As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.
In The Dark World, we get to catch up with Thor, who is busy bringing peace and order to the nine realms after that nasty business with Loki and the Chitauri army on earth.
“I would rather be a good man than a great king.”
Still God of Thunder, Son of Odin, and first in line to the throne of Asgard, Thor is the protector of the nine realms of the universe.
- Jane Foster
- Lady Sif + friends
- Erik Selvig
“I will restore our world. And I will put an end to this poisoned universe.”
Malekith is the leader of an ancient race of dark elf-style aliens – the bad guys in Asgardian legend – who were masters of the universe before the creation of light. He’s pretty much the god of darkness.
Villain Complexity Rating: 3/5
As far as motivation goes, Malekith is pretty basic: he wants to reclaim his power in order to return to simpler times, when he was in charge and everything else in the universe didn’t exist. He gets bonus points for representing forces that are so primal and mystical; in human scale, though, Malekith is more of a concept than an actual life form. Unfortunately, this makes him tough to empathize with.
“What’s at Stake” Rating: 5/5
If Malekith wins, all light and life in the universe will be wiped out. The aether is to earth as “The Nothing” is to Fantasia: after this, nothing else exists, only darkness. Pretty much as high as the stakes can get.
What did our hero(es) learn?
Experiencing Odin’s hatefulness and ferocity as a warlord turns Thor off to the concept of supreme leadership. He decides that it’s impossible to be King of the universal police and a good person, and decides that being a good person is more important.
Heroism Rating: 3/5
Even though Malekith has powerful magic and a military force the Asgardians were not prepared to face, when it comes down the just the two of them, Thor has Malekith’s number. His big heroic move is to defy Odin’s orders, team up with Loki, and draw the dark elves away from Asgard to fight over the Aether (AKA reality stone) on another planet, where Asgardian lives won’t be lost. When his plan goes unexpectedly off the rails, Thor teams up with Jane, Erik and the college science team to take Malekith down through clever employment of astronomical anomalies. Even though they all work together and Thor isn’t the total master of the heroic plan, they do save the WHOLE UNIVERSE from being extinguished. And Thor turns down the fancy gold throne in order to keep his good heart.
Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 2.5/5
This is some seriously epic, high-fantasy-meets-sci-fi space alien shit. Though the production balances CGI and practical effects well and there are some really nicely done visual concepts – like the dark elf army, Loki in his cell, and the convergence of the nine realms – most of the production is lackluster. Alan Taylor can’t match Kenneth Branagh’s talent for framing up a shot – and even though the production is striving to be massive, most of the scenes on Asgard end up feeling kind of small and pedestrian. The costumes and lighting aren’t quite as good, and some of the visual effects with the aether veer off into the land where Alien meets Lord of the Rings and it just doesn’t quite work.
Heroic Cinema Saturation Index
Betsy Rating: 2/5
Part of me loves how fantastically epic this movie is – it’s very intense space opera mythology stuff. Which, mostly, I think is cool and fun because I’m strangely into that combo. But I can see why it’s not everyone’s thing. The sequel ratchets the wacky space stuff up a few cranks from the first Thor – and kind of jumps the shark. It may have worked if the earth scientist stuff kept the sense of grounded humor that the New Mexico team brought in the first installment, but unfortunately, our favorite scientists have gotten wackier too: Jane is on Asgard wearing a flowy armored dress and hanging with Queen Frigga, Erik is running around naked at Stonehenge, and Darcy is ordering around a cute British intern who – for some inexplicable reason – doesn’t speak and does whatever she says. Though it is desperately needed, the earth squad humor doesn’t really work, and I think it’s because everything else in this movie is so dark and serious. Jane is carrying the reality stone AKA ultimate darkness in her body, which will consume and/or kill her. Loki sat in prison, powerless, while his beloved mother was murdered. Erik has been infected by the mind stone and understands things no one else understands, and so, has been thrown in a looney bin. Odin is acting from hatred and rage, willing to sacrifice countless Asgardian lives and Thor is committing treason, again. Goofy Darcy antics don’t hit.
What does work is, unsurprisingly, Thor and Loki’s relationship. The humor in it works as well as the hatred, and man – sign me up for the Tom Hiddleston fan club already, but he is just mesmerizingly good, flashing convincingly from mischief to grief, from banter to rage. And for the first time yet, Loki joins up with the good team (so satisfying!) just long enough to slip out of Thor’s grasp and sneak his way back into exactly what he wants: Asgard’s throne. It’s so great.
Though it’s tonally strange, serious, and uneven, the growth of Thor and Loki’s characters – and some deeper backdrop on the Reality Stone (which we’ll see again in Inifinity War), make this worth watching. Though if deeply nerdy sci-fantasy isn’t at all your thing, maybe you could just track down the Thor and Loki scenes on YouTube or something. That would work too.
Justin’s Rating: 2/5
Similar to Iron Man 3, Thor’s second solo adventure is something of an exercise in character development for our titular hero, but it also endeavors to further define the celestial, mythical nature of the universe as seen from earth. Thor: TDW reveals Asgardian history so ancient it has been lost to the fog of time for all but the eldest of its residents, who remember it not as myth but history. In earth terms, that’s the kind of old you get into arguments on holidays with your parents about. Well not anymore, at least in the MCU. It’s paradigm-shifting stuff to learn that your myths are not only as real as you are, but they have myths of their own. So that’s cool and hopefully MCU human families can start discussing things like climate change without someone crying and locking themselves in the bathroom or whatever now.
I guess it’s useful for audiences to have further context regarding the vast, epic nature of Thor’s home and his people, but I’m not convinced we need this film to do so. In fact, despite a couple of important plot points, like the death of Frigga and Thor’s tenuous alliance with Loki, this film is of little consequence in MCU terms. We don’t learn much of anything new about the key players, nor they of themselves. When the dust clears from the mess Malekith and Co cause, Thor declares himself protector of the nine realms (again, still) and Loki is still a shit, having clandestinely supplanted Odin on Asgard’s throne.
All this stuff is fine, but boy could they have made it more fun. Where the first film celebrated Asgard’s histrionic goofiness, The Dark World charges hard up that strange mountain where high fantasy and hard scifi have their yearly picnic (that’s what they call it but you know it’s an orgy). Guys, it’s serious business. Maybe it’s the lack of practical environmental effects or the corny, Syfy Network-esque character design, but this doesn’t play straight successfully, and there isn’t much levity to go around. The earth scenes try too hard to be funny, but usually miss the mark if you’re not a fan of The Big Bang Theory or at least what I imagine Big Bang Theory to be like. Is this the shit you people like? All Father help us.
Thor: The Dark World is available to rent online for a few dollars through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores, though if you’ve got a hankerin for some Asgard action, maybe you should just watch the OG Thor again instead.