Sunday, November 17, 2013

Movie Review: "Thor: The Dark World"

"Thor: The Dark World"?  No, my darlings.  You know how you eat your boring vegetables just so that you can then have a decadently delicious dessert?  This movie is pretty much the same thing: we put up with a great many idiocies and narrative missteps just so that we can have Loki in the second half.  The title of this movie really should be "Please Tolerate A Lame Villain, a Muddled Premise, a Stupid Love Story, Meaningless Bit Characters, Idris Elba Wasted Again, and Stellan Skargård In Underpants So You Can Have Loki ... Eventually."  The flick is worth the price of admission for (and pretty much only for) the indispensable presence of Tom Hiddleston's irresistible, sinuously feline god of mischief now in his third appearance (after Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012)).  OK, here's a more fitting poster:

I knew this movie was in trouble from the very beginning when Anthony Hopkins' voice began to intone.  I was expecting it to be the sonorous voice of Odin that could dignify even the silliest plot point by its sheer magisterial tenor and resonance.   It didn't happen.  The magic was missing.  It was Hopkins's voice, but it seemed barely that: the great actor seemed to be reading a textbook.  This was bad, especially because it left the actual content of the speech completely unprotected ... and it was eye-rolling nonsense.  It also happened to be the underlying premise for the entire story, which was not a good sign.

Beginning of the Universe, something something, Dark Elves blah blah blah, thing that can destroy everything, yadda yadda yadda, there's a baddie who kills a bunch of people and sounds like the Ninth Doctor under a ton of prosthetics, babble babble, oh, let's hide the thing-that-can-destroy-everything so nobody can ever find it again! *Start the stopwatch to see how long it takes before some hapless innocent stumbles onto it.*

Seriously? But, yes, that's how the film begins.  I was bored already and counting minutes until Loki would show up.  He does, not a moment too soon, as a post-Avengers captive on Asgard, under guard and in chains, but still sassing Odin even as he is sentenced to endless imprisonment.  

Fifty Shades of Asgard.

Then to everyone's disappointment, he disappears for long stretches of time, leaving us to groan under the increasingly silly movie with the leaden acting and lumpen dialogue.  He also torments the audience (read: me) by briefly surfacing to out-act his peers without saying a word even from his prison cell.  Exhibit A as his foster mother Frigga ends her visit:

Outside Asgard SuperMax (which seems, stupidly, to be located right under the palace), exposition is happening ... sort of.  Short version of the plot: the Dark Elves come back under their leader Malekith (poor Christopher Eccleston, who deserves better) to start attacking Asgard and every other realm while they're at it.  Surprise, they want to use the thing-that-can-destroy-everything.  Malekith's motivation, by the way, is unclear aside from the standard-issue "Hahaha, let's destroy the Universe just because!"  I swear, these dime-a-dozen apocalypsophiles are beginning to bore me.  They lack imagination.  

Speaking of lacking imagination ... Thor (Chris Hemsworth, more muscly than ever) can't handle this by himself, so he has to call on the only person who might be able to help.  It's Loki, of course.  Thor's a bit reluctant to bust his charismatic, conflicted, utterly untrustworthy adopted brother out of prison, but he does, and THANK GOD.  

"Brother, if I free you, are you going to steal all my fangirls?"
"Have you even seen Tumblr?"

Almost immediately Loki begins sardonically sniping at his buff blond elder brother, and the entire mood of the movie lifts.  Isn't it amazing just how much good a little bitchy sibling rivalry can do for a half-dead flick?

Oh, sure, Thor threatens to kill Loki if he turns traitor once freed, but nobody cares at this point: we are just so relieved that someone finally showed up who was worth watching.  The movie picks up speed once Loki joins the narrative, and by his mere presence Hiddleston's trickster god puts everybody else to shame and highlights just how superior his acting actually is.  It's like he's quoting Shakespeare while everyone else is playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.  His Loki steals the entire movie ... and that's how he saves it.  Oh, and there is one utterly delightful moment in the movie that took everyone by surprise, but - of course - it comes courtesy of Loki's shapeshifting mischief.

OK, there is a LOT wrong with this flick, but I'm just going to pick a few things to hate on, and here they are.  One: The love story between Jane Foster and Thor is a meaningless muddle.  If I couldn't take Natalie Portman seriously in the first Thor, I certainly wasn't going to here, and I didn't.  I'm beginning to think she's just badly miscast in the role.  Anyway, the movie gives us interludes like this, and you don't even have to sit through it in the theater to realize how horrible it was:

"You left the toilet seat up again!"
OK, not really, but it wouldn't surprise you if that were the dialogue, would it?

The movie also intimates that the Asgardian warrior princess Sif (Jaimie Alexander) has the hots for Thor and that he might be better off with her.  Portman's Foster seems to be a mighty fine argument for that idea.

Two: the so-called supporting characters.  The worst incident of all might actually be Stellan Skargård's character going bananas and streaking around Stonehenge.   (I need to bleach my eyes.  If there's going to be any streaking done by a Skargård, please in the name of all that is holy let it be by Alexander Skargård.)  Oh, and this time the annoying intern from the first movie gets an intern of her own, so now we have two annoying interns.  There is absolutely no reason to muddle up the cast even more like this.  I was already annoyed by Fandral's recasting as Zachary "Chuck" Levi replaced Josh Dallas.  The change did precisely nothing for either the character or the story.

The only supporting character who was actually awesome: Rene Russo as Frigga, queen of Asgard.  You go, girl.  (Also, I want that outfit.)

Three: The pacing has problems, and narrative points that could - even should - have greater power get steamrollered and forgotten. Worst offender: There is a moment on Asgard that should have had more power than it did, and much characterization lost out from this.  We see the moment, but we really don't see enough of the fallout afterwards.

Verdict in the end: Go see Thor: The Dark World for Loki.  He won't disappoint.

Mad Minerva gives Thor: The Dark World an overall grade of C. Hiddleston's compellingly serpentine, complicated, damaged Loki, positively oozing a sinister grace, gets an A all by himself.  I hope the god of lies approves.

RottenTomatoes gives Thor: The Dark World a Fresh rating of 66%.

Thor: The Dark World runs 112 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi/action violence and frightening images.

PS: This is a Marvel film, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Stan Lee cameo and to stay after the credits.

The official trailer for Thor: The Dark World is here:

Oh, since we're on the topic, Hiddleston's gloriously chaotic Loki is running circles - absolute circles - around Thor and in fact pretty much the entire Marvel universe.  From ruling Comic-Con this year to being the single most talked-about part of the initial Thor trailer to transforming the movie's promo campaign into "The Loki Show" to turning the Thor movie poster into a hilarious joke to setting a near-impossible standard for villainy, it's Loki's world: we just live in it.  And I am perfectly all right with that.  The Internet agrees:

U mad, bro?

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