[movie review] Thor: The Dark World

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the few movies I am looking forward to seeing next year. I say “looking forward to”, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to some concerns. This is mostly in part due to what I consider to be the travesty of Thor: The Dark World. As I was going through my WordPress, I rediscovered the draft of a post on the Thor franchise’s second film. I have decided now is as good time as any to look at my thoughts again and fine-tune my reactions to Thor: The Dark World.

My initial response begins thus:

You can imagine my horror when the initial rumours was to the effect that it might not show in China – and my immense relief when it did. Being able to see my current favourite muse (Tom Hiddleston) and character (Loki) on the big screen was a real treat – but after I saw it for the second time and after I read a ton of reviews, I began to think a bit more about the film in a critical way.

The cinematography in Thor: The Dark World is as grand as the scale of the movie. Sweeping shots, action-packed scenes and the inclusion of realistic looking sets makes for a very in-depth look at the world which Marvel is creating for its movie ‘verse. Music, although not particularly memorable, was moving at moments and utilized a few interesting techniques for the Loki sequences (a hammered dulcimer?). Overall, the execution was pretty amazing and the actual acting by the cast was rather solid (with the scene-stealing mostly going to Loki and Darcy).

However, as time went on and I rewatched the film a couple times, I began to see some serious problems which I hope Marvel deals with in Thor: Ragnarok. Major issues arise in regards to characterization, tone, and plot.

Characterization

…of Odin…

Setting aside the unimportant secondary or static characters (and oddly enough Frigga as catalyst feels like one), I had some issues with Odin, Thor, Jane, and Loki.

Odin and Loki begin the film. Loki is getting his well-deserved punishment… but Odin seems as bizarrely outraged as Gene Wilder’s Wonka. I get disappointment and anger, but Odin’s cruelty is something else.

Odin: Your birthright was to DIE! As a child, cast out on a frozen rock. If I had not taken you in, you would not be here now, to hate me.
Loki: If I’m for the axe, then for mercy’s sake, just swing it. It’s not that I don’t like our little talks, it’s just… I don’t love them.
Odin: Frigga is the only reason you’re still alive, and you will never see her again. You’ll spend the rest of your days in the dungeons.

Wow. I had a feeling from the first Thor film that Odin was a very negative father figure but this is a new low. Odin continues to be unreasonable and hard-headed: revealing supremacist ideas,

Odin: She does not belong in Asgard any more than a goat belongs at a banquet!

continuing in a state of war at the cost of extinction,

Odin: Malekith is sure to return, we have what we wants. And when he does, we will defeat him.
Thor: We can not fight an enemy we can not locate! Malekith could be right over us now, and we’d never know! How many Asgardian lives must we sacrifice?
Odin: AS MANY AS IS NEEDED! Till the last Asgardian falls, till the last drop of blood is shed!
Thor: What makes you so different from Malekith, then?
Odin: [mirthless laugh] The difference, my son, is that I will WIN.

and effectively putting a bounty out on his son.

What other bad decisions can this man make? Yes, it makes for good drama, but since most people didn’t infer these character flaws as much in Thor, this depiction could be jarring. Still, it’s fixable (see below).

…of Thor…

Then there’s Thor. After the unconvincing change of Thor in Thor, we are to assume Thor is getting better at being patient and mature and strategic and… Well, we didn’t see much of that in Avengers Assemble, did we? At any rate, we see that Thor is…… hmmm… coming in to save the day. Looks like an average Thor day. The only maturity we see in him is his sacrifice to remain in Asgard at the cost of his relationship with Jane, which gives him a serious look most of the time. But that doesn’t last for long either.

Thor: [arrives at the prison breakout] Return to your cells, and no harm will come to you! You have my word!
[gets struck]
Thor: Very well, you do not have my word.
[attacks]

However, in terms of Thor’s depiction, the superhero seems to operate in the Thor mode of the first film – going behind his father’s back to handle the situation his own way. The only difference is that this time Odin is more apparently crazed, so we kinda find ourselves forgiving Thor’s lack of strategy.

At the end, Thor caves to his instincts and abandons Asgard for Jane.

I have no sympathy for any shock he may have over Loki’s position on Asgard’s throne. A total Jacob-Esau moment right there, and no real way to explain this characterization travesty other than L/Odin’s final words to Thor. Which are ambiguous to begin with and untrustworthy due to who speaks it.

Odin: One son who wanted the throne too much, and other who will not take it. Is this my legacy?
Thor: Loki died with honour. I shall try to live the same. Is that not legacy enough?
[offers the hammer]
Odin: It belongs to you, if you are worthy of it.

…of Jane…

This brings us to Jane. We have been told that Jane is a scientist. We have been told that pursuing wormholes is her LIFE. We are told that her dream is “to reaaaach for the staaars”. What do we see in Thor: The Dark World? We see a love-sick woman giving up her opus and raison d’etre.

Jane: I was right here where you left me! I was waiting, and then I was crying, and then I went out looking for you. You said you were coming back.
Thor: I know. I know, but the Bifröst was destroyed. The Nine Realms erupted into chaos. Wars were raging, marauders were pillaging…I had to put an end to the slaughter.
Jane: As excuses go, it’s not…terrible…But I saw you on TV! You were in New York!
Thor: Jane, I fought to protect you from the dangers of my world, but I was wrong. I was a fool. I believe that fate brought us together.

What. The. What?

If women are to be taken seriously in STEM, they need to understand the sacrifices that sometimes come with success. This idea that a person can metaphorically throw their work out the window in a purely emotive gesture thanks to disappointments in relationships – and still be happy and successful – is preposterous. Your work suffers. You suffer.

As a Type 5 INTJ woman, I am offended. Academic, professionally-driven women do not give up in the face of love. Our work may suffer a bit (depending on how well we handle/ignore our emotions), but we wouldn’t give something so precious up – especially for so long a time. Maybe I’m hard-hearted…

But Jane is badly characterized for a logical, rational scientist. SERIOUSLY HOW IS JANE EATING IF SHE ISN’T WORKING?!?! HOW DOES HER INTERN HAVE AN INTERN?!?!

Terrible. No way to fix this.

…of Loki…

Then, we come to Loki. I don’t actually blame the writers in this film. I blame Whedon for this one.

The Loki of Thor is amazing. He is a delicate creation based on Shakespearean tradition, and Loki is complex, relatable, and logically sound in terms of continuity. He is angry about the lies; he is suspicious about Odin’s motivations; he nurses ambition thanks to Odin’s bad parenting skills; he is praise and/or love deprived and needs to earn affection. All well and good. He ends up attempting to commit suicide, more or less.

He doesn’t die. Cut to Avengers Assemble. We get a crazed Loki with dubious ambition to own a planet he hitherto never really cared about (other than to make Thor hurt). We get an uncertain Loki (he had moments of pause), which gives him tantalizing ambiguity. Yet, in the end, we have no real answer as to why he is deranged. We can guess that his journeys had a bad impact on him, that Thanos and the Other pressured him into a bad position, that Loki ended up in the wrong neighborhood in a vulnerable position, that the Mind Gem is messing with him… But nothing is clear. So we have no REALLY CLEAR definition of character motivation.

What we do have is a lot of Tom Hiddleston in interviews trying to explain to us how Loki got where he did.

This characterization mess was shifted over to Thor: The Dark World. We see no attempt on Asgard’s (read: Thor and Odin) part to figure out Loki’s motivations, so we don’t know either. We do understand why Loki helps Thor – vengeance for Frigga.

Thor: Loki, enough! No more illusions.
[illusion fades, everything in sight is broken, Loki is sitting on the ground looking devastated]
Loki: Now you see me, brother!

We also get a glimpse at other motivations at Loki’s death scene – love of Thor and Asgard. All well and good.

Thor: I will tell Father you died with honour.
Loki: I didn’t do it for him.

And then we get that last throne scene which casts everything Loki said and did up to that point in a very dubious light. This is great because it leaves us all psyched out. Plus, we get to see Loki doing what he’s always wanted to do since the first film… But after all this time, in the wake of Thanos and the Chitauri and his journeys and his imprisonment and Frigga’s death and his own near-death (twice), Loki hasn’t changed at all? At all? Seriously?

This needs to be addressed in Thor: Ragnarok – and characterization is only a part of the problem.

Tone

Tone is a delicate thing. It is basically the overall mood of a film. Marvel, while handling various genres, has done well with doing a good blend of light-hearted humour; feel-good, warm-hearted beats; and fast-paced, action-heavy, tension-filled sequences. However to achieve this with a dual-genre film, such as science fantasy, requires extra time and attention. Extra time and attention that Thor: The Dark World does not seem to have got.

The director, Alan Taylor, a wonderful artist in his own right, had the idea for a dark, gritty film. In the end, though, it was decided that it needed to be lightened up, which meant going back and literally injecting humour into places that had none (x). It also involved bring Joss Whedon in to have a look and give his own ideas (x). The result is not as organic as it could have been. It is off-kilter and unnatural: tonal shifts.

So, there are clear problems with how the film moved us from grief to humor within short spans of time – sometimes within seconds of each other which was strange… and overall, unbelievable or taxing on the imagination. The comedy ended up bringing Thor: The Dark World into an incongruous place – a place not as dark as we expected or hoped for (the title itself is a case in point).

The hugest tonal shift for me involved Loki’s move from grief and rage in his cell to bouncy, happiness upon his release. Certainly one could argue that he is hiding his true feelings (as we see him do earlier with his illusion and in the original Thor film), for Loki is a mastermind of deception and, as Frigga stated before, is capable of deceiving himself. Still, if there had been more bite to the dialogue, I think Loki’s deceptive glee would’ve been more believable.

Thor also gets uneven treatment. He has lost his mother and brother. A few hours later, he is cracking jokes. Hmmm… Confusing emotional whiplash.

There are some folks (J.J. Abrams and his Star Wars come to mind) who can handle science fantasy well – including the tension and the drama and the humour. Alan Taylor may just not fit that kind of directing touch. Furthermore, asking Alan Taylor to make a certain kind of film and then request for another kind altogether is bound to cause issues. In all, an unhappy situation.

Questions That Need Answering

Rewatch the films and you’ll start asking some big questions which Thor: Ragnarok better answer.

1. Do Thor and Odin know of the existence of Thanos?

This question relates to the fact we don’t see Thor or Odin figuring out the Thanos thing. We know that later in Age of Ultron, Thor gets a good idea that something is going on… but…

Why don’t they know sooner?

2. Does Loki know of the existence of Thanos? 

Think about this. We know Loki was in contact with the Other. Was he aware of Thanos’s existence? If he does know, why didn’t he try to tell someone? Is he just being stupid or mean? If he doesn’t know about Thanos… this puts paid to a lot of sympathetic!Loki-was-tortured-personally-by-Thanos-and-thus-should-be-forgiven fanfic!

3. Why don’t Asgardian officials (or Odin or Frigga or Thor) ask for information on Loki’s motivations for what he did in the Avengers films?

Hm. Maybe they just don’t care. Still. How does a civilization like Asgard prosper without basic bureaucratic systems in place?

4. Why doesn’t Thor pop down for an hour to visit Jane? How hard can this be?

No, really. Why doesn’t he? He could save her career with one hour of face-to-face time.

5. Does Thor leave Loki’s body on the plains? Did he put the body in the spacecraft they came in? WHERE DID LOKI’S BODY GO? Why didn’t he just take Loki’s body with him?

‘Nuff said.

5. How does Loki come back from the dead?

There are a few ways for this to have happened.

  • He was faking it the entire time, thereby undercutting the sincerity of the scene (which it was initially filmed as). The apology is a lie. His vengeance and love for Frigga may also be a lie. The cake is a lie.
  • Thor and he were faking it for Jane’s benefit. Not sure why… but it’s possible.
  • He actually half-died, but Jotunn heritage saved the day. Prosaic but gets the job done. Bonus: he becomes more indestructible like Skurg
  • He is revived by… someone. Hela. The Collector. Thanos. The Other.

6. How was Loki not seen by Heimdall? How was he not seen switching with the guard? Did he kill the other guards and came back alone?

Loki could cover himself in an illusion but he shows no ability to cover an entire fight with Asgardian guards. Heimdall must be having problems… Hmmm…

This needs to be answered – and not just with a funky vision in Age of Ultron.

7. How did Loki get on the throne? Did he kill Odin? Did Odin make a bargain?

Same as above. There are a few options.

  • They fight. Loki kills Odin. Why can’t Heimdall and an entire palace filled with staff not notice a fight between Loki and Odin?
  • They don’t fight. Odin does his collapsing thing and wimps out. Loki takes charge/advantage.
  • They don’t fight. They bargain. Odin, realizing his beloved son has flaked on him, turns to his only option: Loki

8. Why is Odin crazy?

Odin is getting old. That could be the simple answer. Frigga’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or maybe he is putting off necessary Odinsleep. Or maybe he’s a robot. Or maybe he is a stooge for a darker force we are not aware of yet. Something needs to be said in the third Thor film.

9. Why is Loki on the throne, lying to people, particularly Thor to whom he apologized sincerely earlier? 

Well, in short…

  • Loki was lying earlier. He’s just a usual one-dimensional bad guy who wants to destroy the country, even the one his mother loves.
  • Loki wasn’t lying earlier, but he hadn’t changed at all – his ambitions or his desire to prove himself. Loki might want to prove to… to… I’m not sure who he is trying to prove himself to, but maybe Odin made a bargain with him or Loki is trying to prove to himself or dead Frigga or unaware Thor that he’d make a good king. Weird since most of the people who Loki really cares about are dead or unaware of his current status.
  • Loki is sincere, AND he is worried for Asgard and takes the throne to protect it against Thanos or something.

In conclusion, there are a lot of technical and character progression holes within Thor: The Dark World that should never have happened (forget the wacky science as well). Alan Taylor summed it up in an interview after the film was released, stating,

I’ve done two [blockbuster movies; the other being this week’s ‘Terminator Genisys’] and I’ve learned that you don’t make a $170 million movie with someone else’s money and not have to collaborate a lot. The Marvel experience was particularly wrenching because I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie.

I bet it was wrenching, Alan, I bet it was. Hopefully with Thor: Ragnarok, some of these questions will be answered… We shall see.

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