in Retrospecticus, Review

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Original Review: Thor 2 is the Star Wars Sequel We Always Wanted (three and a half stars)

My deliberately provocative (and misleading) title aside, I stand by the main points from my original Thor 2 review: I like the mix of sci-fi and fantasy, the comedy often doesn’t work, it’s cool that Phase Two was Marvel’s attempt at experimenting with genre. Regardless of my praise, there was a palpable apathy toward the film at the time that’s grown in the years since. Thor: The Dark World has become the black sheep of the MCU, the lightning rod for a never-ending deluge of thoughtless think pieces on “super hero fatigue.” Is that reputation deserved? Or does this movie shine when given a second look?

Thor: The Dark World is sort of the movie all other MCU movies miraculously avoid being: an epic built on spectacle but light on charm. Basically all the characters are at their worst here; Chris Hemsworth’s charisma can’t save Thor from being the boring hero type this time. His enemy, the Dark Elf Malekith, is insanely bland, which I’m aware is a common complaint about the MCU but it is 100% true in this case. He wants to destroy the universe and that’s it, that’s his whole deal, he barely even talks. The trio of returning humans are hit the hardest: Jane, who was at most flirty with Thor in the first one, is devolved into a lovesick damsel in distress whose only redemption is she gets to turn a dial in the final battle. Darcy, who was actually funny before, becomes intolerably snarky. And Selvig, who we last saw helping Black Widow save the world, has gone mad and is shown running around naked multiple times. If it wasn’t for Tom Hiddleston really stepping up his Loki, this cast could have been a lost cause.

That’s right, the ex-Mr. Taylor Swift really elevates and complicates our understanding of Loki. And I went into this thinking maybe we’d already had enough of the character between the two others movies he was in. The Dark World is more grim than the other movies, which fits Loki’s disgrace. We learn about how close he was with his and Thor’s mother, Frigga (Rene Russo), the only member of their family who visits him in Asgard’s dungeons. So her death does inspire actual grief from the ol’ trickster and gives him the motivation to work with the good guys this time. That dynamic – Thor and friends teaming up with Loki without trusting him – is more entertaining to watch than him just betraying everybody. It’s just a shame there aren’t more scenes of Hiddleston and Hemsworth playing off each other.

Just like it’s a shame there isn’t more of Thor on Earth. His brief time on Midgard is peppered with amusing moments, like when he hangs his hammer on a coat rack or rides the tube back to his battle in Greenwich, but it’s mostly dominated by the final battle. The majority of the movie takes place on Asgard, which is a perfectly fine place but the majesty has begun to wear off. Thor just works better when he’s out of his element. And while I do think it’s cool to see other realms like Vanaheim and Svartalfheim, thanks to “The Convergence” they mostly they end up being differently colored landscapes for fighting to take place on.

I think my biggest disappointment with this movie is the decision to turn Odin into an exposition machine. You’ve got Hops, he was having fun with the role in the first movie, why spend so much time making him read books aloud? On the other hand, the story is confusing, let me see if I can recap: There’s a “Convergence” where the nine realms come into alignment which links them and causes gravitational rifts and portals to open up. For some reason, one of those rifts takes Jane to the Aether, also none as the Reality Stone, which infects her body and awakens the remaining Dark Elves. So the Dark Elves are after Jane for the Aether so they can use it during “The Convergence” to return the universe to it’s dark beginning from before the Big Bang.

In the end, all the plot leads to the battle of Greenwich, in which Thor and Malekith brawl so close to “The Convergence” that they end up teleporting around the realms. I think this is cool. I think the spaceship stuff earlier is cool. I think the Lord of the Rings-ish opening battle is cool, even though the first movie did the same thing. It’s just, none of it is cool enough to redeem the disinterest the movie has in its side characters. Which is probably why Ragnarok felt comfortable killing so many of them off.

In canon corner, Thor: The Dark World has what must be the strangest recasting in the whole MCU. Zachary Levi was originally cast to play Fandral in the first Thor, but had to drop out to film Chuck. Joshua Dallas took over the role, but when it came time for the sequel, he was too busy shooting Once Upon a Time. So Zachary Levi got to come back and play this forgettable guy in both this one and Ragnarok, where he dies almost immediately. Also this movie ends with Thor and Jane getting together as Thor puts aside his ambition to become king, which makes it kind of a bummer Natalie Portman was so done with making these movies. In Thor’s stead, Loki secretly replaces Odin and pretends to be him, but more on that later.

Also, this is the movie that makes it clear that the MCU is going to be about the Infinity Stones, which are what they renamed the Infinity Gems because stones are more manly than gems (see: Steven Universe). Odin explains what the stones are in this one; they’re the singularities that existed before the Big Bang. If you haven’t been keeping track, we’ve already met three of them. There’s the Tesseract/Space Stone, which is on Asgard and Loki’s staff/Mind Stone, which was last seen in SHIELD’s possession. This movie reveals that the Aether is actually the Reality Stone, and it ends up in the Collector’s, er, collection. You can tell this is important because it’s going to be explained to you in like four more movies after this.

MCU Power Rankings: More consistently good than Iron Man 2, but I actually think the first Thor is better. I’m a bit surprised I didn’t like this one a little more.