Of all the pre-Avengers Marvel films, Thor unexpectedly turned out to be my favourite. Funny, decent action, fun characters and an airy, spacious feel unlike any of the New York-based hero films; Thor is the most comic-like of all these comic adaptations. Thor: The Dark World, on the other hand, is flat, dull and joyless.
The film isn’t bad, not really. It’s dullness isn’t even from a lack of events — there’s plenty going on, I just didn’t much care about it. Generic fantasy landscapes. Generic characters. Generic conflicts and generic concerns. It takes almost the whole film to really get going and it’s only Loki’s presence that adds colour and humour to proceedings.
Character-wise, the cast from Thor returns but the spark is gone. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is here pining for Thor two years after she hung out with him for two days, and not just pining, but literally unable even to focus on ordering lunch with another man; she’s a wreck, defined now only by Thor’s absence. Erik Selvig is reduced to the broad comic stereotype of the mad scientist who doesn’t like to wear trousers. Heimdall seems to have a permanent mope on. Rene Russo and Kat Dennings seem to be making an effort, at least, but…blahhhhh.
The antagonist — Malekith the Accursed — is entirely forgettable. Played without measurable personality by Christopher Eccleston (any performance he might have delivered is buried underneath makeup, CGI and Dark Elvish dialogue), he’s a MacGuffin of a character with a single, MacGuffiny goal — procure the most generically-named substance in the universe — ‘aether’, for crying out loud — and use it to destroy everything. Bad times, fine, but other than a vague “Dark Elves don’t like it so bright” rationale, his motivations are unclear and he could have been swapped out with any other villain for all he brings to the table. Evil for the sake of evil.
Malekith’s personality vacuum only underscores a wider problem with the franchise: what is Marvel going to do about Loki?. While the character is a huge draw to any film he’s in, it’s clear that Marvel are depending on him as much as they’re depending on Robert Downey Jr., possibly more so. The character is popular, the actor is popular, and Thor: The Dark World only ever really lights up when he’s on screen — there were even reshoots to add more of him. Malekith as a character is weak even alongside a non-entity like Thor but he’s nothing next to Loki, and it gives the film such a middling feel, just a bridge to get Loki into position as the antagonist again in Thor 3. So many of the scenes on Asgard are pompous, dull and laugh-free unless Loki is around. Does anybody watch these films and not root for him?
Once Loki is in play the film is more enjoyable, but it’s not just because of him; some enjoyment is to be found in the same manner as in the original Thor: the character on Earth, trying to fit in around human norms, delicately hanging up Mjolnir on the coat rack and politely using the London Underground. The climax is a Portal-inspired bit of fun, with Thor, Malekith and some masked troops who look like they’ve wandered in off the set of Doctor Who zipping back and forth from London to other worlds and back. So, sit through the film and there’s a reasonable pay-off. That’s all, though.
That Guardians of the Galaxy teaser though, eh? Like a big-screen adaptation of Farscape or Andromeda. It’s going to be awful, and I’m going to love it.