Thor: The Dark World, Revised Loki Edition

SPOILERS

thor-2-dark-world-posterAt one point during the climactic battle of Marvel’s latest Avenger outing, Thor: The Dark World, space prince Thor and the villainous Malekith knock each other through portals, popping in and out of different worlds as they pound each other into the ground. After all that had come before, I expected Thor and Malekith to pause, look around and say, “Let’s not go to Asgard. ’Tis a silly place.” Because Thor: The Dark World is very silly movie—it’s basically a superhero take on Monty Python.

Which is not to say it’s bad. The Dark World is a big improvement on the first Thor, which was more unintentionally hilarious than not, whereas The Dark World deliberately sets up many jokes and lands them all and it never falls into unintentional hilarity. It is missing the Shakespearian weight that director Kenneth Branagh gave to the first installment, but in trade the sequel benefits from new franchise director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones), who brings visual detail, commanding action, and a breezy pace that sails right past all the narrative foibles and inconsistencies that, if you look twice, riddle the plot like Swiss cheese. But The Dark World defies its own problems because it is just so damn fun. And then, after you’ve had two hours of good fun, it ends with a bold stroke—not a conquering hero winning the day, but a triumphant villain coming back stronger than ever.

Probably going to regret not following through on that.
Probably going to regret not following through on that.

The plot almost doesn’t matter. There are very few consequences in The Dark World and generally the movie moves so fast you aren’t given time to linger on anything that has just happened. The movie picks up roughly a year after the events of The Avengers; Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned on Asgard while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travels the nine realms, basically being the universe police (Team Asgard: Fuck Yeah!). Meanwhile, on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is attempting to get over Thor and is pursuing Science! in London because filming in London is way cheaper than Los Angeles.

There is a MacGuffin so poorly explained they might as well have called it the “magical thingummy”, but the crux of the conflict is that the nine worlds are about to align for the first time in millennia and Jane sticks her hand into the magical thingummy, becoming possessed by it, because that’s a thing. Thor comes back to Earth just long enough to snatch Jane and take her back to Asgard for some space healing, and then the shit hits the fan. Act one drags as they set everything up, but once Jane gets to Asgard, and the evil dark elves lead by Malekith show up to get the magical thingummy, it really gets going.

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Loki was the best part of Thor and it’s no different the second time around. Taylor and editors Dan Lebental (Iron Man 1-2) and Wyatt Smith (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) deftly cut Loki’s jailbreak like a heist film in true Ocean’s Eleven style. Thor needs to get Jane and the magical thingummy out of Asgard and he needs Loki to do it because Loki needs to be involved in the plot. His escape is a great action sequence, though, and act two, “The Thor & Loki Roadshow”, is easily the best part of the movie. Hemsworth is more confident in the role of Thor this time around, but Hiddleston is, still, the stand-out as Loki. He plays Loki not so much as an outright liar but as someone who talks in circles, poking and prodding weaknesses and exploiting perception, but when he drops a truth bomb, it carries extra weight.

There are some upgrades this time, too. Jane Foster, for one, is much less ditzy. Portman and Hemsworth still don’t have any chemistry, but the movie masks that by keeping them focused on fixing Jane and then saving the world. The relationship stuff pokes out here and there, and, wisely, it’s mostly played for laughs. Also recasting the role of Thor’s swashbuckling buddy Fandral with Zachary Levi (Chuck) was a good call. It’s a small part but a serious improvement—the guy actually has a discernible personality this time around, and as long as Marvel is in the TV show business, might I suggest one about Sif and the Warriors Three? Levi could totally carry it.

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Another upgrade is the expanded roles of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Frigga (Renee Russo). Frigga is, in very short order, immensely likeable and badass, and her death is the only the only consequence of merit in the whole movie. The space-Viking funeral scene was beautifully rendered, and also served to highlight that it isn’t just Earth getting hammered in these cosmic battles. Asgard suffers heavy losses, too, somewhat balancing out the destruction of New York in The Avengers. But Odin is a total dick. He’s a complete asshole and it’s alluded to that he has caused a fair few deaths down on Earth himself, plus he seems to have no regard for human life—it’s really no wonder Loki turned out the way he did.

The design of the Dark Elves was really beautiful.
The design of the Dark Elves was really beautiful.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an entertaining, if inconsequential, action-fantasy with another great turn by Tom Hiddleston as Loki. It’s visually delightful to look at—Asgard actually feels like a real place with scale and architecture and a sense of culture—and is very funny with breezy, fast-paced action beats. I’d put it in the top five of Marvel movies so far based on sheer re-watchability alone. I’d actually put it ahead of Iron Man 3 on that score—Iron Man 3 is the better movie, but The Dark World feels like a movie that will age well and remain enjoyable over multiple viewings. It’s just so silly and fun.
ETA: That is crazy talk, I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s not a Top 5 Marvel movie and it’s certainly not better than Iron Man 3 in any way. The Dark World is, however, hella silly.

Stray Thoughts

Loki totally killed Odin, right?

The first post-credit tag was directed by James Gunn and gives a sense of what Guardians of the Galaxy will be like. Namely, colorful and insane.

Are we ever going to discuss the fact that Loki has now survived death twice?

Best cameo in a Marvel movie of any kind, period.

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8 thoughts on “Thor: The Dark World, Revised Loki Edition

  1. Elizabeth M.

    So is T:TDW a case of an improved sequel that is liked more by audiences and fans, than by the critics (especially since the first movie was directed by Branagh?)

    1. Kind of. I think critics cut the first Thor slack because of Branagh, and because he did manage to put some dramatic heft into it, but that movie is a mess. It’s only watchable for Loki. I went back and re-read my review before writing this one, and yeah, every note was about how boring it was and how nothing made sense or had any narrative purpose, except for Loki’s scenes, which were pretty electric. Thor 2, I think, they rode a little hard for being so completely silly, but it works despite its flaws. To me, that’s what separates the two. Thor 1 couldn’t overcome its own faults, but Thor 2 blows past them with a wink and a wave. So yeah, audiences will like it better because even though the plot barely holds together, it’s so fun and entertaining that it’s kind of a blast to watch.

      I do understand the criticims–it kind of feels like they only had half a script–but some of the reviews, it’s like the critics were determined to not be charmed. If we’re ranking *quality* of movie, this is like, the fifth best Marvel movie (Iron Man, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America, Thor 2). But on watchability, it’s arguably second (Iron Man, and then Avengers/Thor 2). That’s two different metrics, and some critics tend to get hung up on the first one and forget that a movie like this isn’t trying to do anything other than entertain. And it succeeds at that, handily.

      1. Elizabeth M.

        Yeah, the critics have made some good points but most of them felt like they were uncharmable.

        I was a bit worried about Loki’s resurrection, but it fit with his nature and sets the stage for him being a wild card in the MCU regarding Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. Did the ending of this version of the film differ greatly from the version where he died (i.e. a funeral)?

        I love Loki, but I am pleased to see that Marvel isn’t overflaunting him in the films; they are positioning Loki as a charismatic fan-favorite ace up their sleeve, rather than a blatant cash cow. Smart move on their part, they aren’t wearing the character out.

      2. I doubt we see Loki again until the other side of The Avengers 2 in 2015, so it’ll be a few years to breathe for the character. They ended it on a nice note–now everything that happens will happen with Loki being the secret king of the universe. That’ll add a nice layer of subtext to all subsequent chaos.

        The original ending was almost the same. Thor still abdicated and went back to Earth and proclaimed that Loki died with honor. The only difference was the quick cutaway where we see Loki change into the Einherjar, his confrontation with Odin (where he killed Odin?), and then Odin’s behavior when Thor abdicates. That scene wasn’t different from Thor’s end but Anthony Hopkins redid Odin’s part. Look how he stands, and especially how he sits on the throne. Then go back and look at how Loki sprawls on the throne in Thor 1. It’s exactly the same. Hopkins did a great job building continuity between Loki on the throne before and him on the throne as Odin. And then of course the final shot of Loki on the throne, as himself. Which was a MUCH more powerful image than Sad Odin watching his last living son walk away. The original ending was kind of a bummer. We were supposed to take away what being king cost Odin, which is that by the end of the movie his family is either dead or exiled (they weren’t explicit about it but Thor is basically exiled). That’s the fate that Thor wanted to avoid for himself, and the one he realized Loki, with his inherent disinterest in people, was better suited to absorb. (I could write a whole thesis on just the last scene and how so much of Loki’s “villain” arc actually proves that he really should have been king.)

  2. Monika

    And what about Chris Hemsworth? Is Thor just a boring Marvel character (like Captain America) or does Chris Hemsworth just make it feel so?

    1. Thor is pretty boring as a character. Like Cap (and Superman), there’s no question he’s always going to do the right thing. His schtick is being noble and regal, etc. Think about where his conflict comes from–it all comes from external factors (Loki, Frigga’s death, Jane’s mortality). Hemsworth actually does a pretty good job of making Thor likeable and relateable, but he isn’t an electrifying screen presence by any means. I actually go back and forth on him–he’s very watchable, but he isn’t a strong enough actor to command your attention. That’s the quality that set the stage for Tom Hiddleston to sneak in and become the breakout star of the franchise. Hemsworth isn’t that compelling, so audiences latched onto someone else.

      I’m really curious to see how people react to Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier next year. Chris Evans is actually a pretty intense screen presence but the Winter Soldier is a WAY cooler character than Cap.

  3. Sarah

    What are the odds of a Loki movie? He was clearly the best part of the movie and Tom Hiddleston is just a dream so you know the fangirls would be out in force.

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