Contrary to common opinion, I found Thor (2011) to be the best entry of the first generation of the Avengers Assemble franchise. None were particularly good, so that may not be too wild of a statement, but Thor did not take itself too seriously. The others did the opposite, seeming to believe that their content needed to be as gritty and dark as possible. Thor was different. It acknowledges its premise is silly, that it is essentially about an unkillable guy with a massive hammer who hits people with said hammer. This made it quite a bit more entertaining than it might have been otherwise.
The newest entry in the franchise, Thor: The Dark World, is at about the same C-grade caliber as the first one. It follows many of the same sci-fi tropes that many recent blockbusters have also; the dry, exposition filled narration at the beginning (Pacific Rim, Oblivion, Iron Man 3), the final conflict involving a giant hole/portal over a city causing mayhem and destruction (The Avengers, Man of Steel), and various other similar clichés. Chris Hemsworth, who has proven to be a solid actor in Rush and Cabin in the Woods, is not given much of anything to work with. He is constantly being overshadowed by Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who, undeniably, is fun to watch. Despite being my favorite films of the franchise, the titular character of Thor is easily the dullest lead to watch. He is incredibly predictable 100% of the time with very little character development beyond the obvious reckless-to-mature mentality which occurred in the first installment.
Now, do not misinterpret this review. It is not a terrible film. In fact, there are far worse options available at the local cineplex. Every single scene that took place in London is pretty damn funny. Kat Dennings crushes every scene she is in with her comedy chops. The main reason the scenes work? How distinctively Earth-y everything is. Everyone is of this Earth and they do Earth-things. Having a man dressed in viking-esque clothing speaking olden-English with a different set of customs is jarring to the point of comedy, which causes those scenes to always work incredibly well. At one point, Thor enters an apartment and puts his hammer on the coat-rack. Seriously.
I also must praise the final action sequence. Due to an extremely convoluted reason, every few seconds the characters are teleported around various places of the universe. I feel like I had not seen this done before, which is why I found it to be so entertaining. The humor injected into the sequence, like Thor being teleported to a subway train, also helped in keeping it fresh.
Having mentioned how oddly good the Earth sequences were, I must mention the horrors of Asgard and the other space-places. I understand that they were meant to be very proper and serious, but the writing was not smart enough to make it engaging, and the acting was not consistent enough, so everything came across as dull. The few gags that occur there may have been funny had the editors given them time to breathe, but they didn’t, so they weren’t. The few laughs there are were created by awful dialogue and unfortunately bad acting from Anthony Hopkins. “Right now, I’m not speaking as the Allfather… I’m speaking as YOUR father,” he says deadpan when he tries to initiate ‘the talk’ with Thor, his son.
The largest problem this and every other Marvel movie has is the lack of any sort of stakes. Never at any time do I believe a character will die, aside from any character whose sole purpose is to die to provide some sort of manipulative motivation. The closest anyone has come to dying in the franchise is Agent Coulson, who was killed in The Avengers, but even he was miraculously brought back to life for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show. The movies feel like some sort of high budgeted TV show mid-season, never at a point important enough to try anything that would majorly alter the story, so the tension feels forced. Sure, some of the action scenes may be fun, and some bits are kinda funny, but is there any reason to care? A good movie, even (and especially) a blockbuster, is dependent upon the audience’s level of concern and belief in what is unfolding. If they know from the start that Thor is immortal and will be cast in The Avengers 2, if they have seen through Loki’s fake deaths, they simply do not care. I know I do not.
Is this a step up from this year’s other Marvel movie, Iron Man 3 (which I have grown to despise)? Yes. Is there less sexism, excessive American jingoism, and false-seriousness? Yes, to an extent. However, as an audience, people should attempt to expect much more than ‘less bad than other products’ when thousands of people worked on a film budgeted at $170 million for many, many months. That is not fair to the viewer. Give the viewer some credit, Disney.
And yet, it is certain that Thor: The Dark World will make upward of $600 million worldwide.