REVIEW: ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is the Three Stooges of superhero movies

If a ridiculous movie is aware of its own ridiculousness and constantly makes fun of it, is it immediately forgiven? That’s the Vincent Vega-esque question posed by Thor: The Dark World, a movie that pairs a derivative, idiotic, and mostly nonsensical plot with a willingness to make fun of it in innovative, intelligent, and consistently entertaining ways. Considering the story is about a bald-chested jacked space viking with a magic hammer fighting an elf king who wants to destroy matter, this may have been the most logical approach.

Since 2008, it has felt as if every superhero movie has been living in the shadow of The Dark Knight, a movie that proved, like Batman before it, that a good guy in a cape fighting a bad guy in evil clown make-up could be serious business. It turns out, making a gritty, grounded, hard-boiled superhero movie is a magic trick tougher than making a pen disappear, and it required one of the world’s best directors in the prime of his career directing a film about a superhero with no real superpowers in order to pull it off. Now, let’s just state the obvious here: Thor is no Batman, and Thor 2 director Alan Taylor is no Chris Nolan. But in not trying to be, he’s at least created something reliably entertaining. Call it the Three Stooges of superhero movies.

Thor: The Dark World isn’t trying to fool anyone, it lays its cards on the table right at the beginning. As the opening credits fade out, Anthony Hopkins as Odin (I repeat, ANTHONY HOPKINS AS ODIN!) explains to us that before there was the universe, there was darkness and nothingness. And before there was lightness and flowers and gorgeous beefy blond space vikings from Ass Guard, there were “dark elves,” creatures with freaky pale eyes and blond eyebrows (the hallmark of evil dudes everywhere) who thrived in dark matter, and would love nothing more than for the universe to go back to there. I’m going to repeat this because it’s important: the bad guys are called DARK ELVES, and their goal is only a miniscule step short of UNDOING THE F*CKING BIG BANG. Consider the stakes raised, yo.

So this guy Malekith was king shit on Dark Elf Anti-Mountain for a time, when he acquired a powerful weapon called the Aether, probably the most gloriously vague macguffin in the history of comic book movies, a liquid cloud of magic stuff that he hoped to use, uh… somehow… to defeat the Asgardians and plunge the universe back into darkness. Whereupon he and his people would presumably celebrate by eating juicy anti-steaks cut from anti-cows feeding on anti-grass full of anti-nutrients synthesized in a process using anti-sunlight converted by bizarrophyll. But hey, I’m just extrapolating here, I’m not a physicist.

The viking dudes liked the light, so they fought the dark elves. Odin’s dad eventually defeated them through hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of battles between sword-and-axe wielding vikings fighting lightning bolt shooting dark elves with gun thingies. Though some of the vikings could also shoot lightning out of their swords in certain circumstances (and lo it was written). When the vikings won, the Aether was locked up deep in some realm somewhere, where Malekith couldn’t get to it, some unexplained place, probably on a shelf next to the AllSpark, Kryptonite, and the alien portal from Pacific Rim. There it stayed, UNTIL THE PRESENT DAY, when Malekith has reattained it somehow, and plans to use it somehow, amplifying its powers somehow by unleashing it during “The Convergence” somehow, the once-in-5000-year event in which all the realms (including Asgard and Earth) align somehow. That is, unless Thor can stop him using the power of his vaguely-defined hammer magic and the help of his brother Loki, who can make himself disappear and hypnotize people or some shit.

Or maybe Loki will betray Thor and take over the matterhorn! WHO CARES, F*CK YOU!

The plot is an incredible mish-mash of so many things that it’d be pointless to try to list them all. Does Thor have to heroically risk certain death to smash a giant doomsday machine pointed at the Earth to save the universe and protect his special lady? OF COURSE HE DOES. Does he have to fall in love with a girl his parents disapprove of, disobey his father, and commit treason in order to do so? OF COURSE HE DOES. What separates Thor 2 from every other movie with the same plot is the total lack of an attempt to explain it all, and the self-aware breeziness with which it’s treated. And mind you, this is a plot where the destruction of matter as we know it is on the line.

It was a dumb plot that they never got bogged down in trying to explain, and instead went straight to visual slapstick, which they do incredibly, surprisingly well. Hardly five minutes goes by during Thor 2 without some subtle (or not-so-subtle) sight gag that’d make Edgar Wright sprout neck whiskers. There was a moment where Thor, now on Earth, shows up to Natalie Portman’s or someone’s apartment and tentatively hangs his magic hammer on the coat rack with a sheepish look on his face. At another, Thor and Malekith, while trading a mix of hand-to-hand combat, magic lightning bolts, and mind bullets, keep inexplicably warping from realm to realm with no rhyme or reason, knocking over scenery all the way, while Malekith uses his never-explained powers of Aether against Thor’s never-explained hammer, that he can hit stuff with, shoot lightning bolts out of, and fly around with; all while Portman and her scientist pals try to defeat the never-explained doomsday device using never-explained science gadgets. Have I mentioned that the Dark Elf spaceships are shaped like swords and can make themselves invisible sometimes and that Stringer Bell literally stabs one out of the sky with a dagger at one point? All of this happened.

If you’re married to the idea of superheroes and super villains as serious business, and like your sci-fi with early established and meticulously-followed rules (which I generally do), you’re probably not going to like Thor 2. In fact, you’ll probably hate it. It takes a big steaming viking deuce on the idea of the self-serious superhero movie, and a lot of people like their serious superheroes too much to ever take being asked to laugh at them as anything but an implicit criticism. Which, for some fanboys, is like traveling into their childhoods Eternal Sunshine-style and smashing vases around. Or taking the comic books out of the protective plastic, say.

There’s hardly a moment with any real drama or emotional weight in Thor: The Dark World, and it never establishes much of a logic to follow and I doubt it would’ve followed it even if it had. But for me, ridiculous movies are a lot like “mean” or offensive comedy. It works if the comedian knows he’s being mean, or if the movie knows it’s ridiculous. Thor 2 knows it’s ridiculous.

Also, Kat Dennings is pretty.


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