor: The Dark World features one large attack on Asgard as it’s middle set piece. Heimdall (Idris Elba), Asgard’s first line of defense, fails on his job, overlooking the Dark Elf accompanying the other prisoners returning to Asgard.

The elf waits until he’s locked in Asgard’s dungeons before activating his Kursed power, which turns him into a burning rage monster. The elf uses another cellmate to short circuit the cell wall by burying his face into it. Next, the elf chokes two guards and punches out the remaining cell chambers, unleashing angry prisoners of war into the heart of Asgard.

Getting ready to become Kursed, a demon-like fighter that the universe will destroy in time, but before then will be indestructible.

All the cells save one. The elf looks at a smirking Loki and decides to leave him be. Loki offers helpful advice, telling him to take the stairs to the left. How generous. The elf does this, killing dozens of guards on his way to a special chamber.

Heimdall, meanwhile, spots a cloaked ship flying past him. Either the ship is slow or Heimdall is fast, because the Asgard gatekeeper sprints along the Bifrost and up a cable at the same speed as the ship, until he leaps onto the cloaked vessel and stabs it with two knives. Heimdall slides down its edge, throws a blade into the engine, and sends the ship crashing into the reconstructed Bifrost.

Heimdall smirks, until he turns to find the mothership behind, sending a dozen more ships to attack Asgard.

Thor arrives at the prison with his best buddies. They crack a few necks as Loki reads in his cell. The most exciting day in years and he chooses the moment to read? Appearances mean everything to Loki.

The Dark Elves fly toward the palace. Their kabuki-masked pilots fly the knife-shaped ships through gaps between buildings, dodging the anti-aircraft gunfire and missiles from Asgard ships.

Heimdall activates a forcefield to encompass the palace. As the gold field rises, the sequence revisits our friend the burning Dark Elf. He took Loki’s advice about the stairs to the left and found the power source for the forcefield, which he smashes.

Now the knife ships can attack the palace. One does, kamikaze-style, crashing into the king’s great hall in a terrific collision that shows the immense size of Odin’s house. Below, in the dungeon, Loki and Thor feel the ceiling quake.

Kabuki elves emerge from the downed ship and make a big impression on the Asgard guards. Some have grenades that implode, sucking everything nearby into oblivion. They also have rifles that shoot red lasers.

Those kabuki-masked elves I keep talking about.

Malekith enters and throws one such grenade onto Odin’s throne. This fight’s personal. He walks to Frigga’s room to take the Aether from Jane.

Frigga ain’t scared of the old man. “Stand down, creature, and you may still survive this,” she says. Malekith doesn’t, of course, and they sword fight. Frigga’s great, beating him quickly, but she doesn’t see the Kursed elf until he’s choking her.

Frigga’s finest hour, facing down Malekith.

Malekith sees Jane, learns she’s a hologram, and demands to know where the real Jane is. Frigga ain’t saying. Malekith orders his rage soldier to stab her in the back.

In a flash Thor arrives, zapping Malekith’s face with Mjolnir and smashing the two elves back to their ship. Odin, Thor, and Jane start the mourning that extends through the entire realm. Now Frigga can be another woman on the large pyre of dead women for whom movie stars mourn and avenge.

At this point in the Marvel box office saturation strategy, the effects teams knew the palates they were working with. Loki is green, the Aether red, Thor’s cape red, and Asgard gold. Visual effects in Marvel movies are always great; Thor: The Dark World is no exception.

Sidekicks (3/8)

Thor’s Asgard friends take backseats to the Earthly buddies of Jane Foster. With a star turn in a CBS sitcom, Kat Dennings as Darcy gets much more screen time and most of the jokes. She insinuates herself as the best interferer in Marvel’s universe, constantly blowing up Jane’s romantic interludes. Only when Jane is in Asgard does she kiss Thor.

Darcy’s back and funnier than ever. And hornier.

Darcy hires her own intern, an intern to the intern, and doesn’t learn his name, even after she makes out with him. Nice touch, Darcy.

Those metal spikes are the universe’s best hope. We’re doomed.

Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) returns in a much-reduced role. He’s twice shown running naked through Stonehenge and talks to Jane in his tight-whities, because he thinks better without pants. All this proves, once again, that Skarsgård remains one of cinema’s biggest freaks. 

Henchmen (6/8)

Loki. Everyone’s favorite mischief maker. Thor’s brother from another mother begins the movie in chains, captured after his horrific attack on New York City that comprised the plot of The Avengers. Odin, displeased, throws Loki in the dungeons with all the other bad guys who opposed Asgard.

Loki is the lone prisoner not released during Malekith’s attack on Asgard. Instead he sits in his cell and offers advice on where to find Asgard’s weaknesses.

There’s that Loki grin we love.

After Frigga’s death, Loki takes a dark turn. He struggles to mask his pain from Thor, failing and showing that he’s let his hair go and bloodied his foot somehow.

Thor offers Loki a chance to leave the dungeons, and Loki accepts, but the brothers don’t trust each other. “I wish I could trust you,” Thor says. “Trust my rage,” Loki counters.

Dude’s sad ’bout his mama.

In The Dark World, we think Loki betrays Thor, cutting off his hand and claiming, “All I ever wanted was you and Odin dead at my feet.” This is in sight of Malekith, of course, making it another of Loki’s deceits. We should have guessed when Loki cut off Thor’s hammer hand and no blood poured out.

Malekith draws the Aether from poor Jane, as Thor planned, and Loki unleashes the real attack on the Dark Elves. After a brief fight which the two Asgardians mostly lose, Loki dies.

Or does he?

Hiddleston, as usual, provides excellent fun as Loki, lending the character equal parts gravitas and fun. We never trust him, as it should be.

Stunts (2/6)

Hard to tell what’s a stunt and what isn’t. With so much flying and mystical fighting, plenty of actions occur on the proverbial green screen. Two points because some stunts were probably done. Oh, also, check out Thor’s body double:

HOLY SHIT!

Climax (2/6)

Get ready, folks, ’cause physics ’bout to get whacked out when the nine realms converge.

For Malekith’s universe-annihilation plan to work, he must be in exactly the right place at the right time. The place is the Greenwich Observatory. The time is…whenever he gets there. The movie is sketchy on temporal details.

Never mind, because Malekith knows when to arrive. He announces his presence with authority in the UK, crashing his mothership into the well manicured grounds. Tourists scatter.

Malekith tours the lesser-known London sights.

Thor flies in to shout insults at the Dark Elf. Malekith fires back, “Your universe was never meant to be.” Most villains would stick with “world” in that sentence, but Malekith has greater ambitions.

Now in control of the Aether, Malekith uses it to spike out at Thor. Thor counters by sending Mjolnir into Malekith into a black cab, so you know it’s London.

Erik, Jane, Darcy, and the intern have their own plan. Armed with Erik’s tailor-made gravity wands, the four of them run around the observatory complex staking them into the ground. They need seven minutes to stop Malekith from destroying creation.

With the gravity field generator (or whatever, I was never clear on what they were) rods in place, Jane and Erik activate them. With the flick of a nob Jane sends several elf fighters into another realm, and then back into Earth’s realm a few yards from where they started. Physics gettin’ wonky.

One excellent shot displays this tactic. Malekith, battling Thor, steps too close to a stake and Jane plucks him from Earth. The camera, shooting over Thor’s shoulder, follows our hero as he walks forward to investigate. Suddenly, a few yards behind where he left this plane, Malekith reappears, all in one continuous shot.

Malekith shooting Aether

Jane and Erik get busy zapping creatures throughout the realms. Thor and Malekith visit The Dark World a few times. They strike at each other, Aether, vs. Mjolnir, across many planes of existence. Both slide down the glass walls of London’s Swiss Re building.

One moment shows Mjolnir passing through Malekith, out of The Dark World, into London, only to make a 90-degree turn skyward and into orbit. Credit to the hammer: it does not boldly crash through buildings, but follows the streets when called by its wielder.

Now some fighter jets are flying. They’ll save the day. (Giant eye roll.) Immediately they are sucked into another realm, a missile blowing up.

Thor and Malekith now fight in the Frost Giants’ realm, where they encounter a giant dog-like creature. This moment reminded me that Asgard soldiers have destroyed two of the nine realms, making eternal enemies of both peoples. Perhaps Asgardians are not as high-handed as they believe.

The realms converge closer. The Frost Giant monster dog arrives on Earth and bites an elf. Thor ends up in a tube stop, and asks a local how many stops to Greenwich. Thor boards and stands beside her. That lady gets the best three stops of her life.

This lady’s tweet: OMG totally rode tube with random Thor cosplay hunk!

The tube is efficient, but it’s not the fastest way to cross town when in a hurry. Thor arrives back at Malekith’s ship to find it engulfed in a red dust storm of the Aether’s making. He, Jane, and Erik believe the cause to be lost. But it ain’t, as long as they have those field spikes.

Aether creeping into the realms to destroy them.

The Aether’s tendrils creep up into the other realms. All the 10 trillion souls out there can see their world’s converging. They can also see Thor walking into the maelstrom carrying three spikes. Malekith balks. The Aether cannot be destroyed. “No,” Thor says, “but you can.”

Thor hurls two spikes into each of Malekith’s arms. Jane sends them into The Dark World. It’s unclear why his entire person did not travel with his arms, but they did not.

Malekith is hurting, and Thor uses the moment to strike with the final spike and Mjolnir, the former plunged into his chest. Bye bye, Malekith.

Now his ship is crashing. That’s a problem, because Thor is nearly passed out underneath it. The hammer lies nearby. Jane rushes to her man, tries to drag him away. He’s too beefcake.

Never fear. Erik has a last trick up his sleeves. He zaps the ship to The Dark World, the universe’s junk drawer, to crash upon Malekith. The realms pass out of alignment, the fighter jets return, Darcy makes out with her intern, all is well.

Back in Asgard, Thor faces Odin and turns down kingship. Pity Odin, one son wants the throne too much, the other not at all. As Thor says, “I’d rather be a good man than a great king.” On to the next Marvel flick.

Jokes (1/4)

Dennings adds a few jokes to the Thor universe. She blows up Jane’s scene twice, first ruining her date with Chris O’Dowd and later when Jane and Thor are about to kiss. Darcy locks lips with her own man, an intern whose name she doesn’t learn.

Thor throws his brother out of a ship. Erik runs naked through Stonehenge. A random young person watches Malekith try to end the world so he can record Thor on his phone.

The best joke occurs after Thor releases Loki. Loki, excited to be free, giddily hops through the palace, shifting into other forms. His favorite is Captain America (Chris Evans in a self-flaggelating cameo), who rambles about patriotism, honor, and do-gooding, ideals Loki mocks.

In total, when Odin’s standing around shouting when his sons anger him, you aren’t going to laugh much.

Setting (3/4)

Asgard is a disc world, one of the nine realms. We saw plenty of it in Thor, and in The Dark World we see a lot more. The Bifrost is repaired with no explanation. We see the sparing areas beneath the organ-pipe keep. The place is as Rivendell than ever.

The Dark World lives up to its name, metaphorically. Lit by a wan sun, the dusky sky covers a bleak, rocky world. The Dark Elves must be angry if they lived there 5,000 years ago.

The Dark World

The Earth scenes are in London. Boring, right? No. Greenwich Observatory looks beautiful, regal, and worthy of being the focal point of all existence. London has beautiful buildings, but I found myself longing for the uniqueness of Thor‘s New Mexico setting. After The Avengers, another global city being crushed by an alien ship seems derivative.

Commentary (0/2)

Most Marvel movies are too concerned with the destruction of not only our world, but others, and in Thor: The Dark World‘s case, all the worlds.

The movie’s politics are familial. Odin can’t abide his two sons and their choices. Loki blames everyone but himself for his life behind the proverbial bars. The two brothers bicker in nearly every scene.

Thor chides Loki for their treasonous escape from Asgard, telling him that would satisfy him. “Satisfaction’s not in my nature,” Loki says. “Surrender’s not in mine,” Thor says.

Thor disavows his brother the same time he asks for his help with some pesky trickeration. Thor (rightly) blames Loki for the attack on New York, but to save Earth this time Loki’s tricks will be the key. Escape and subterfuge–those are key Loki traits, so it’s interesting that Thor agrees while hating his brother for them.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Marvel snuck several non-Nordic actors to play traditional Norse deity warriors. Good job.

Others

  • Can Stellan Skarsgard keep his pants on throughout an entire film?

Summary (30/68): 44%

I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World more on second viewing than the first. Perhaps it was a post-Avengers let down. Perhaps I don’t buy the Jane-Thor love story. Perhaps it was a lack of action scenes. Those problems faded on second viewing.

Marvel did a fine job of maintaining the familial strife that well marked the first Thor. Loki and Thor bicker, with each other and with papa Odin. They all love Frigga as much as they ignore her.

This movie had one essential job: introduce an Infinity Stone (the Aether) into The Collector’s collection. Nailed it!