Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Matt Looker,
Ali Gray,
Becky Suter,
Luke Whiston,
Ed Williamson

11th February 2019

You wouldn't think we could be less efficient in meeting our goals re: this recurring feature, but we managed it - please enjoy this torturous discussion on Thor: The Dark World, a chat which was called "uninspired" by one of its own members while he was still discussing it.

Previous Marvel musings
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Avengers (2012)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Thor (2011)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
Matt: As someone who rewatches all the MCU films on a regular basis, this is probably the only one I have only seen a couple of times before, and not for ages. So I was really looking forward to a rewatch and revaluating it as being unfairly maligned... but it really just isn't very good, is it? I think, on the whole, it's just very generic, standard blockbuster stuff, but its biggest issue is that it follows Avengers and Iron Man 3, which both felt exciting and interesting and compelling. They also strike a much more fun tone; this film is so po-faced for the whole film, despite dealing with space warriors and naughty alien elves. It's incredible to think that this film exists in the same universe as Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Ali: Yep, this is the first one that felt like a major slog. It's not without its charms, but it definitely suffers coming off the back of Iron Man 3, which was clever and funny and quick-witted. Thor: The Dark World is none of those things. It feels like it was pitched pre-Avengers to capitalise on Game of Thrones, but actually Avengers and Iron Man 3 set the comedic template for the MCU, and those two disparate styles just do not mix very well.

Becky: Not going to lie, it took me three good goes to watch this again. I had forgotten just how dry it is. The bar's been set high now, and I expected more from Alan Taylor. The direction on GoT is always great and this is just so all over the place. It's about as exciting as getting a car serviced. There's humour in GoT so you'd think that on paper it could have worked, but it really comes across that he struggled to make a Disney movie. Maybe if there'd been more tits and dragons?

Ed: Full disclosure: I fell asleep and didn't bother rewinding the bit I missed, and while watching it I was also reading Stephen Hendry's autobiography Me and the Table and doing a YouGov survey.

Luke: Ed please stop trying to make this about snooker.

Ed: I guess they got Alan Taylor in because he'd be good at all the quasi-medieval scenes of people hacking each other to bits? Given that he used to direct The Sopranos too you'd think there'd be more in the way of, you know, characters and stuff.

Ali: Alan Taylor is just not a visually distinctive director, at all. If they were going to Game of Thrones directors, maybe Neil Marshall would have been a better bet?

"I am the one they call... Keith."

Matt: Obviously, one of the biggest problems is Malekith, the character that you put last, in 154th place, in your definitive ranking of every Marvel character ever, Ali. Obviously he's just a big, gimp-suited, pointy-eared killjoy with no clear motive other than some vague reference about him wanting to make everything dark. That's literally it. There’s a hint of a revenge plot because he was defeated by Asgard before, but not really. Did you guys get a sense of why he was doing anything?

Becky: He was doing it because he never got the love he craved from his father? I honestly had no idea what Malekith's motivation was, and what it had to do with the Aether stuff.

Ali: Malekith is the worst. The WORST. There is absolutely nothing scary about a depressed elf called Keith. And there is zero threat, because when the stakes are 'bad guys want to collapse time as we know it' you already know Marvel aren't going to go there, least of all in a Thor sequel.

Matt: I know my Latin etymology. Malekith = Bad Keith

Ali: Stephen Hendry would have been a more interesting villain.

Matt: I'm pretty sure they refer to all the little reality holes as 'pockets' at one point. Oh my god, is the whole last act just Thor 'potting' baddies away?

Luke: 'Manky Keith' sounds like someone who did too much moon dust down the snooker hall. Thor's hammer as the cue. Loki doing trick shots. This is all a thinly-veiled analogy for snooker. Ed's dream of a Snooker Connected Universe is real.

Matt: I am very much looking forward to Avengers: Endframe.

Becky: I just wished that Christopher Eccleston had hammed it up a bit more as Manky Keith. Whoever said it about Hopkins chewing dialogue (sorry, I zoned out during all the snooker talk) was right, and in light of anything like motivation he should have gone hammier than a butcher's shop.

Thor: The Snark World. Oh, that's good. That's a keeper.

Ed: Massively disliked the character of Jane Foster's sassy scientist friend and particularly how she got off with the intern whom she'd previously held in utter contempt because he'd saved her life. Seem to remember she was quite a good character in the first one.

Becky: I liked her in the first one but she's too OTT here, as if she’d not wound down from being on 2 Broke Girls. She’s got more energy than most others though, who all seem just embarrassed to be there.

Ed: I did really enjoy how Jane's phone worked when Chris O'Dowd called her from another dimension. (Are they dimensions? idk) It's wilfully daft and funny how they don't try and justify it.

Matt: Yes, Kat Dennings is just irritating here. The worst version of the 'using humour to undercut the serious stuff' formula.

Ali: I quite like Darcy, but in small doses. It's always important in these movies to have a character who remains fundamentally normal throughout as the audience surrogate. It's smart to have her converse with someone like Thor ("How is space?" "Space is fine") because it's a good way of keeping them grounded. And god knows this movie needed some comedy. Otherwise it's dry as a bone (apart from Thor hanging up his hammer on a coat rack, which I'll admit is inspired).

Matt: It's strange because otherwise the film relies a lot on personal stakes: Frigga's death, Loki's 'death', Thor 'having his hand cut off', Thor needing a cure for Jane. All of those important things happen along the way, but the main plot of the film, the central story, is just "bad guy wants to destroy everything" and it's so difficult to invest in because there's nothing to cling to story-wise. You’re just waiting for bad people to turn up to make bad things happen.

Ali: I remember thinking the way they handled Frigga's death was well done. Deaths don't often stick in the MCU but they made a good show of this one, with the viking funeral and everything. I may have even been quite moved.

Becky: We've not touched on Tom Hiddleston, the only good thing in the entire film.

Ali: I always feel like they basically did the dirty on Tom Hiddleston. I like him as Loki but every time they do the whole redemption fakeout it makes me like the character less - it stinks of fan service, bringing back a character fans loved and making him something else. He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people in an actual alien invasion! That cannot be balanced out with any measure of cheeky bants.

Matt: On a positive note, I really love the idea of the final fight. Having pockets of portals open up randomly during battle is a fresh idea and is a great way to add humour to the big climax. It looks great, is loads of fun and I particularly like all the parts where Mjolnir is changing directions and keeps just missing Thor.

The problem with all of it though is that you’re never sure how any of it works. Jane is somehow controlling some of it from her little device, but it’s all happening at random too because of... the convergence? And then the science stick instruments all have... something to do with it? It shouldn’t be this hard to watch a magic hammer man beat up a baddie elf wizard.

Guys, it's HAMMER TI- guys, guys, it's - guys, it's HAMMER TIME... guys

Luke: So am I the only one who really enjoyed their rewatch of this? Kids on Earth finding a magic portal to another realm where there are bad aliens and sword guys, scientists trying to save the planet, a guy with a magic hammer who rides across dimensions on a rainbow - Luther's accent? It's patently ridiculous.

Gets off to an iffy start, though, with Anthony Hopkins racing through his lines like he had somewhere else to be. Seriously, watch that scene after the first battle, he speaks so quick, almost as if he's rapping. T-Hop. The Lyrical Welshy. Rarebit MC. LlcoolA.

Ali: I actually love Anthony Hopkins in all these movies. I think he treats the material with the respect it deserves. You can't have a space movie about alien vikings wearing solid gold codpieces and not have a massive hambo like Hopkins tearing up the dialogue.

Luke: Maybe it just caught me in the right mood - and we all know the most important thing about watching a film isn't the aspect ratio, or the tilt of the projector, or the size of the screen; it's whether you can be bothered to watch it.

Ali: Lots of this movie feels like treading water, placeholder stuff, and that extends to the cast and crew. When Patty Jenkins left, it became very clear that Natalie Portman didn't much want to hang around, and it shows. And I think knowing that they had to clumsily write out Jane from future instalments makes rewatching all the 'grand sacrifice for romance' stuff feel hollow.

Just a normal picture of a normal film for adults

Luke: Ali and I seem to both like the exact opposite things about this film, which is a victory for the filmmakers if nobody else. It's definitely doing nothing for this chat. I just thought it brought all the fantasy mythological dynasty stuff to the fore - prepping us for Ragnarok - and introduced some hard truths: Asgard brings peace through war. The king exists to win wars. There's a great simple line where Hopkins says the only difference between him and Manky Keith is he wins. Can Thor take up the mantle?

Matt: But that's the opposite of what happens, isn't it? The point of Odin saying the difference between him and Manky Keith is "I'll win" is to show that there really IS no difference. He is just as arrogant as Manky Keith (I'm sorry, I can't keep this up). He says he is willing to fight until the 'last Asgardian breath' essentially willing to blindly sacrifice his people in the same way that Malekith does in the prologue. And he vows this out of grief and revenge. It takes Thor to sneak behind Odin's back and - instead of waging war - trying a smarter approach to bring peace, which he ultimately does. Odin then admits he was wrong and offers Thor the crown, and Thor declines because being king isn't to be 'good'.

The problem with all of this is that it doesn't ring true, because Thor ends up just fighting a big battle anyway and, as far as I can tell, the thing that finally defeats the supposedly unbeatable, Aethered- up Malekith is just hitting him REALLY hard with the hammer this time. And then dropping a spaceship on him. It hardly says "don't be stronger, be smarter" does it?

And the fact that Odin is revealed to be Loki at the end anyway kinda undoes the regret/admitting he's wrong/"I'm proud of you son" stuff.

Ali: It doesn't have any tits or dragons. Two stars.

Luke: This feels like a very uninspired cine-chat, but I stand by my enthusiasm for the Earth-bound fantasy aspects. Maybe it's because I come at this from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the MCU, so I've got no preconceived notions of what the characters should be and do. I'm just glad they finally rebooted Masters of the Universe.

Matt: It's crazy that Christopher Eccleston is even in this only to be the most forgettable, unrecognisable villain in the MCU. Why hire someone like Eccleston, if he doesn't do anything of note in the whole film. You could get anyone to stand in and do those scenes. Why not get Eccleston's stunt double... (*scans IMDB credits*)... Vladimir 'Furdo' Furdik to do all of it? What, what?

Becky: Your mum's a Furdik.

Ali: It's devolved. The chat's gone.

Luke: Look what Thor: The Dark World has done to us - arguing like common internet nerds. Truly it is an evil creation. I have actually been sick all week so not able to form coherent words or sentences, but thinking about it I succumbed to my ailment just after my rewatch. It is a wretched film. Release the unpixellated Stellan Skarsgard footage. It is more than we deserve.

Matt: I'm confused about what you thought this was.

Next whenever: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Ooh! They actually get really good from this point on. Not as good as Stephen Hendry's autobiography though, apparently.

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