Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Thorgettable World

Second only to Mike Mignola’s and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy, Thor has to be my favorite mythological legend-turned-Hollywood hero in all of comicdom, if only because he and I have so much in common. Looking past our obvious differences in physical stature, fashion sensibilities, lineage, mortality, and occasional weightlessness, we both wrestle with a lot of the same personal issues – our highly flammable temperaments for one, but also our infatuations with beautiful women who are so far removed from our own cosmic dimension and species as to be unattainable anywhere but in fantasy.  Unlike your Author, Thor actually gets the privilege of seeing his otherwise hopeless infatuation requited for no reason other than that he’s a Marvel superhero and the plot compels an unlikely romantic entanglement.  Unlike Thor, I actually have a personality.

More personality, at least, than the Asgardian poseur from last year’s obligatory Marvel cash-in The Dark World, which seems to accomplish the impossible in turning the Avengers arc’s most intriguing, nuanced, and generally enjoyable cast into a rabble of one-dimensional and comically challenged bores.  Even the adorkable Darcy with her hilarious quips about pop-tarts, iPods, crazy homeless guys, and the mighty hammer Mewnew is so horribly bungled that the script eventually resorts in desperation to hooking her up with an “intern’s intern” who exhibits no defining characteristics throughout most of the movie, much like Thor, Jane, Odin, the warriors three, Loki, and the main villains.  The Dark World is a case in point of what happens when producers forego compelling, coherent, and emotionally engaging storytelling in favor of inundating the screen with as many chaotic green-screen fight scenes as they deem necessary to reel in swarms of brain-dead thrillseekers.

Like its predecessor and Fellowship of the Ring before that, Thor 2 opens unoriginally with a voiceover to a massive battle sequence which in this case doesn’t look remotely believable and does nothing to frame the internal conflict of the story.  That’s because, unlike Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, which was girded with elements of Shakespearean drama and was predominantly a story about Thor mastering his arrogant temper through humility and purpose, all the conflict posed in Alan Taylor’s Thor is strictly externalized, assuming the form of Star Trek-like red ether matter that makes your body explosive if you’re stupid enough to touch it and some sci-fi disaster event called Convergence, in which all nine realms of the universe align and sworn divirgins like Thor may get erratically vacuumed into portals while they’re in the middle of climactic battles for the future of earth.  Very simply, none of the main characters in this undergo any personal trials or transformations of note.  Instead of Loki’s fall from grace or Thor’s rise to honor, what we get is a repackaged and painfully generic narrative of absolute, constant forces of good vs. similarly constant forces of evil.  Filling in for the frost giants this time is an army of equally ugly but much more aesthetically boring “dark elves”, who are committed to exacting vengeance against Odin or seizing world domination or… something like that.

Do you remember those superfluous cutaway scenes in the Star Wars prequels (and originals to a lesser extent) which disrupted the progression of the narrative just to show us that the evil, systemically conniving Sith were indeed conniving in the background of all the action?  “At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge.  Very soon.  Within the next two hours.  Whenever we stop talking about our plans for the stupid audience’s benefit and actually start to implement them.”  Thor: The Dark World seems to have ten times as many of these talky time-killers, none of them serving to clarify the muddied narrative or provide a fuller understanding of the characters’ motives; to this point, I have no idea what the bad guys in this movie even wanted to achieve, nor could I tell you what distinguishes them as the bad guys other than that they kill Thor’s mom, which admittedly isn’t very nice but leaves effectively no impact on the plot or on our emotions because her character is completely undeveloped, a wholly non-unique position to occupy within this woefully dark world.

If it’s good for nothing else, Thor 2 at least illustrates the stupid-sequel syndrome of calling back a roster of once appealing characters and giving them nothing new to do but fight a separate roster of new characters who aren’t remotely appealing themselves.  Compounding this crime is the screenwriters’ stunning misrepresentation of the heroes and heroines already inducted into the Marvelverse.  Trickster god Loki here is but a shade of his former devious self, passing up numerous opportunities to overtake his superiors and even striking up a literal bromance with Thor until he lets himself get “killed”, which is itself one of just two outstanding deceits he orchestrates in the plot and which never gets properly explained, as the truth of his demise emerges only in the final seconds as a presumed teaser for Thor 3.  Thor is no longer a befuddled fish-out-of-water around earthlings, nor does he make an especially interesting prince of Asgard, doing pretty much nothing in the way of governing or military leadership for the whole movie excepting those scattered occasions he takes to smash this rock monster or that orcish thug with his hammer, which he isn’t very good at either considering all the time he spends getting beaten to a pulp by foes who frankly pale next to the Destroyer, snow rancor, and other baddies present in the first film. Formerly a wise and compassionate ruler, Odin is hereby replaced with an impatient, unforgiving, and insufferable backstory-dispenser.  The vigilant and stone-faced gatekeeper Heimdall is given an expanded, wordier part that predictably clashes with his grave disposition, having no conceivable point but to appease the affirmative action lobby.  Even those characters who were arguably less developed, like love interest Jane Foster, have been robbed of whatever meager depth they once possessed.  Whereas Jane of Thor 1 was easily likeable as this ditsy, nerdy scientist whom Thor, by utility of sheer brawn and dashing good looks (she even says it’s “a good look”), eventually reduces to a girly mess of batting eyelashes and embarrassing remarks, Jane of Thor 2 has no distinctive qualities barring an Astrid-like propensity towards slapping the men who irk her (which it turns out she really did a couple times “by accident”, which makes one wonder why Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston were paid so well for a job with such respectable perks as getting slapped by Natalie Portman).  Maybe Ms. Portman understood this failure of the script during shooting and adjusted her acting accordingly in silent protest.  Her performance here is the kind of head-scratching puzzler that’s passable only as eye candy and can only provoke the question, “You won an Oscar?”

I could ramble on about Thor 2’s sluggish editing – particularly its insistence on telling action over showing it or, worse, doing both side by side – its uninspired art design, which looks like a highway pile-on of Star Trek, Star Wars, and LOTR, its persistently sub-par CGI, or its complete lack of any violin solos in the score, but I feel that such a dissertation would be a waste of your and – what is infinitely worse – my time. Another critic typecast this redundancy as Thor: The Endless Exposition, which isn’t altogether inapt a title for a film so laden with pointless dialogue and short of actual character progression.  You must be truly desperate to come to this for entertainment.

Grade rating: C-

1 comment:

  1. I did notice during the movie that Thor had a hard time vanquishing the dark elf leader, and in the first movie it was a piece of cake killing the giant frost rancor.


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