Thor: The Dark World

Once again, we find ourselves at the “worst” film in the MCU. Much like Iron Man 2, this is the second film of what will later become a trilogy and much like The Incredible Hulk it has a very modest score on IMDB (6.9 to be precise). However some might say that unlike these films, Thor: The Dark World is kind of important to the mainline story of the MCU. Iron Man 2 focuses more on Tony Stark as a character and The Incredible Hulk is a film that some fans just flat out ignore. Not this film though. It’s the first time that we are introduced to an Infinity Stone that isn’t the Tesseract and it marks the second time that Loki has died as well as giving further backstory to the relationship between Asgard and the rest of the nine realms. It also holds Loki accountable for his previous actions but we’ll get to that.

Thor: The Dark World picks up shortly after Avengers Assemble, with Loki in Asgardian prison and Thor poised to be crowned king. However, after an attack by an ancient race called Dark Elves nearly brings them to their knees, Thor embarks on a mission with Loki to bring a ceasefire which reunites them with Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig. Our McGuffin for these proceedings, and the weapon that leader of the Dark Elves- Malekieth is after, is The Aether. Capable of plunging all 9 realms into eternal darkness, The Aether is the second of our 6 Infinity Stones. This is a term that we’re familiar with now but this is the first time we are hearing it in the MCU as well as the first time we get an explanation for what they are. Whilst the Tesseract has been present for many of the previous instalments in this franchise, this is the first time that we learn what it truly is and just how much power any of the 6 stones hold. Why exactly The Aether choses to kidnap Jane Foster and use her body as a vessel, I can’t tell. It would seem that contrived plot elements are present even in the world’s largest film franchise. (Watch them explain it away in Thor 4 as fate or something.)

Whilst this carries the plot forward, the true core of the story is the relationship between Thor and Loki. It’s clear that despite Loki’s drastic flaws, Thor still loves his brother even if he can’t trust him. Actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (Thor and Loki respectively) bounce off each other with such ease that you never doubt the relationship of their characters. Both Thor and Loki are at their most emotionally distraught here having lost their mother, their father becoming ill, facing the potential destruction of their home and facing a possible exile upon their return. Absolutely everything is at stake here and this is only amplified for Thor once Loki dies (again). I seem to recall his eventual survival being a point of contention for some fans at the time and I’m fully aware that his death count has become a running gag at this point but there is a saying for times like this. Unless you see a character die, don’t be sure it happened. It’s why the series 4 finale of Sherlock was so upsetting to me and it’s why, when Loki meets his demise at the hands of Thanos, I would be inclined to believe it. Once again Thor is fighting for the people he cares about but now he is also fighting to honour those he has lost.

While we’re talking about people that Thor has lost, I want to talk about his mother Friga. This is a woman who refuses to give up on her adopted son – the murderer – and is willing to die for her other son’s girlfriend who she had only just met. Her character is one of the kindest and most humble in the entire MCU and her death is given all the respect it deserves. The way that all the sound mutes, allowing Thor’s screams of anguish to pierce through is one of the MCU’s most heartbreaking moments. It is followed by her funeral which is beautifully shot and stunningly scored. There’s no dialogue. just the looks of paint that you would expect during a time like this. I know that many consider Thor: The Dark World to be one of the worst films in the MCU but these 10 minutes are definitely some of the best that the franchise has to offer.

This brings us to what many consider to be the film’s weakest aspect-Malakieth. I really want to like him as a villain and to find him threatening but he feels like such a standard villain. Christopher Ecclestone is clearly giving his all in the role and I know how talented he is as a performer but there’s just so little for him to work with here. It often feels like the film’s real threat is The Aether and as villains go Malakieth pales in comparison to others that Thor has fought. The Sentinal from Thor was several stories tall, The Chitauri from Avengers Assemble had an army of thousands and even at the start of Thor: The Dark World we see him take down a stone giant with ease. Malekieth meanwhile is at his most powerful after he has been consumed by The Aether which results in a tornado. We later learn that this particular Infinity Stone can alter reality so this makes Malakieth seem even weaker in retrospect. It’s a fun final battle and makes great use of the portals between realms but Malakieth is set up as a much larger threat than he ends up being. For those of you keeping score by the way, this is the 4th time that the villain of the piece has died, which means there’s also sadly no way to expand the character.

The other issue that I’ve seen some people raise is that Darcy Lewis is annoying and, whilst this criticism is entirely subjective, I’m going to disagree. I personally find her to be absolutely delightful and the kind of person that I could become friends with but she also provides moments of levity in an otherwise dark story. To me, there seems to be a noticeable divide between those who like her and those who don’t. It seems to come down to age, gender and how much we are willing to just enjoy things. This general divide is present throughout the fanbase but it seems to be more prevalent when it comes to discussing the “lesser” films in the MCU. It’s something that I really feel should be discussed, although I won’t go in depth with it here. I feel like it is still worth bringing up as just a caveat in moments like this, even if only to possibly start the larger discussion.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand times: every film is worth something. For Thor: The Dark World it’s the characters and the way that they interact as well as the sheer amount of lore it adds to the MCU. It’s where we first meet The Collector before he plays a slightly larger role in Guardians of the Galaxy and it gives us The Aether as well as the concept of Infinity Stones. If my theories are correct, it will also provide someimportant backstory for Jane Foster in Thor 4. I still don’t believe Thor: The Dark World is bad because even a “bad” MCU film is mediocre at worst. After this, there is one more of these “bad” instalments to get through and, I won’t lie, I’ll be glad to get it over with. I pour as much of myself and my love for cinema into these reviews as I can but when I have to write about a “bad” film like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, I find it just a little more emotionally draining than usual. I just find negativity so exhausting, but these reviews are worth the effort. I could be the only person defending a film and I’d be ok with that.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


Every director in Hollywood has their own distinctive creative flair and artistic vision. For example, you may not recognise the name Wes Anderson, but all of his work has similar dialogue and his shots fill the frame in a unique way, so if I was to tell you he produced both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr Fox you’d think “oh that was him”. I find myself compelled by his work, as well as the work of others like Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Christopher Nolan (Tenet), but there is a lesser recognised filmography that I also admire, and that is the work of Sir Kenneth Brannagh. From acting on stage, to acting on screen, to stepping behind the camera, he’s a man of many, many talents though he’s most widely known these days for his 4 hour long film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which he was writer, producer and titular actor. As an aside, if you want to experience Hamlet but it isn’t currently playing in a theatre near you, this is the next best thing. It’s probably the closest adaptation we have ever and will ever see on screen and Brannagh brings such a scale of grandeur that you’ll never mistake Prince Hamlet for anything other than royalty. So it is perhaps no surprise that he was hired as the producer for the MCU’s most splendid and theatrical Avenger – The Mighty Thor.

It’s the simple tale of an arrogant God, banished from his homeworld by his father, who meets a girl and learns to be humble. Meanwhile, his unknowingly adopted brother attempts to prove himself to their father by slaughtering their greatest enemies. There are two distinct plotlines in Thor, one about the God himself on Earth and one of Loki back on their homeworld of Asgard, and both of them are given an appropriate amount of attention. The story of Thor being so arrogant that he starts a war with the Frost Giants, meaning his father has no choice but to banish him is fraught with emotion. It’s clear that Odin trusts his son to redeem himself, otherwise he would not have put the hammer Mjölnir within his reach. The friendships that Thor forms with Dr Erik Selvig, Jane Foster, and Darcy Lewis are integral to him acknowledging and dealing with his feelings, which is a very human trait (explaining why he is so fond of this dumb little planet and the people on it). He laughs, cries, falls in love, and ultimately realises that battles are only worth fighting if it is to protect the people you care about. In the end, he believes this so strongly that he is willing to sacrifice himself twice – once physically to The Sentinel and once emotionally when he destroys the Bifrost.

Then there is our second main character, Thor’s younger brother and the God of Mischief, Loki. He really started a trend of sympathetic villains and re-watching this film again, I kind of get it. Loki isn’t as much of a villainous character as he is a tragic victim of circumstance. He has lived his entire life in the shadow of his brother, is attempting to put a stop to war that Thor started, and he’s just discovered that not only is he adopted, but he was a Frost Giant baby stolen (saved?) from his birth home by Odin. The Joker once so eloquently said that “all it takes is one bad day” and Loki is having one of those for sure. His attempted destruction of Jötunheimr, planet of the Frost Giants, is a clear act of desperation for validation and his final brawl with Thor is riddled with anguish. I won’t sit here and tell you that what he did was right, or that it completely negates his actions, but I will tell you that I understand why he did it. We are going to see Loki go through a decade long redemption arc moving forward but, arguably, a redemption arc is only as good as the person and actions you are redeeming and the character of Loki (and the acting of Tom Hiddleston) nailed it from day one.

The 4th MCU film to be released and the 6th chronologically, Thor is an interesting one. Until Guardians of the Galaxy 4 years later, his was the only instalment to take place in space, but even after that it held the title of the first MCU film in the timeline to be set there. Now that title goes to Captain Marvel, although it only really uses space for the first and last 20 minutes, whilst Thor is practically drenched in it. Even on Earth, there are descriptions of the Tree of Yggdrasil (first mentioned in The First Avenger) and explanations for how the Bifrost works which make it all sound so simple. The story is fantastical, but still feels grounded to the parameters of the universe set out by the MCU. The continuity from the previous films is present in the form of Agent Phil Coulson who, at this point, is essentially the lynchpin of the MCU. Sure, there’s Nick Fury, but he’s still more of a shadowy figure whilst Coulson is physically present in 4 of these films. He isn’t present for The First Avenger, because he is a child at the time it takes place, and he isn’t present in The Incredible Hulk because he’s dealing with the events of Iron Man 2 and Thor at the time. He has been Nick Fury’s right hand man for quite some time now, and he is so freaking likable that it’s no wonder he became a fan favourite. My fiancé has often asked why Phil is as liked as he is, and I can’t say for sure… but his general attitude, the way he plays the straight man to the absurdity around him and his tragic (unnecessary) conclusion certainly all play a part.

There’s also a small amount of set-up going on in Thor. We are introduced to Clint Barton/Hawkeye and it’s clear through his very brief interactions with Coulson that the two have a professional history. This now means that we have been introduced to all 6 members of the original Avengers line-up, in time for the team up itself. Thor also sets up his own appearance in the following film through his final conversation with Coulson, in which he determines his status as an ally and that, should he be required again, he will return. Meanwhile, the post-credits scene is a direct set-up for Avengers Assemble as it shows Selvig meeting with Fury to discuss working on The Tesseract, and shows that Loki survived his (first) supposed death. This also reintroduces our favourite Cosmic Cube, which hasn’t been seen since the end of Captain Marvel, 3 films ago. The biggest setup however is that Thor shows us exactly why Loki would want to go after Earth in particular. Not only is it home to people that Thor cares about, but it also contains the greatest source of power in the known universe. It’s a war for revenge and self-gain.

To me, the only issues with the film are purely subjective. First is the romance between Thor and Jane Foster which is going to bug you if you aren’t a fan of romance in your superhero movies. Personally, I don’t mind it because I think it’s one of the better MCU love stories, although that isn’t really a high bar. The second is unavoidable and one of those “fun facts” that people love to bring up – Thor’s eyebrows. Actor Chris Hemsworth wore a blond wig for this film, and to make sure his naturally dark eyebrows match, they were dyed blond. It’s especially odd here because that decision is never made again and, personally, I think he looks better without them dyed. However it is worth noting that naturally blond people can and do have naturally blond eyebrows, and much of the filmic medium gives people blond hair without changing their eyebrows. So Kenneth Brannagh’s decision here is the most accurate, we’re just not used to seeing it. Apart from these two things, Thor is brilliantly paced, well written, beautifully scored and visually stunning. It’s a perfect prelude to Avengers Assemble and proof once again that the sole purpose of origin stories does not need to be launching a cinematic universe. In fact, it shouldn’t be.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer