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New film: Thor – The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World
Directed by Alan Taylor

Two years ago, when “Thor” was released, I wrote the following:

“I’m not familiar with the source material, although it’s fair to say that I’m somewhat familiar with the source material’s source material.  But the most surprising thing about the movie wasn’t anything plot-related, it was that it was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who’s probably more likely to be considered to act in and/or direct something Shakespearean than a Marvel property.  That said, it worked very well – as if one simply needs to treat a story with respect rather than come at it with a specific comic book fanboy mentality.  Especially when the story has epic mythological roots.”

So it shouldn’t be a great surprise that much of my enjoyment of the first movie was lost in the second movie, as the director changed – and along with it the tone and style. The new director, Alan Taylor, has more experience in television including, for example, “Game of Thrones” and early episodes of “Mad Men” (his television resume is extremely long). But those are story and character driven projects that aren’t especially heralded for their direction. It’s not that the new movie is especially bad, it just feels extremely generic.

Here’s another story about an evil figure from the depths of time attempting to regain control of an evil force from the depths of time – a combination that will supposedly be unstoppable. Except, of course, that such combinations are never actually unstoppable or there wouldn’t be stories to tell. And so, naturally, characters who supposedly can’t die, die – and characters who presumably could die, don’t die – while very little along the way makes much sense.

The ancient dark elves are out to destroy everything, because apparently that’s what they do. But Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), aren’t thrilled with that idea because “everything” includes their home realm of Asgard. It also includes the other eight realms, for which the Asgardians are the self-appointed police force, and all nine realms are about to converge for the first time in five thousand years – allowing forces, people, soda cans, and shoes to pass between them remarkably easily.

Meanwhile, Thor is a little pre-occupied keeping tabs on his human girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) although she thinks he’s forgotten her. After all there was that whole bout of excitement depicted in “The Avengers” and he didn’t even drop by to say “Hi.”

Which reminds us of one of the inherent problems of these movies about superheroes who sometimes move about in packs and sometimes work alone or in side projects – it didn’t work for the Jonas Brothers and it doesn’t work very well here either. One can’t help wondering what’s so pressing that the others are too busy to help save nine infrequently converging realms from dark elves. Maybe a sale at Audi?

Two years ago I also wrote:

It’s more character driven than merely a vehicle for the effects wizards to practice their art – although there’s a lot of that too.

There’s still some of both on display, but the balance seems to have shifted this time around. Much of the action is centered around both planned and unexpected travel between the realms, although we seem to keep getting some subset of the nine available rather than seeing all of the realm estate – perhaps the rent would double if we collected the full set of properties.

If I’m being a little harsh it’s just that it all worked so much better the first time. “Thor” made me look forward to “The Avengers” and other, related stories in the Marvel universe. But “Thor: The Dark World” just seems bland and ordinary – and if I look forward to seeing any of these people again, it’s primarily the secondary and tertiary characters who steal the few scenes they’re in. I don’t really care which ancient stone or power source gets uncovered next – Thor and his trusty pet hammer will beat them to a pulp in a couple of hours. But, with any luck, Jane’s intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her intern’s intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) will also be back to watch the action along with me.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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