Aug 6, 2020
Countdown to Infinity War: Revisiting Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Previously: Marvel Studios pulled off a minor miracle, as their four-year plan to release multiple movies as a lead up to a mega-crossover cinematic event exceeded everyone’s sky-high expectations and ultimately resulted in what was the top grossing film of 2012. With this huge success under Marvel’s belt, everyone was eagerly awaiting what the studio would do next. Alas, they squandered a large chunk of the audience’s good will by putting out a mediocre Iron Man sequel, and were about to squander another big chunk with a mediocre Thor sequel.
Also previously: My fellow reviewer Thomas Stockel delivered seven excellent articles covering the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, but in the interest of completing a rewatch/review of all 18 (eighteen!) MCU movies before Infinity War comes out at the end of April, I offered to pitch in and write a few of them myself. Fair warning: I’m not nearly as enamored of these films as Tom.
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The first Thor wasn’t out to revolutionize movies, but the cast was likable enough and director Kenneth Branagh actually knew how to manage the tonal shifts between its grand operatic Viking saga and earthbound silliness. The notion of making a decent movie from a comic book bastardization of the Norse gods seemed so unlikely that it was all too easy to give Thor a pass, despite not really being that great of a movie. But instead of the sequel going deeper and building upon the original, Thor: The Dark World is even more disposable than the Thunder God’s previous outing.
The plot: Per an introductory voiceover from Anthony Hopkins, thousands of years ago, the “Dark Elves”, ruled by our main villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), wanted to convert all the matter in the universe into dark matter. Because, I guess, that sounds sufficiently evil. To achieve this, Malekith acquired something called the “Aether”, which strongly resembles cherry cough syrup floating in zero-G.
The Asgardian forces, led by Odin’s father, snatched the Aether away from Malekith. The Dark Elves were defeated and slaughtered, and Malekith went into hiding. The Asgardians didn’t have enough sense to destroy the Aether, because if they did, there’d be no movie, and so they decided to instead “bury it deep”. And of course, when they “bury it deep”, they make sure to put it in an place that’s completely unattended with no way of detecting if the Aether ever gets out, as we’ll see later.
Cut to the present, where Loki is led in chains into his father’s throne room. His mom Frigga is really disappointed in him, and Odin chews him out for trying to become ruler of Earth back in The Avengers. Loki says they should just go ahead and execute him if that’s what they want to do. He then delivers the first sample of the exceptional dialogue to be found in this film: “It’s not that I don’t love our little talks, it’s just… I don’t love them.” Instead of executing him, Odin sentences Loki to live out the rest of his days in the “dungeons” underneath the palace.
Meanwhile, in what a caption informs us is Vanaheim, one of the Nine Realms and also home of the Mighty Ducks, Thor and his Merrie Men battle a generic enemy, and the fight ends when the enemy trots out a giant rock monster to fight Thor. Bizarrely, both sides put down their weapons so they can watch the fight, only to see Thor take out the monster with one blow from his hammer Mjolnir. And then the enemy instantly surrenders, even though a minute ago they seemed to be giving the Asgardians a pretty good run for their money. But at least this gives Falgar, one of the Merrie Men (previously played by Josh Dallas, now played by Zachary Levi), the opportunity to spew out a “cute” one-liner: “Perhaps next time we should start with the big one!”
Meanwhile, Jane Foster is now in London, secretly looking for traces of Thor. (And as Tom previously noted, dialogue in other Marvel movies indicates that this is all taking place a good three or four years after the events of the first Thor, where the two only spent a few days together, and yet somehow she and Thor are still totally in love.) She’s on a blind date with some Irish dude and he actually has to slip a note across the table to get her attention. Darcy crashes their date and busts out lots of rapid-fire patter, and tells Jane that her gizmos have picked up something that might indicate the presence of Thor. She tries to brush it aside, but ultimately blows off her date so she can go chase after Thor.
Along the way, Darcy introduces Jane to Ian, her intern. Who’s also this movie’s comic relief, even though Darcy was ostensibly already our comic relief, meaning we get to endure comic relief from the comic relief. Together, they investigate an abandoned warehouse, where the local street urchins show off the cool things they found here. It seems one kid can make a truck float in the air just by lifting it up with two fingers, which oddly doesn’t become important until one moment late in the movie.
More important is that they’ve found a stairwell overlooking a mysterious invisible portal. Objects dropped into the portal vanish, only to reappear above their heads, perpetually falling. But it doesn’t work with all objects, and as one girl explains, “Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don’t.” In a brilliant move, Ian throws his car keys into the portal, and they don’t come back.
Jane wanders off to follow some readings on her tricorder (I mean, it might as well be a tricorder) and ends up getting pulled through a wall and sent to another realm. She spots a stone obelisk, and it appears Jane has by sheer coincidence been teleported to the precise location where the all-powerful Aether has been hidden away undisturbed for thousands of years. The goo comes alive and grabs her, and she quickly gets “infected” with the Aether.
This somehow wakes up Malekith, who was in suspended animation all this time, on his ship floating out in deep space somewhere. Meanwhile, Thor has a meeting with the omniscient Heimdall, who reports that he’s unable to see Jane Foster, and Thor promptly races to Earth to find her.
Jane wakes up back at the abandoned warehouse, finding out she was gone for hours. Then there’s a sudden rainstorm that douses everyone besides Jane, who’s inside a rainproof-bubble, and she quickly realizes this is the work of Thor.
Jane runs to Thor and instantly slaps him. This is funny, because she’s been pining away for him for years, so you’d expect her to jump into his arms, and thus this is an unexpected comic reversal. She’s upset with him for being out of touch all this time, but Thor explains he’s been busy protecting all Nine Realms, as well as saving New York back in The Avengers, which Jane finds to be an acceptable excuse.
Just then, some cop tries to hassle Jane, but the Aether automatically protects her, sending out a wave of red concussive force. Thor immediately realizes something is wrong and whisks her away to Asgard.
Jane gets examined by Asgardian doctors, but Odin immediately figures out what’s happened. He then delivers the exposition from the start of the movie all over again as he tells Thor and Jane about the Dark Elves, and how Malekith wants the Aether to change everything into dark matter. He also notes that something called the “Convergence” is coming up, where all Nine Realms come into alignment, or something. And this is what caused that invisible portal to open up back on Earth.
Meanwhile, Loki is sitting in his dungeon cell, which might as well be in the brig of the USS Enterprise. It even has the one wall that’s a transparent force field and everything. And just like when I watch Star Trek, I can’t help but wonder why the Asgardians don’t simply use metal bars in their dungeons. I know force fields look cooler and all, but bars seem to have a much better track record of actually keeping people inside.
Guards march into the dungeons with a whole group of new prisoners, and among them is Malekith’s servant Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who has on armor that makes him look exactly like a Predator. He’s secretly infiltrated the dungeons so he can transform into a molten rock creature and smash his way out, causing a big jail break where he frees all the other prisoners… Except for Loki, who he leaves in his cell for unexplained reasons.
Thor and his Merrie Men show up to fight the prisoners, with Zachary Levi quipping, “It’s as if they resent being in prison!” For Odin’s sake, just shut up and fight.
The prison break turns out to be but a distraction to allow Malekith’s fleet of ships to launch an assault on Asgard. Malekith eventually crashes his ship into and invades the palace, and he dramatically destroys Odin’s throne. He tracks down Jane, who he knows has the Aether, but Frigga protects her. Frigga and Malekith battle it out, and Frigga gets killed by Algrim and the two villains make their getaway.
And so we get a big dramatic moment where Odin reacts to the death of his wife and Thor reacts to the death of his mother. Then the Asgardians put on a huge Viking funeral for Frigga, which I believe lasts longer than all of Rene Russo’s scenes in this movie and the first Thor put together.
Back on Earth, Darcy and Ian spring Dr. Erik Selvig out of a psychiatric hospital. It seems that getting mind controlled by Loki in The Avengers made Selvig a little bit nuts, which is why we earlier got random footage of him running around Stonehenge naked and being apprehended by the cops. Ian tells the police that he’s Dr. Selvig’s son, and they take his word for it with no proof whatsoever. And I wish I could say there was some purpose to this whole “Selvig goes nuts and gets locked up in a mental institution” subplot, but there’s none. It’s just more comic relief for a movie that’s not terribly serious in the first place.
Back in Asgard, Thor wants to set a trap for Malekith by taking Jane to Svartalfheim, another of the Nine Realms and the titular “Dark World”, but Odin forbids it. So Thor decides (once again) to disobey his dad and get his men to help him sneak Jane out of Asgard, which is apparently some sort of high treason. But the Bifrost bridge is closed down, so the only way out is to get help from Loki. Loki is also broken up over Frigga’s death and eventually agrees to put his evil schemes on the back burner to stop Malekith.
Upon being released, Loki immediately uses his hologram/illusion powers to make himself look like an Asgardian soldier, then he makes Thor look like Sif, then he says Thor might be more comfortable if Loki looks like “one of [Thor’s] new compatriots”. And then Loki transforms himself into Captain America, with a brief cameo from Chris Evans.
I’m sure this was a fun surprise for the people who didn’t get spoilers about it two hours after the movie’s first screenings. However, it’s just a green screen cameo, and Evans was never anywhere near the set. Also, the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray reveal an odd tidbit: When they originally filmed this, Tom Hiddleston decided to put on a Captain America costume and pretend to be Evans, even though he knew he would be digitally edited out of the finished film. This means all Marvel movie sets evidently have spare Captain America costumes on hand, just in case, which strikes me as a tad strange.
Finally, Thor and Loki and Jane get onboard some sort of flying winged chariot and get past Malekith’s men. They pass through Loki’s wormhole and end up on the Dark World. Almost immediately, Malekith and his crew show up for a confrontation, and that’s when Loki betrays Thor, stabbing him in the gut. Thor calls for his hammer, so Loki slices off his hand (with a conspicuous lack of blood) to prevent him from picking it up.
Loki tells Malekith that he’s actually been Team Evil the whole time, and he’s really on the side of the bad guys, and Malekith goes along with this. Malekith then makes Jane hover in the air so he can pull the Aether out of her. But it turns out Loki’s betrayal was all a ruse: he merely holographically made it appear as though he cut off his brother’s hand, and Thor’s hand rematerializes and he uses his hammer to blast the Aether to bits.
Sadly, this whole subterfuge turns out to have been pointless, because the Aether quickly reassembles itself. A boring brawl breaks out between Thor and Loki and Malekith’s men, and the end result is Malekith getting away with the Aether. And prior to this, a few moments suggested that Jane might be turning evil due to the presence of the Aether inside of her (nightmares, her eyes briefly turning solid black, etc.), but of course all of this comes to nothing after it’s pulled out of her.
Oh, and during the fight, Loki gets stabbed and has a big death scene. Sure, Loki’s dead. As if Marvel would kill off its most popular villain.
Jane and Thor are now stranded on the Dark World, and in one of movie’s only funny bits, Jane hears her ring tone and is stunned to find out she has cell phone service on another world. It would appear that by pure happenstance, she’s stumbled onto yet another location that’s connected via invisible portal to that abandoned building back in London, and Jane even finds Ian’s car keys. The two get back to Earth and get in the car and drive off. And the guy calling was Jane’s blind date from the beginning of the movie, who gets blown off again, even though he just unintentionally played a significant part in saving the multiverse.
They head to an apartment to meet up with Darcy and Dr. Selvig, who’s now walking around in his tidy whities, because that’s funny. They eventually figure out that Malekith is going to use the upcoming Convergence to amplify the power of the Aether to destroy all Nine Realms. And by pure coincidence, the ideal location to do that is from Greenwich, which is right around the corner.
They rush there to set up Selvig’s “gravitational spikes”, which will somehow stop Malekith’s evil plan. Malekith’s giant spaceship makes its appearance in Greenwich, plowing through a public square and causing mass hysteria in the streets. Thor confronts Malekith and they battle one-on-one for a while, meaning that even though the villain now has been infused with a supposed multiverse-destroying superweapon, he can’t even manage to kill one guy. Granted, the guy is a god, but come on.
Although most of the film is a dud, I have to say the final fight delivers the goods, as the Convergence causes people and things to pop in and out of reality, while getting briefly teleported to the Dark World, along with several other realms. Though it’s a bit random as to who gets teleported and when. There are several lucky saves that happen as a result of people being pulled off-world at exactly the right second.
There’s a moment where Thor gets teleported miles away without his hammer, and has to take the London Underground to get back to Greenwich, which is funny, but doesn’t exactly ratchet up the tension. And we finally get the payoff to that bit in the abandoned warehouse where Ian is able to lift up a car and save Darcy from the bad guys. There’s also a monster that ends up getting set loose in the streets of Greenwich, and it seems to only happen for the sake of a lame post-credits gag.
Eventually, Malekith unleashes a big Aether-nado that spreads across the Nine Realms, but Thor uses the gravimetric spikes to dismember Malekith, with his limbs getting teleported to other realms. Finally, Thor defeats evil by hitting it really hard with his hammer, and Malekith gets a rather unimpressive death when his own spaceship falls on him.
Thor goes back to Asgard, where Odin forgives his treason, because duh, he saved all of existence. Odin offers the throne to Thor, but Thor says he would much rather protect Asgard than serve as its ruler. Then he takes off, and surprise, it turns out “Odin” was really Loki in disguise. It’s no shock that Loki’s not dead, though it retroactively lessens the impact of the previous conversation to find out it wasn’t really Odin saying those things. The end.
As usual, there’s a mid-credits scene to lay more groundwork for future movies. On the orders of Loki pretending to be Odin, Sif and one of the Merrie Men go visit the Collector (Benicio del Toro, who would appear again in Guardians of the Galaxy) and give him the Aether, which we learn is but one of many “Infinity Stones” that will play a part in this year’s Infinity War. And this scene was filmed by Guardians director James Gunn without the involvement of Dark World director Alan Taylor, and as a result it looks totally different from the rest of the movie. Frankly, it looks pretty cheap and tacky, like something you might see on a CW superhero show.
And there’s one final post-credits scene where Thor returns to Earth to make out with Jane, and we see that giant monster still running around England.
Thor: The Dark World has all the problems frequently leveled against Marvel movies: The villain has no personality worth speaking of (and is perhaps the worst of the MCU villains), every moment of potential drama or suspense is undercut by stupid quips and one-liners, and somehow the movie’s central character is the only one available to respond when the entire multiverse is threatened. I realize there are a lot of reasons the other Avengers aren’t going to show up in Thor’s movie, but it’s kind of hard to believe Thor couldn’t find anyone else to help out besides Jane and her crew. At the very least, you’d think they could have had Sif or some of Thor’s Merrie Men show up to provide reinforcements.
As I noted in another article, Thor: The Dark World is, according to Rotten Tomatoes, Marvel’s worst reviewed movie so far. I don’t know if it’s the absolute bottom of the MCU barrel, but I certainly don’t feel the need to argue too much with the 66% “fresh” score on this one. It’s a forgettable piffle with no real story and nothing of interest to say, and we know nothing more about these characters than we did at the start. It only exists because the previous film was successful enough to warrant a sequel, and that’s it.
As for Thor in the comics at the time… Well, I must confess I stopped reading comics long before this movie came out, so I had to turn to my fellow writer Thomas Stockel for help here, and he provided all the info you’re about to read below.
During the 1980s, artist-writer Walt Simonson had one of the best runs in Thor’s history. To this day, people look back at those years and talk about how influential they were. November 2012 saw the start of another run that could arguably be called as good as Simonson’s, and that was Jason Aaron’s turn at the helm. Thor did battle with Gorr the God Butcher in a conflict that spanned millennia, where his younger, modern, and far-future selves had to team up to fight the threat of an opponent who hated any and all beings who claimed a divine origin. Armed with the Necrosword, an ancient artifact that “carved the first dawn from the stone of the endless night”, Gorr was more than a match for Thor.
Aaron’s run on Thor was memorable, both for good reasons and bad. I wasn’t crazy about how he portrayed Odin, and what came later was, well… that will be addressed in a later article. I strongly suggest you pick up the four volumes of Aaron’s run: The God Butcher, Godbomb, The Accursed, and The Last Days of Midgard.
Next up: Steve Rogers returns in what had to be a much better solo outing than the last two we’ve endured.