Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lord of the Star Wars -- Reflections on "Thor: The Dark World" (2013)

Thor: The Dark World is a cross breed, a collage of a movie that does its heaviest borrowing from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and George Lucas’s Star Wars. It makes absolutely no sense on any logical level, and is overall pretty lame as far as superhero films go (this coming from a die hard comic book fan).

But for about an hour and a half, Thor is a Rainbow Bridge of fun!

The film begins with a slog of a prologue in which we are introduced to this story’s villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who seems to have nicked his costuming from Evil in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. Malekith wants a macguffin called the aether, an evil energy force that floats around like Kool-Aid in zero gravity. After a war with Asgard, he loses the aether and gets exiled in the nether regions of the galaxy.

Enter our real story, which picks up after The Avengers, with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) trying to pick up the pieces of her life in Thor’s absence. She eventually encounters the aether, and in a sequence worthy of any of the slew of demon possession horror films released in the past few years, she becomes its host. Cue Malekith becoming aware, and suddenly our damsel in distress needs a hero.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) leaves his life of duty on Asgard, in which he finds himself a King in training, to save Jane, but the presence of the aether brings Malekith and his orcs to Asgard’s door. The conflict becomes more complicated when Thor realizes he needs the help of his mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to protect their home and rid the universe of Malekith’s totalitarian brand of evil.

The plot of Thor is not particularly important. It follows the usual beats, and pretty much telegraphs each in the story with Hollywood precision. The plot is interchangeable with any other superhero film. What kept getting my interest was the film’s combination of disparate elements in its art direction. Malekith’s men carry blasters that would satisfy a stormtrooper’s weapons craving, yet fly around in ships that look similar to Saruman’s tower. The Asgardian’s look and act like Riders of Rohan while Thor and Jane swoon over each other in a set piece seemingly stolen from Lucas’s computer file sets of Naboo. And, in the film’s best early moments – which continue a trend started in The Avengers – Loki is given screen time and camera angles likening him to Hannibal Lecter (did anyone else find it odd that Loki is essentially Hannibal in a film co-starring the iconic cannibal).

But it is this composite approach that gives Thor its sense of fun, especially in its climatic showdown between Thor and Malekith, which is copped from the finale of Monster’s Inc. I don’t know if director Alan Taylor – revered for his excellent work on HBO’s Game of Thrones – realized that he was juggling borrowed props and sets, but he does so with gusto. Once Loki emerges in the center of the film, the movie takes off. The rapport between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is tart and surprisingly convincing of its endearing tone. The pacing picks up, and suddenly even the annoying first act problems – Kat Dennings’s sarcastic comic relief as Jane’s best friend, Darcy – start working.

Thor: The Dark World continues the trend of Marvel Studios films to embrace the joy and excitement of the comic book premise. It’s not a particularly strong film – definitely a notch under Iron Man 3, and  Captain America, but nowhere near as awful as Iron Man 2 and the dull first entry in this series – but it does make for an enjoyable time at the movies.