By now we are thirteen films into the MCU and the question of which movie is the “worst” feels more and more moot. Sure, we all love ranking things from best to worst because this is the future and the internet has turned us all mildly autistic but really, what’s the point? There have been so many of these things, that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become less like a series of stand alone movies and more like a single, ongoing epic to the point that calling one movie “the worst” is almost like singling out a single chapter of Lord of the Rings for scorn and derision. Why bother?
I bring this up not because I think Thor 2: The Dark World is the worst MCU movie but because it sure does pop up a lot in that particular conversation. Part of that, of course, is just blatant Thor-prejudice. Lotta people just can’t grok with the character. But there’s no denying that this is a flawed movie, and while it certainly wasn’t the most troubled Marvel production (Ant Man sits on that throne and will not be vacating for a good long time) it was, by all accounts a rather unfun experience for all involved. After the original director, Patty Jenkins (who’s now helming Wonder Woman) was axed over “creative differences” Natalie Portman almost walked out in solidarity. Jamie Alexander was injured on set and was out of commission for a month. Replacement director Alan Taylor hated the final product. Screenwriter Don Payne died of bone cancer during production. Idris Elba described the shoot as “torture”. And plagues of locusts and boils befell the production and the catering table ran with blood. Probably. In fact, it seems that only one of the principals involved actually had a good time.
But just because almost everyone spent every waking minute wishing for the sweet release of death, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie sucks. Apocalypse Now had a hellish shoot after all. Then again, so did The Island of Doctor Moreau. Which example does Thor 2 follow? Let’s take a look.
As we all know by this stage, the years before recorded history were just an endless, non-stop series of epic battles between various forces of good and evil solemnly narrated by A list thespians. The movie opens with one such battle between the Dark Elves led by Malakith (Christopher Ecclestone) and the Asgardians led by King Bor. Via narration, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), tells us how shit went down. Malekith was trying to return the universe to the darkness before the Big Bang and was going to use a goopy red Maguffin called The Aether to do it. But the Asgardians showed up, said “Hey look over there!” and were able to steal the Aether out from under his pasty aquiline schnoz. Malekith then dropped the Dark Elves’ city ships on the Asgardian army, wiping out his own people in a desperate attempt to destroy his enemies.
Malekith escaped with his lieutenant Algrim (COPY PASTE Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the Asgardians ask Bor what they should do with the incredibly powerful ancient magical weapon they’ve captured maybe put it in the secure vault they have for incredibly powerful ancient magical weapons? and he’s all like “Nah just stick it on some backwater planet somewhere I don’t even care I’m tired let’s go get some ribs or some shit.”
The opening scene is pretty awesome and shows Marvel playing with a much bigger budget (I always thought the battles in the first Thor looked a little cheap if I’m honest) and it’s also probably the closest we’ll get to a Warhammer 40k movie. And while the Dark Elves themselves are such a generic bunch of mooks that they make the Chitauri look fleshed out, I have to admit that they look cool as all hell.
So we’re back in Asgard and Loki, God of Fangirls, stands before Odin to answer for his crimes in Thor and Avengers. Frigga (Renee Russo) begs Loki to not provoke Odin. Oh Frigga, sooner bid the tide to halt than ask that Loki snarketh not. Odin tells Loki that he will be imprisoned forever for his crimes and Loki is all “am I bovvered?” and I kinda wish this scene hewed a little closer to Norse mythology, honestly.
Meanwhile, Thor is bringing peace to the Nine Realms by repeatedly beating them with his big hammer. In the middle of an invasion of Vanaheim Thor arrives to help Sif (Jamie Alexander), Hogun (Tadanabu Asano), Fandral (recast as Zachary Levi) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). Sif snaps that she’s got everything under control and Thor quips “Is that why everything’s on fire?”
A big rock monster steps up to fight Thor (in a lovely touch, it’s one of the Stone Men of Saturn, the very first villains Thor fought in the comic) and the whole battle just stops to watch because, yeah, you know this is gonna be good. The monster makes a big show, stomping and yelling and Thor politely offers it a chance to surrender before smashing it with a single blow.
After the battle, Hogun decides to stay behind with his family and Thor returns to Asgard. Thor tells his father that the Nine Realms are now at peace.
Odin asks Thor if he’s still pining after Jane and tells him that humans are basically goldfish with legs and he’d be better off marrying Sif and ascending the throne. After all, Odin’s been waiting like five thousand years to take up golf. Odin tells Thor that even if he doesn’t feel like partying, he’s won a great victory and should celebrate with his warriors. Thor broods and gets naked and soaks himself in water because Marvel knows why you’re watching this movie and it doesn’t judge.
Meanwhile, in London, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is on a date with Richard, played by Irish actor Chris O’Dowd who actually went to my university and, like me, was heavily involved in Dramsoc. I could tell you stories, but he pays on time. Anyway, after an awkward start the date is actually going pretty well as Jane finds herself warming to his low key Irish charm (who could resist, I ask you?). Even Darcy (played once again by the personification of joy and beauty) thinks that Jane is on to a winner.
But Darcy is not just here to perv on Jane’s date and ensure the movie passes the Bechdel test, she’s also here to tell her that the equipment Jane’s been using to keep an eye out for Asgardian shenanigans has started bleeping and blooping. Jane tells Darcy to scram and tries to get back to her date but she’s obviously distracted so Richard kindly tells her that they can take a rain check. Because Richard is not just a ravishingly handsome sex god with a dick like a titanoboa, he’s also a gentleman. Like all Irishmen.
Jane, Darcy and Darcy’s intern…
Ha! It thinks it’s people. Anyway, Jane, Darcy and Intern follow the readings to an abandoned warehouse where a bunch of local kids are playing and who’ve discovered all kinds of weird shit like gravity not working in some rooms and portals and wait just a damn minute here!
You would have got away with it too, Marvel, but unfortunately for you I’m one of the three people in the world who’s actually seen The Animatrix. Anyway, while Darcy and Intern play with the portals, Jane goes exploring and gets sucked into a strange alternate universe with a big monolith looking thing. As she investigates the monolith, some living red-black goo oozes out of it and merges with her and I think we all know where this is headed.
Back in Asgard Thor visits Heimdall who tells him that the Convergence is coming, which is when the nine realms are aligned and all kinds of craaaazy shit happens, man. Heimdall suddenly realises that he can’t see Jane on Earth and Thor heads down there to check out what’s what. Jane wakes up in the abandoned warehouse and goes outside only to find that Darcy has called the police who’ve sent like five squad cars. Jane is furious at Darcy until she explains that Jane’s been missing for five hours. Hang on. She’s only been gone five hours and the police have already launched a full on manhunt? Dang, Missing White Girl Syndrome is a powerful force indeed.
Thor arrives and after slapping the hell out of him for not even bothering to text, Thor explains that he’s been a little busy with constant bloodshed and she’s all “Well okay, but call me next time”. One of the policemen then tries to arrest Jane for trespassing and The Aether lashes out and blasts energy everywhere. The cops freak out and one of them calls for back up.
Thor spirits Jane back to Asgard where she’s examined by the Head Healer played by holy shit Alice Kridge?! They got the goddamn Borg Queen for a tiny two-line role?
At first Odin is not too happy about this saying “A human no more belongs in Asgard than a goat belongs at the banquet table.” which first of all, rude, second of all, every banquet needs a goat they are a frickin’ riot.
But when he realises that Jane has been possessed by the Aether he fills them in on what it is. Which is that it’s a stone, that’s also a liquid, that’s also a weapon that converts matter into dark matter and also possesses people and feeds off their life force because, because, because, because, because of the wonderful things it does. Odin says that Malekith tried to turn the whole universe to darkness but was killed by King Bor.
OR WAS HE?!
So I’m just going to put this out there: almost everything to do with the Aether, and Malekith, and the Dark Elves sucks. And it kills me to say that because Christopher Ecclestone is one of my all time favourite actors (best actor to ever play the Doctor. It’s not even close. I will brook no disagreement). But Malekith’s whole plot is at once utterly generic (“HE WILL DESTROY THE UNIVERSE!”) and maddeningly vague on the particulars (“SOMEHOW!”). Since it’s kind of hard to get emotionally invested in the fate of the universe (caring about something so big is just exhausting) the audience would have to be personally invested in seeing Thor defeat Malekith for this to work as a central conflict. Good luck. With that. Ecclestone is not even phoning it in here, he’s sending a passive-aggressive one word text every few hours. The script tries to get some emotional buy in from the audience later on in a pretty hacky and desperate way but we’ll get to that.
Meanwhile, Frigga visits Loki in his cell to make sure he’s settling in and making friends. She calls Odin “your father” and Loki screams “HE IS NOT MY FATHER!” because oh my God he is actually a 14 year old boy. Frigga says “And am I not your mother?” and Loki sadly replies “You are not”. Frigga vanishes and Loki is left alone in his cell.
A fresh batch of prisoners arrive in the dungeon, one of whom is a disguised Algrim. Algrim uses a magical doodad called a Kursed Stone to turn himself into a roided up monster called Kurse and causes a prison riot. He frees the other prisoners except for Loki because, as noted by the eminent physicist Doctor Robert Bruce Banner, you can smell crazy on him. Loki’s a good sport, however, and still gives Kurse a hint on how to get into the palace.
While the Asgardians are distracted by the riot, Malekith and the Dark Elves launch an all out attack. Heimdall attacks Malekith’s flagship but it’s just him armed with a penknife against an entire warship so you can probably guess how that goes.
Thor flies off to talk with the Dark Elves in the language of hitting them in the face with a hammer and leaves Jane in the care of Frigga. Frigga takes Jane to her quarters while stopping to take a sword from a passing soldier. And you gotta pity that guy, right? It’s not like he can say “Screw you Queenie, get your own damn sword.” And now he’s got to face the Dark Elves armed with nothing but the English Copper’s Gun.
Malekith, who has survived his ship’s Heimdalling, shows up looking for Jane and he and Frigga face off.
I’ve gone back and forth over whether Frigga’s death in this movie counts as a “fridging”. Broadly, a “fridging” is where a supporting (usually female) character is killed off to provide motivation for the main (usually male) character. It has a long, disreputable history in comic books and comes from an issue of Green Lantern where the hero comes home to find that his arch enemy has killed his girlfriend and stuffed her body in the fridge. As a writer, part of me feels that, well, of course supporting characters get killed off to provide motivation for main characters. Everything supporting characters do is in service to the story of the main character, that’s why they’re supporting characters. But because of the fact that main characters are disproportionately male and supporting characters are disproportionately female the use of this trope can come across as more than a little misogynistic. At the same time, saying you should never have a supporting female character die is kind of ludicrous. It’s less a black and white thing and more a question of tone, execution, and how the character in question actually dies. The Death of Gwen Stacey killed off Spiderman’s girlfriend but is rightly considered a classic because it was a genuinely ground-breaking, heart-breaking, well told story. Supergirl’s death in Crisis on Infinite Earths isn’t usually considered a fridging because she went out like a goddamn boss, dying to save the entire multiverse. Frigga’s death in Thor 2 feels a little cheap because it’s clearly just been put in there to give Thor a personal beef with Malekith but it does at least pass the “went out like a boss” test.
The fight scene is actually amazing, Frigga lures Malekith in, slashes his face and actually beats him in hand to hand combat. It’s only when she’s ambushed by Kurse that she loses the upper hand. Malekith tries to draw the Aether out of Jane only to realise that “Jane” is actually one of Frigga’s illusions. Realising he’s been tricked, Malekith demands to know where Jane is.
Frigga: I’ll never tell you.
Malekith: I believe you.
So endeth Frigga.
Thor arrives too late and drives Malekith and Kurse off. The Dark Elves retreat and the Asgardians are left to mourn their many dead. Frigga and the fallen Asgardians are given a Viking funeral.
Something that I don’t think gets talked about when it comes to this movie is just how gorgeous it is. Seriously, the art design in this just jaw dropping, it is hands down the best looking picture in the the MCU. The costumes, the sets, the props, the cinematography. Visually, it is a stunningly designed film.
Anyway, Odin holds a war council and Fandral explains that Asgard’s forcefield is down, Heimdall can’t see the Dark Elves ships and that they’re basically sitting Bilge Snipe. Odin’s plan is to just sit tight and wait for the Dark Elves to come back and then fight them. Okay. Terrible plan. Awful, awful plan. Prince Thor, we need a fresh perspective and new innovative thinking. What’s your plan?
Well. Thank God he’s pretty.
Okay, that is an absolute smouldering atrocity of a plan. That is offensive to people who use their brains. That plan could not have been more poorly thought out if you had said you were going to build a wall around Asgard and make the Dark Elves pay for it. SMOWE, help me out here.
Meanwhile, in London, Darcy is trying to get in touch with anyone about all this, complaining that “SHIELD isn’t calling me back” and Intern asks “What’s SHIELD?” and Darcy replies “It’s a secret.”
She tries to get through to Erik Selvig only to see on a news report that he’s been arrested and placed in a mental institution after streaking naked through Stonehenge where the demons dwell, where the banshees live and they do live well. So Darcy and Intern head over to the looney bin to spring him. Speaking of springing and loons, Thor visits Loki in his cell. At first Loki seems pretty chill about the whole “Death of the only person in his adopted family who still unconditionally loved him” thang but Thor tells him to knock off the illusions and we see that Loki has degenerated into full on Tommy Wiseau levels of despair.
Thor offers Loki a deal, help him escape Asgard so that they can get revenge on Malekith. Thor tells Loki that if he betrays him, he’ll kill him and Loki smiles and says “When do we start?” This begins the strongest stretch of the movie by far. When it’s Thor and Loki, Bickering Adventure Brothers Who Always Look Like They’re About to Kiss, the movie just kicks up several gears. So much of the movie’s best moments are packed in here, Jane slapping Loki and saying “That was for New York”, each one of the Warriors Three warning Loki that they’ll kill him if he betrays Thor (“Evidently there will be a line”) and of course an absolutely glorious cameo where Chris Evans plays Loki playing Captain America.
Thor, Loki and Jane escape from Asgard and find themselves in
Svartalfeim Svartalheim The Dark World. Jane is weakening from the Aether and as she sleeps Thor and Loki have a blazing row over Frigga’s death. I’ve said it before that, for me, the relationship between Thor and Loki is by far the most interesting of any two characters in these movies and if anything the Thor/Loki stuff here is even stronger than it was in Thor 1. Thor is about to punch Loki but pulls back, saying “She wouldn’t want us to fight.” and Loki replies “Well, she wouldn’t exactly be shocked.” It’s a lovely little moment between them and Thor says “I wish I could trust you.”
“Trust my rage.” his brother replies.
Malekith arrives and Loki suddenly turns on Thor, stabbing him and cutting off his hand. Loki tells Malekith he can have Jane as long as he gives him a seat to watch Asgard burns. Malekith draws the Aether out of Jane and Loki and Thor are all “Fooled you!” and reveal that Thor’s hand is just fine and Thor hits the Aether with a blast from Mjolnir. That does….feck all, and Malekith absorbs the Aether and walks off almost like this was a terrible, terrible, awful plan. Thor and Loki fight Kurse and the Dark Elves and Loki saves Jane’s life just so the Tumblr fangirls can cling to sweet, sweet hope. Kurse beats Thor like a rented mule but Loki saves him and gets fatally stabbed. Thor cradles his brother in his arms while Loki mumbles “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Loki dies and Thor wails in anguish.
Now stranded on the Dark World, Jane tells Thor that the Aether showed her a vision of Malekith on Earth because the Aether is pure liquid plot contrivance and I kinda hate it. Jane’s phone suddenly goes off and, amazingly, it’s Richard, who’s called her from across multiple dimensions just to check in on her after their date because Irishmen are like that. Jane realises that there’s a portal nearby which is how she’s getting signal and Thor realises that he’s met his match.
They’re able to find a portal that takes them back to the warehouse in London and head over to Jane’s apartment where Darcy, Selvig and Intern are studying the weird anomalies that have started appearing all over the world.
Back in Asgard, one of Odin’s
Einherjahr Einharjahr Dudes with the Golden Reindeer Hats tells Odin that they found Loki’s body in the Dark World. But this guy seems a little…off, and for some reason Loki’s theme music plays whenever he’s around which is a little odd…
Back in London, Thor and his Scooby Gang figure out where they need to go with the time honoured movie tradition of drawing lines on a map between famous landmarks and seeing where they connect. It turns out that the one point in the whole universe where the Convergence will be strongest is Greenwich which is fortunate because that means they won’t have to travel to the other side of the universe or even have to pay too much for a cab.
Malekith’s ship crashes into Greenwich and while Jane, Selvig, Darcy and Intern set up some machines Erik’s built to stop the Convergence while Thor throws down with Malekith and the Dark Elves.
The fight itself is a lot of fun with lots of inventive use of portals and freaky physics. But it starts to feel really empty because it all hinges on the enmity between Thor and Malekith and there is just no “there” there. I just can’t get invested in this. I think the movie maybe realises this because it starts including just goofy little bits like Thor and Malekith sliding down the Gherkin while shocked office staff look on. It’s funny, but it’s not exactly selling this fight as a great clash between arch-enemies. Anyway, Thor and Jane destroy Malekith and Thor returns to Odin.
Thor tells his father that he’s seen now what it would take to be king and that he cannot take the throne saying “I would rather be a good man than a great king.” He says that he will protect Asgard and the Nine Realms but will not rule them. He offers Mjolnir to Odin but Odin tells him that it’s his as long as he’s worthy.
Odin: I cannot give you my blessing, nor can I wish you good fortune. If I was proud of the man my son had become, even that I could not say. It would speak only from my heart. Go. My son.
Thor thanks his father and leaves the throne room. Odin dissolves in a haze of light, leaving the grinning figure of Loki sitting on the throne of Asgard.
Loki: No. Thank you.
“Uneven” is the word. There is a lot to like about Thor 2 and I’d argue that in many ways it improves on its predecessor. The more subdued, earthy colour pallette gives the story an epic, mythic feel that was lacking in the last movie and as before, when the Thor/Loki/Odin stuff is front and centre the movie works like gangbusters. But the trouble is that where in Thor 1 the familial dynamics of the House of Odin were plugged right into the main plot, here it’s a side plot wedged between the Thor/Jane romance and the supposedly central conflict between Thor and Malekith and yeeeeeeesh that is some weak beer. It’s a curious beast, some of the strongest character beats and dialogue in the MCU in one of its weakest films.
Builds nicely on the good work done by Kenneth Branagh in fleshing out Thor and his world but the main plot is just a painfully generic slog.
Our Heroic Hero: 24/25
Hemsworth, for my money still the great unsung hero of these movies acting-wise, gives us a plausibly changed hero from the first film. Thor is now older, wiser, more mature and doesn’t take himself quite as seriously. Because we get to skip the “obnoxious asshole” step of his hero’s journey, he’s a much more likeable character this time around.
Our Nefarious Villain: 09/25
Our Plucky Sidekicks 23/25
High score? Yeah. Having Loki as a supporting character will do that.
Volstagg and Sif arrive at the lair of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) to hand the Aether over to his protection (guys you literally have a room designed for fuck it, whatever, give it to the obviously evil alien, what do I know?). The Collector takes the Aether and says “One down, five to go.”
And the audience went:
The Collector is not exactly a household name but Del Toro sure as shit is. Also, forward momentum of the Infinity Gems plot is always welcome. Oh, speaking of…
Infinity Gem Count: 3
DING! DING! DING! The Space Stone and Mind Stone are joined by the Reality Gem, which is what The Aether was called before it entered its Goth phase.
Wait a minute, was that Stan Lee?
That was Stan Lee in an English mental institution asking Selvig to give him back his shoe.
Hey, what’s Thanos doing?
FINAL SCORE: 68%
NEXT UPDATE: 03 November 2016
NEXT TIME: Put on your Sunday clothes, There’s lots of world out there…