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Entries in Thor: The Dark World [2013] (1)

Sunday
Nov102013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Comic-book Movies for Dummies

Technically, Thor: The Dark World has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Its special effects are the best money can buy. Its cast if full of acclaimed and award-winning actors who give the production credibility by virtue of having shown up to set and not forgetting their lines. The music and dialogue are audible; the costuming sufficiently believable; and the lighting allowed me to see everything that was happening at all times. In these regards, Alan Taylor's contribution to the Marvel product catalogue is competent enough to be called a "real movie".

But in order to consider this a "good movie", one must embody one or all of the following criteria:

1. Eleven to thirteen years of age

2. Complete unawareness of other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (specifically, Thor and The Avengers)

3. Complete unawareness of other sci-fi/fantasy and/or comic-book movies (specifically, Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Independence Day, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 3, the Lord of the Rings trilogy)

4. The state of being consciously or unconsciously impressed by blockbuster special effects, regardless of their lack of uniqueness and/or importance to the story (i.e. "Shiny Objects Syndrome")

5. Battered, Agreeable Mega-Fan (BAMF!) Syndrome: Commonly diagnosed in avid comic-book readers, the afflicted weep with gratitude that the reading material for which they were mocked in high school is now being taken seriously in pop culture. All concern for plot holes, poor character development, and pretentiousness apply to everything except whichever work falls within the narrow scope of their fandom. These sad cretins can be found trolling Comments sections, writing book-length screeds that invariably end with, "Come on u guys atleast they MADE a aVENGER movie!! Stop nitpicking and turn OFF YOUR BRAIN, IDitods!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

6. Barring any of the above, a mental condition that replicates these effects in one's mind (such as whatever was going on with Guy Pearce's character in Memento)

Simply put, Thor: The Dark World is nine steps back for Marvel. From contractual and franchise standpoints, yes, it makes sense that each character from the unbelievably successful Avengers would get at least one spin-off trilogy. But it'd be nice if the audience were given a reason to care. Where this film is concerned, I can't even be bothered to break down its problems straight, so I've tailored my summary to the same prism through which I watched it. Bear with me:

The evil elf from Hellboy 2 apparently had a cousin named Malekith The Under-developed (Christopher Eccleston), whose only purpose in life is to return the universe to the darkness that existed before everything--including, I suppose, himself. He created a mega-weapon, called "the aether", which, like the Venom symbiote, can take possession of people (and, like the One Ring, can only be destroyed in the fiery lava of Mount Doom). Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) grandfather kills Malekith the Puny's army and hides the aether where it can never be found. Malekith the Convenient gets away and rests in his spaceship for thousands of years, until being reawakened by the Autobots.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman returns as Thor's GirlfriendTM, and continues to prove that A) 2010 was a light year for the Academy and B) Denise Richards doesn't hold a monopoly on dumb, giggly-girl movie scientists. Portman's character is possessed by the aether (found it!) just as the nine realms of the universe are scheduled to align. Thor takes her to the mythical kingdom of Sneezegard for treatment, but his dad (Anthony Hopkins) refuses to help 'cause he's a crazy, old racist.

Malekith the Bored learns that the aether is on Sneezegard, so he steals a page from Heath Ledger's Joker's playbook and sends a flunky into that world's prison system. The henchman blows up and reforms as a CGI monster, freeing everyone except Thor's disgraced brother/non-starter-villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor enlists the help of The Little Viking Rascals to break out Loki and get the Black Swan off-world, resulting in an awesome hangar fight that the Millennium Falcon narrowly escapes.

Frodo, Sam, and Gollum eventually make it to the barren volcano dimension where Anakin gets his hand cut off while fighting Malekith the B-Grade Sith Lord. Meanwhile, London is invaded by these giant black machines that are either Decepticon war ships, Kryptonian world engines, or Pseudo-Kahn's destroyer-thingy from Star Trek: Into Recycling. Everything comes to a head when Thor finally becomes a character in his own sequel and sacrifices himself to save mankind from Malekith the Generic--whose last breathe is spent recreating John Malkovich's death scene from Con Air (or Charlize Theron's from Prometheus, if you're too young for the first reference).

Despite milliseconds of dramatic tension, Thor turns out to be okay. He tells his dad that he's got better things to do than be King of Everything--meaning he's at precisely the same point at the end of the picture as he was at the beginning--or, more precisely, at the end of the first one, which makes these two boring hours seem even less necessary.

All is not lost, however. Thor: The Dark World's fantastic, mid-credits "stinger" sets up next summer's Guardians of the Galaxy. These three minutes contain more imagination, intrigue, and bona fide acting than anything that precedes them. On a related note, feel free to leave before the second stinger, in which Thor shows up to kiss Padme and an ice beast chases birds around a London shipyard. You could change your life with that five minutes, I promise.

What else? Um, Idris Elba continues to coast through genre pictures solely on his reputation. Seriously, between this flick and Ender's Game, he and Harrison Ford could go head-to-head in a "Stare Meaningfully into the Distance" contest.

Kat Dennings proves that her 2 Broke Girls shtick only works on the small screen.

Portman practically begs for us to relive the pain of those godawful Star Wars prequels.

Oh, and I think it's high time that S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Universe's super-secret (ha ha) government agency uses its vast resources to develop a cosmic drain-stopper. They could put it to great use, and even farm it out to the other myriad movies whose climax involves a portal opening up above a major city that costumed heroes/fighter pilots have to seal before an Ultimate Evil can swallow our world.

My only positive takeaway is that Hemsworth's beard doesn't look like it was spray-painted on this time out--though his performance might as well have been.

I don't like being the curmudgeon, the naysayer. But I also don't like spending fouteen-twenty-five on uninspired crap that I've seen a dozen times in as many years. Comic-book movies are rapidly deteriorating in front of our eyes, by virtue of their having become must-see event movies. Never mind the quality of the storytelling: audiences the world over are fueling these soulless juggernauts with the same blind devotion that allowed Saw to spawn six (soon to be seven) sequels.

The only recent exception is Iron Man 3. But even that tremendously fun and smart film has experienced a grotesque backlash, simply because Shane Black dared to change up the recipe on his particular style of Whopper. Maybe that tells me all I need to know about why I can't stand these franchise pictures anymore: I love movies that follow me home and make me wonder what brilliant ideas their creators will come up with next to astound and inspire me. All that followed me home from Thor 2 was guilt at not having tackled the awards-season screeners cluttering my desk.

What a waste.