Sunday, December 8, 2013

On the Big Screen: THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

Walt Simonson created Malekith the Dark Elf during a run as writer and artist that revitalized the Thor comic book in the 1980s. Simonson's distinctive penciling style and his determination as a writer to shake up the familar story formulae gave the book an energy it had lacked since co-creator Jack Kirby left the title at the end of the 1960s. Malekith himself is not one of the great comic-book villains by anyone's estimate, but he was made memorable by the energetic novelty of Simonson's art. Simonson's Thor books looked like nothing that had come before them. By comparison, while Alan Taylor has replaced Kenneth Branagh in the director's chair, the second Thor movie looks very much like the first. In the movies, Thor has drab enemies apart from his Asgardian peers. Just as the first film's frost giants were dull to look at, so are this film's Dark Elves. On the comics page, Simonson's Malekith cut a flamboyant figure: his face half blue, half white; his costume half black, half red. That's too flamboyant for comic-book movies, or at least for those comic-book moviemakers who still fear that colorful costumes will be laughed at. The movie Malekith has been made drably monochromatic, and much of his comic-book flamboyance is sacrificed to the notion that Christopher Eccleston should speak most of his lines in Dark Elf, his meaning imparted by subtitles, compared to the gods of Asgard, for whom English is their first language. Eccleston's Malekith is less a villain than a monster, more ambitious to destroy than to rule. After all, to be a more classical villain would be redundant while Tom Hiddleston's beloved Loki continues to prance through these pictures. Malekith's plan to annihilate the Nine Worlds during a rare cosmic convergence ultimately is no more than a Macguffin justifying Loki's release from the prison to which he was doomed after his defeat in Marvel's The Avengers, just as the Dark Elf's reliance on the mysterious and long-lost Aether to carry out his plan merely provides a hook to hang Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her entourage of comedy relief onto the picture. They had proven mildly amusing as Thor's chaperones during his early exile in the first movie, so the whole troupe returns, Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) reduced to an insane clown after his Avengers experience, Darcy the Intern (Kat Dennings) almost instantly wearing her welcome out. This time Darcy has her own intern, because someone -- it must be Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, or Scott McFeely -- thought that would be funny.

Someone urgently felt that The Dark World needed to be funny, since comic bits are interlarded throughout the entire climactic battle, which itself veers into a Sherlock Jr. direction as Thor and Malekith are warped in all directions, for more reasons than are worth mentioning, as they try to battle in Greenwich. The situation seems ripe for absurdity, but Taylor may lack the writers' sense of humor, since the nearest he gets to a funny moment is when Thor materializes in an Underground station and, being a stranger in town, must take a train back to the fight. The sequence seems designed, almost perversely, to get Darcy involved as much as possible, warping her in and out of danger whenever things get too dramatic. There's never much danger of that, since by now the latest threat to the entire universe is unlikely to impress anyone, and most of the audience for this movie in particular is more interested in what Loki might be up to. Mostly (to summarize what I can without spoiling things) he's up to sulking in his Lecterite prison and making jokes. Sibling (or quasi-sibling) rivalry between Loki and Thor is a constant in the comics, but in Dark World what are they -- ten years old? In one scene Thor's trying to pilot an alien craft through some crowded Asgardian architecture -- don't ask -- while Loki snarks away like the god of backseat drivers. People adore Hiddleston, apparently, but in his third appearance he's starting to wear out my welcome, and Loki should not be doing that in a Thor franchise. Hiddleston has had his moments as the alpha villain of the Marvel movies, but he's also that dangerous cliche, the camp villain who gets all the good lines -- or at least the best these writers can come up with. I hope I won't be accused of taking superheroes too seriously if I insist on not having characters like that in my comic-book films. To be fair, however, Hiddleston may be the only thing making Dark World an entertaining experience for many viewers. For me, it just wasn't entertaining. With the arguable exception of Iron Man 2, it's the worst film of the Marvel series so far, and the first half of that was better than any of this. It may be too soon in a movie franchise for the sort of revisionist jolt Simonson gave the Thor comics, but after two films the Thor series is already repetitive and tiresome -- and a third one is just about a certainty. Just this year, of course, Iron Man 3 improved considerably on its predecessor, but the second Thor film gives us every reason to believe that the third will only be more of the same. In closing, I quote the ancient Norse bard:

'You ought to know before I go, I'm Thor,' he bid adieu.
'You're Thor,' said she, 'Consider me; I'm thorer, thir, than you.'

1 comment:

Jack the Lad said...

I just watched a download of this on YouTube that was filmed with a fixed camera directly beneath the projector in the projection room by a crooked projectionist, surprisingly good picture quality and a pretty good movie as well, thats saved me another $10 on an unneccessary DVD.