Watch Thor: The Dark World if you want to see a perfect example of how market competition does not actually provide us with the highest quality product. The film is the equivalent of a McDonald’s double-cheeseburger, a terrible glob of non-nourishing salt, sugar, and chemicals that you can see at a glance is not a good hamburger, but you’ve been conditioned to eat and love anyway.
As a rule, I like to see you kids happy, so I try to be tolerant when a big junk-food superhero buffet gets spread out in the public trough. An occasional McDonald’s orgy does no lasting harm, surely. But Thor 2 is so insultingly bad, I feel I must speak out in protest.
I don’t care how much money it’s making: Thor 2 makes Thor 1 look good, and Thor 1 was no good at all. The lone bright spot of Thor 1 was watching Idris Elba as Heimdall maintain his cool even while wearing a silly gold plastic helmet. He’s back in this sequel and provides something new by briefly taking off that helmet.
The gold plastic Asgard sets are back too, along with outdoor Styrofoam boulders put to good use in fight scenes. Well, actually, they’re probably CGI representations of gold plastic and Styrofoam boulders, because in this brave new world, we can presto-digitize any location or set or prop we want. It seems top Hollywood producers want to use their massive budgets to replicate the cheesiest effects of the SyFy network, or possibly the gaudy production design of some fondly remembered high school performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Just to give you an idea of the cheese-level, in Thor 2 Odin’s castle looks exactly like a giant pipe organ. As if production designer Charles Wood took a photo of the immense gold pipe organ in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City and said to his assistants, “This will be the castle,” and they said, “You mean, you want us to use this as an inspirational image when we design the castle?” and Wood said, “No, this is the castle, and the gods live inside the pipes and look out through the little pipe-slots.”
Only they’re not gods anymore, Odin and Thor and the top-brass Asgardians. They’re not even immortal — Odin claims they only live 5,000 years. I’m not sure why they got demoted. Except perhaps because all the Thor-related films so far, including The Avengers, have manifested a total incompetence in conveying godly power. I guess gods are tough to work with, plot-wise, and clearly nobody on this production wanted to work too hard. Though the Norse gods are actually killable in special circumstances, perhaps that’s not generally known, and plausibility becomes an issue.
How do you keep the fight scenes going with what are perceived to be invincible beings? How can you have humans, even those with a couple of superpowers, getting right up in the grill of some god, talking smack? They did that a lot in The Avengers, forcing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to keep reminding everyone that he could reduce them to spots of grease if he wanted to. He got pretty snippy about it, and no wonder.
Speaking of Tom Hiddleston as Loki, he’s collecting all the film’s best reviews. This figures. Watching a dull mess like Thor 2, you naturally turn to the villains for entertainment, and Christopher Eccleston as Lord Malekith can’t really cut it — possibly because of his Dark Elf Boss make-up (ice-blue contact lenses and pointy ears and such), or the simple fact that he’s playing an Elf, which is not scary or formidable in any way. Washington Post critic Michael O’Sullivan came up with a nifty phrase dismissing the Dark Elves as looking like “evil Teletubbies.”
That leaves the burden of villainy on Hiddleston, who continues to behave like a smirking hipster in contrast to Chris Hemsworth’s square jock Thor. Richard Corliss of Time compliments the way Hiddleston conveys evil “without camping things up.” This is a bewildering thing to say because, short of donning fishnet stockings and singing Dr Frank N. Furter’s Rocky Horror Picture Show number, it’s hard to see how Hiddleston could get much campier.
Consider his first scene. Loki is brought in chains to the gold plastic throne room, where mighty Odin harrumphs down at him. Loki, slouching in his signature all-black jumpsuit and Marilyn Manson black-dyed coif, purrs, “If I’m for the axe, then swing it.” Hiddleston puts a ripe, insinuating lilt into it, as if to say, “Swing it, baby! Swing it good like I know you could!”
There’s no denying Loki’s lounge-lizard posturing makes for a mildly amusing break from the plot. Thor 2 has tons of it, clumsily delivered in great gouts of exposition. We start off with a show-and-tell saga of the Dark Elves who fought to keep the cosmic lights off but lost the big battle to the Asgardians, who wanted the lights on. The Darkest Elf, Malekith, and his top minions wind up in a deep freeze, waiting millennia for their chance at revenge. This comes when Aether — a kind of weaponized floaty red goo — gets loosed into the world, and the Nine Realms align creating the “Convergence,” and blah blah blah.
No doubt realizing how forgettable all this was, the screenwriters have Odin (Anthony Hopkins) tell part of the backstory again a few scenes later, using a handy illuminated manuscript. Later still, wacky scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Scarsgard) repeats another chunk of it in a demonstration using shoes to represent something, I forget what. I got distracted by Stan Lee, in his obligatory cameo, playing an old coot watching the demonstration, who asks for his shoe back. Obligatory Stan Lee—that should be his street name.
Still more plot is necessary to pick up the threads of what the earthlings have been doing since the last Thor movie. Jane the Implausible Scientist (Natalie Portman) is pining over how Thor totally never called her even though he asked for her number and everything. Her wisecracking intern-sidekick Darcey (Kat Dennings) acquired her own intern-sidekick Ian (Jonathan Howard). And Erik the Other Implausible Scientist was arrested while running around nude at Stonehenge babbling about the Convergence.
As the film lumbers on, you start to pin your hopes on the Convergence — described in such extravagant terms, it seems the special effects will have to be pretty wild. All the Nine Realms will be porously interacting, gravity will go completely out of wack, inside will be outside, night will be day, frogs will rain from the sky, who knows what all.
But almost nothing of interest happens. Gravity goes right on chugging along, keeping Natalie Portman’s feet firmly attached to the ground as she twiddles the knobs on the Humdingulator that’s supposed to do something good for Our Heroes. Occasional stuff shoots out from Asgard and lands on Earth, and vice versa, but otherwise it’s a standard, uninspired big climactic fight scene with lots of CGI wreckage, as always.
It’s a travesty how little imagination goes into these zillion-dollar films.
I realize the fans live for this stuff and therefore it’s pointless my mentioning how distressingly low the bar has been set for these Marvel Comics films. There are so many examples in Thor 2 of this tendency to give the paying suckers crap in exchange for huge profits at the box-office, but I’ll mention just these two:
Early on, lovelorn Thor mopes through an unforgivable scene of Asgardian revelry that looks like the tackiest Renaissance Faire ever staged, featuring phony roistering with heavily bearded men drinking out of prop-steins, surrounded by herds of “Wenches,” which is literally how they’re listed in the credits.
And at the very end of the movie, there’s a brief coda that presumably sets up another dubious Marvel franchise product. It features a smarmy bottle-blonde Benicio Del Toro as “The Collector,” attended by what looks like an early 1960s airline stewardess but with bright pink skin, receiving the Forbidden Frajaculator or whatever it’s supposed to be from two of Thor’s sidekicks. They’re standing in a hall of glass cases containing supposedly rare specimens of space stuff, and the place looks painfully like the corner of a soundstage where a cheap, hasty set got thrown up for an hour-long shoot by the second-unit camera guy. As the sidekicks leave, Benicio Del Toro emotes his evil intentions at the camera.
How long are you fans going to put up with this kind of slack nonsense? They’re taking your money and spitting in your faces and, without a doubt, laughing all the way to the bank. And still you keep turning out. You deserve better hamburgers than this, you know! It’s not that hard to make a decent burger!