Thor: The Dark World Review

thor

Thor is the Dos Equis guy of Marvel. Whereas Peter Parker cries about dead uncles and Tony Stark can’t put down that bottle of Jack Daniels, Thor fights rock giants and beds valkyries with a grin on his face and sledge in his hand. He’s omnipotent. He’s noble. He’s boring as shit. One of the reasons it took soooo long for Marvel to even create a film about one of it’s most significant characters was because he’s extremely difficult to adapt into a compelling protagonist. With that in mind, i saw the first Thor ( 2011 ) with apprehension and came out…neutrally. It’s about as good of an adaptation as one could do, but it’s not a good film in its own right. As mentioned, Thor was severely lags behind his Avengers kin in terms of character in the film. In addition, a large portion of the film ( by necessity i understand ) happens on Earth for the sole purpose of:

a) connecting the franchise with the awkwardly integrated S.H.I.E.L.D.

b ) connecting him with humanity despite the fact that it was established IN THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM that the Asgardians had already interacted with humans several times in the past

c ) forcing a relationship with all the chemistry of peanut butter and salami

With that being said, i thought it was well cast, which allowed for fairly boring characters to be interesting ( especially Loki ). In addition, i’ve grown to appreciate the artistic direction of the series in regards to its Asgard ( which i’ll touch upon later ). But enough about the first film, what do i think about it’s illustrious sequel?

Honestly? It’s better. Still not good, but better. And not for necessarily the best reasons.

thor-2-the-dark-world-chris-hemsworth4

The plot: After the events of the first film, Thor has been busy maintaining order in the ( poorly defined ) nine realms of the universe. Back on Midgard / Earth, Padme and that busty CBS waitress happen to find a rip in the fabric of reality ( which happens sometimes ). It turns out that one of these rips leads to a macguffin known as “dark aether” which was previously a plot point in an ancient war between the Asgardians and the oddly-technologically-advanced Dark Elves, who want to use it to spread the daaaahkness across the realms.

The Dark Elves

The Dark Elves

One of the biggest problems i had with the first film was it’s scenes on Earth and this one more than makes up for it. The majority of the film takes place on Asgard and occasionally the titular dark world. As such, we get the sheer scope of the world of Thor. This is helped by another narrated “historical lecture” by Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the beginning. Though he’s clearly a little checked out in this film, Hopkins as always manages to get across the gravitas that a film featuring Norse myth should have. Speaking of which, one of the most under-appreciated aspects of these films is the art direction. And i don’t mean flashy Hollywood CGI ( which is still good, i’ll admit ) , i mean the actual aesthetic choices. The film furthers a sort of “magitech” feeling for the Asgardians and their technology. When Loki is imprisoned, his force field cell looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in Star Trek if it weren’t for those stock “fantasy runes”. Choices like this keeps Asgard from feeling like a generic Dungeons and Dragons locale and also makes it fit in a world where Iron Men and Heli-carriers abound. The villainous Dark Elves take this even further by using weapons straight out of Halo such as energy rifles and grenades. Overall, like the last film, The Dark World has a very strong aesthetic goal and concept that makes for compelling visuals…

51a7ae8850901

…which doesn’t do much for uncompelling plot. Thor: The Dark World suffers from the same condition as Iron Man 2 ( 2010 ) by being an uninspired franchise sequel. By the end of Thor, Thor goes from being a cocky guy who cares little for his enemies to being a cocky guy who cares a little for his enemies. That’s it. That’s the only psychology you could milk out of that asshole. As hard as it is to believe, there’s LESS characterization in this film. The only driving aspect of the character is, of course, his arbitrary love for Jane Foster ( Natalie Portman ).Once they’re reunited, that becomes the only thing we get out of the guy emotionally. Even when a MUCH more terrible event occurs during the film, he barely has emotional reaction. This is why Thor is such a god-awful film protagonist: no matter how charismatic Hemsworth is, he can’t make up for a character with absolutely no pathos. There’s nothing for him to grow into at this point, his narrative journey ended in the first film. This makes the scenes on Earth more painful than they were in the first film, since they literally have no bearing on anything. Ironically, the film’s choice to use Earth comedically actually undercuts most of the point of the first film. The first scene with Jane Foster shows her on a date with the affable Chris O’Dowd ( Bridesmaids ) who looking like this…

Chris O'Dowd At Jameson Done In 60 Seconds Media Day

…pales in comparison the dreamy Thor. During the scene, Darcy ( Kat Dennings ) shows up and basically cuts the poor sod off, while Jane purposely ignores him, which is funny because…it’s actually not that funny. It underscores the biggest problem with this film and the challenge of Thor as a superhero. Once all of the “character development” of Thor was finished, humans became punchlines to the film’s jokes. “Look at this limey loser! He ain’t shit compared to Asgardians!”. Even Jane ends up being portrayed as more of a commoner during her brief stay on Asgard, where she can barely has any screen presence when compared to her godly costars. So with all that in mind: how do you then justify Thor’s interest in Earth? Asgardians and whatever the fuck Hogun is are essentially humans but better. Why the fuck was it important for him to be a hero on Earth? The film seems to forget it has to even establish that reasoning. This lack of motivation stretches an already stretched-thin excuse plot.

Speaking of plot, it’s actually the opposite of Iron Man 2 in terms of complexity. Which is a bad thing. Obviously, no one really cared about writing a good story for Iron Man 2. So instead, they have a quick plot that needs little explanation AND could be conveniently wrapped up succinctly. The Dark World takes a fairly uninteresting macguffin plot and actually makes it hard to understand through a whole shit load of plot elements. This is where the ” magitech” elements work against the film, since we’re given obscure technobabble for almost every aspect of the climax. I dare any viewer to honestly tell me how exactly Thor defeats the Elves by the end. In terms of subplot, the only one of note is the hinted at Jane / Sif rivalry. I’ll just tell ya, it’s not that big of a deal. See it for yourself and you’ll probably agree.

One of the most criminal sins for the more passive viewer is the fact that, once again, Thor barely fights. I get it, i really do. Thor is a god. Because of this, showing him in combat often would kind of diminish the majesty of his might. This is the reason why this is one of the few elements that didn’t bother me. As i said, Thor just ain’t interesting. There’s no way for him to lose and he has no personal struggles to overcome. This film manages to spend just enough time away from Thor in order to actually be somewhat compelling. We get more screen time with his mother Frigga ( Rene Russo ) who has some tense moments. As per fan-girl request ( literally ), we get plenty of Loki as well. While it’s obvious he’s a bit tacked on to the plot, i’ll admit Hiddleston plays his role well as usual as Thor’s untrustworthy sidekick. Personally, i think the time could have been better spent with supporting characters Thor actually LIKES like, i don’t know, the four fucking badass warriors who would follow him to death. But as a non-fifteen year old white girl, i am clearly not part of Thor’s fanbase.

Thor: The Dark World film still

Final Verdict

This film is the lowest form of ‘ok’ to me. The first act is impressive and really ties you into the Norse mythos the film creates. The best parts for me were when they didn’t focus on Thor or Jane and instead had us soaring around this world. The actors make due with what they got, but it ain’t much. Not to mention the plot is almost pointless. See this film if you liked the first one, appreciate the talents of the cast, or have the money for IMAX 3D. Don’t see this film if you didn’t like the first, actually want character development, or want an interesting story.

For more posts on Marvel heroes:

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Journey of Peter Parker from Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man Tackles The Torch: Spider-Man as a Classic Anti-Hero

The Lois Lane Effect

Advertisements

The Fantasy Trichotomy of Humans, Elves, and Dwarves

2061466-527

Disclaimer: I have never read an entire book by J. R. R. Tolkien. I think I’m pretty knowledgeable enough to comment on fantasy inspired by him anyway. If you disagree, go fuck yourself.

TheHobbit_03

With the release of The Hobbit ( 2012 ) comes a chance for the Dwarves to get their moment on the big screen. While Dwarves have always been stock fantasy humanoids in fantasy fiction, they’re rarely focused upon when compared to elves, who have cornered the market both in terms of action, magic, scholarship, and perverse sexual lust. In the original LOTR films, Gimli was the only Dwarf and he sucked so much that he couldn’t even ride a horse by himself. Meanwhile, Legolas could kill mammoths and drink like a frat guy. And of course, the human Aragorn became a king. Whether intentional or not, the dynamic between these characters’ races seem to establish a pecking order of sorts; specifically a hierarchy that goes Elf > Human > Dwarf.

l

A short, sturdy creature fond of drink and industry”-Dwarf Fortress

Dwarves diminutive role in the implied fantasy caste system is both figurative and literal. They are obviously “dwarven” in the scientific sense i.e. they’re midgets. In the Tolkien verse,their smallness isn’t as egregious considering the existence of hobbits and goblins, but it’s still touched upon occasionally in the films ( “I’d chop off your head, if it did not sit but a few feet from the ground”-Eomer to Gimli in The Two Towers [2002] ). As a man of 5″7, i’m all too aware of the lack of social status that comes with shortness (sob). In addition to their lack of height, they mostly portrayed as lacking the “pizazz” most fantasy being have. When’s the last time you’ve seen a Dwarven mage in fiction? A Dwarven druid, maybe? Probably never. Dwarves tend to be fairly anti-mystical and instead go in the exact opposite direction as master industrialists.

skyrim_dwarven_armor_by_xcreepersxd4hj5f5

Character wearing Dwarven Armor next to a Dwarven automaton in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

In the Elder Scrolls series, Dwarves build automatons and other machines using the trapped souls of elves ( Gimli would smile at the notion ). In World of Warcraftthe Dwarves were created by the Titans to craft the world,making them the first artisans.

Elder_Fargal

Dwarf using “Stoneform” in World of Warcraft

In both interpretations, the Dwarves embody materiality: steel and stone, respectively. Their materiality is shown to be the bane of their civilization: in The Fellowship of the Ring ( 2001 ), the thirst for riches led the Dwarves to dig too deep and come upon the hellish Balrog. In The Hobbit, Dwarven King Thrain’s greed leads to an attack by the dragon Smaug and the loss of his homeland. Notably, both of these tragedies happen in subterranean strongholds, the usual home of Dwarves in fiction. In many cultures, the underground world is often thought to be a site of degradation, specifically of the soul. This could possibly be due to the sordid history of mining, which yielded both great riches and great fatalities. In Greek myth, Hades was both the god of finance and the dead. He lorded over both in a realm beneath the Earth. The Christians utilized this concept in the popular view of Hell. Satan is sometimes even considered to be the true ruler of the material realm, giving him dominion over all material wealth.

The Dwarves’ materiality and subterranean dwellings communicate a “baseness” that is not as prevalent in other two races. Rarely do we hear of Dwarven deities or mysticism, they instead focus on their treasure. While Tolkien based much of his tales on Norse mythology, the Dwarves are especially “pagan” visually ( Saxon features ) and culturally ( obsession with treasure, warlike nature ) in comparison. This casts them in a more primal light than the humans and elves, who have more progressive ideologies. The Dwarves are the anchors of fantasy humanoids; they maintain the old ways. In the bad sense, they serve as representatives of things humanity should move beyond ( war, greed ). In the good sense,they represent the “hardiness” that humans desire in themselves. Despite their follies, the Dwarves always manage to build. The Hobbit tells the tale of the Misty Mountain Dwarves crusade to reclaim their homeland, even without the help of most of the clan. Their campaign is meant to be reminiscent of the Jews ( according to Tolkien himself ) who suffered slavery and segregation in the first few centuries, yet still managed to propagate their religion and culture. In a way, Dwarves’ primordial nature is what makes them heroic. They have some of the worst vices of humanity, yet they continue to forge ahead (pun unintended). elves350_7162 “Everything you can do elves can do better, elves are much better at everything than you.” –Lords and Ladies ( Discworld series )

On the very opposite end of the racial spectrum are the Elves. If they could be summed up  in one word, it would be “better”. Elves are distilled awesome. Even though elves have been all over the map in terms of image (the Keebler elves, for instance), Tolkien has cemented the view of elves as the pinnacle of aesthetic. His elves are ethereal figures with long hair, lean bodies, and blemishless skin. They don’t even have facial hair, unless you’re counting those dark elves and their Evil Spock goatees. It’s noteworthy that the Elves, unlike the Dwarves, have no overt phenotypes that they’re modeled on. Out of the trifecta, they are the furthest away from humans visually. This is often because the Elves are the “high” counterpoint to Dwarves “low”. Everyone looks like a human, ugly people look like Dwarves, but you WISH you could look like an elf.

world of warcraft white tiger fantasy art elves artwork drawings elfen girl 2560x1600 wallpaper_wallpaperswa.com_47  blood_elf_world_of_warcraft-t2

Their foreignness is a way to set them apart in western fantasies; in World of Warcraft, anything related to Blood Elves is given a general “Oriental” aesthetic, whereas the Night Elves draw more from Native Americans visually. In Elder Scrolls, the “Dwarves”, who are actually a variation of elf, have weaponry and armor based on Mesopotamia. These cultures are very “unwestern”,and are often fetishised as well. Think of how many works use “magical Native Americans” ( Pocahontas [1995] ) or “wise Chinamen” ( The Karate Kid [1984] ) as mentors. In most narrative fiction, the proposed viewer will almost always be “white”, therefore that viewer would think of whites as being mundane ( and by extension, their knowledge ). While whiteness is awesome for day-to-day stuff ( like having a good credit score ), there will always be a few things that a whitey, no matter how mighty, can’t do. Hence, ethnic mentors!

karatekid11080cinefile0

How else is a guido going to learn how to use chopsticks!

Elves serve the same role as these stock racial figures by assisting humans, or at least giving them something to aspire to. This explains why Elves also tend to be more spiritual than their fellow humanoids. In Elder Scrolls, all of the Elves have an empathic connection to their deities, to the point that the devouring of Trinimac ( one of their gods ) caused a group of Elves to mutate into Elder Scrolls equivalent to Orcs. As part of their spirituality, they are often cast as guides. All of the Lord of the Rings films have an obligatory “meeting with the elves” which gives the protagonists guidance. In The Hobbit, Lord Elrond explains how to get to the Lonely Mountain’s secret door, which of course Thorin, the fucking prince of the dwarves, didn’t know about ( they really do suck ). tumblr_mhrvuvYiN91riplelo1_500 Not to mention that the three protagonists’ most effective weapons ( Gandalf’s Glamdring, Bilbo’s Sting, Thorin’s Orcrist ) are all Elven in design, despite the Dwarves supposed proficiency in industry.

Despite Elves being so awesome, they are rarely cast as protagonists. The primary reason is said awesomeness; most narrative conventions encourage striving for something lacking. Anthropologists like Joseph Campbell, who was one of the first to propose an all-encompassing “monomyth”, compared a hero’s journey to a boy learning how to be a man. This is why the hobbits are such compelling protagonists; they are completely out-of-place in a war, therefore they have to make significant gains in order to accomplish their goals. The Elves, on the other hand, are portrayed as being so accomplished that no feat is beyond their doing.

What keeps them on the borders of the action is lack of incentive. The Elves have never lost a stronghold or been attacked by a stronger enemy, so they have no need to fight. This could arguably be considered their “fatal flaw”. In the western world, neutrality is often considered a great sin. This is why ideas of “American Exceptionalism” often points to our interventionism as such a virtue. The Elves decision to not involve themselves at the Misty Mountains ( in The Hobbit ) is in stark contrast to the Dwarves’ valiant efforts to protect them. This scene is used to bolster the heroism of the Dwarves, who are heavily built up as the scrappy underdogs of Middle Earth as opposed to the aloof Elves. Ironically, the Elves’ role as mentors and aloof nature makes them appear impotent. Don’t forget that when Isildur decides to not destroy the One Ring, Lord Elrond responds by doing absolutely nothing to stop him.

Not going to do it? That's cool i guess.

Not going to do it? That’s cool i guess.

While some have explored why he wasn’t able to stop him in the literature, the film doesn’t suggest any possible explanation, leaving a viewer to assume that he just conceded to the King’s decision. Such impotence is often key to mentors in fiction. If the Campbellian model of narrative suggests that the protagonist is a boy becoming a man, the mentor is already a man. The only goal left for him is to perpetuate the process in another. The mentor has no personal growth potential left, which is why it’s okay, even beneficial, for him to die in order to force his ward to continue alone, such as in Star Wars ( 1977 ) or Django Unchained ( 2012 ). In real life, most parents’ mentoring is meant to shape children into themselves, preferably better versions. Hence why parents are culturally obligated to subordinate personal desires in favor of the child’s: it’s just more progressive.

In keeping with this, Elves are almost always cast as significantly older than humans and sometimes Dwarves, who are as mayflies to them. Their agelessness is a double-edged sword: it gives them wisdom, but also stagnates them. In The Fellowship of the RingLord Elrond’s argument to Arwen as to why she shouldn’t pursue a relationship with Aragorn is to remind her that he will die and she will live, thus causing her heartache. Elrond suggest that the life of an Elf is one of detachment; if everything will die before you, why become invested in it? This is in contrast to the Elves’ inferiors, who may not have the same capabilities, but at least have room to improve. Ffxi-hume “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”-Robert A. Heinlein

For obvious reasons, humans exist in between the two extremes of Dwarves and Elves. Humans are us, and because of that, they are the “standard” for fictional characters. Humans aren’t too strong, too religious, too anything ( those are reserved for the other races ), which is also why most video games make them the most statistically balanced race. As such, the relationships humans tend to have with their fantastic counterparts are ones that help them to define themselves. In Campbellian narrative, humans are the children who embark on a quest to become men, which often necessitates them to reconcile what’s lacking within them.

aragorn_sword_broken

In Lord of the Rings, the rejuvenation of men is something which falls upon the shoulders of Aragorn, who at first chooses to forsake kingship. The power of Men is generally questionable in the series: Denethor is a paranoid idiot and Theoden is brainwashed for a part of the second film. Despite this, they are the only race that can truly lead Middle Earth into the future. The Dwarves are mostly dead, and the Elves are too transient to really care. The rejuvenation and continuation of the world is dependent on Men redeeming themselves, with Aragorn as the firebrand. In the trichotomy, Men are defined by their progression. While the other races assist, they lead.

One can’t help but see the “western-centricness” aspects of this relationship; Dwarves ( based on Irish, Scottish, and Russians ) and Elves ( based on Asians and Native Americans ) are clearly coded as “foreign”, so humans default into WASPs: White Anglo-Saxon Protestants ( sometimes without the protestantism ). This parallels how America and Britain often view other countries as often a nation of “sidekicks” to their divine journey of expansion. Whenever some shit goes down, they are the only ones that can save the day,especially if Steven Seagal is present. Western struggles aren’t plights, they are character defining challenges. It’s only when other nations struggle that they can be seen as just inherently deficient, with only the intervention of white men as a way to grow. As terrible as this sounds, Aragorn and Men in general are the “mighty whiteys” of Middle Earth. To elaborate, the trope of the “mighty whitey” originates in 18th and 19th century adventure fiction when European men were exploring uncharted areas and subsequently realizing that they can do anything better than anybody.

The Phantom by Lee Falk

"You better be,Kunta."

“You better be, Kunta.”

Aragorn, for what it’s worth, is one of the most benign versions of this trope. Despite eventually becoming their superior, the films always cast him as the calm medium between his companions. He has the martial ability of Gimli, the mysticism of Legolas, and even the humility of Frodo. His success is at least partially due to his acquaintanceship with them. Perhaps this is what makes Aragorn so important, he coheres the disparate natures of the three races, which allows him to unite all of Middle Earth. When Frodo decides to ferry the ring to Mordor, Aragorn is the first to agree to help him, with Gimli, Legolas, and the others following suit. Along the way, Gimli, a man with good reasons to hate Elves, forges a friendship with the particularly Elven Legolas. And in turn, Legolas, who at one point in The Two Towers is skeptical of the idea that the ordinary humans of Gondor could defend themselves, eventually stands among the many humans who bow down to the christened Aragorn. The trichotomy of Dwarves,Humans, and Elves creates a commentary on how disparate cultures can work together to achieve a progressive end.

Fellowship1

For more insights into Dwarves,Elves, and Humans:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurDwarvesAreAllTheSame http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurElvesAreBetter http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpaceElves http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CantArgueWithElves http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ScrewYouElves http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ElvesVersusDwarves?from=Main.ElvesVsDwarves http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveRaces