Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

There are 3 reasons why Thor was great
(but clearly, this film belongs to Loki)

It was Henry IV, Parts I&II done as a Marvel superhero movie, directed by the previous generation’s foremost Shakespearean director, starring an actor who’s the splitting image of that director in his prime. Thor was basically Prince Hal trying to grow into his own shoes while facing down an authoritarian daddy. You can’t go wrong when Shakespearean tragedy and character-driven plot meet popcorn action, and heroes have epic internal issues to overcome as they fight an alien invasion.

Thor: The Dark World is a different movie altogether. It’s a heist comedy done as a Marvel superhero movie seemingly directed by Joss Whedon, propelled by clever porting of heist genre conventions into a superhero narrative, and driven by the machinations of desperate men. I kid you not.

The Dark Elves, yet another ancient enemy of our good Asgardians, aim to get their hands on yet another artefact of power that has the typical power of ending life in the universe as we know it. It’s on earth, of course. Everything’s on earth. It gets unwittingly stolen and transported to Asgard, the villains want to steal it right under their noses (but not before discussing their plan in detail, which doesn’t go to plan), the heroes attempt to break it out of Asgard right under everyone’s noses (but not before discussing their plan, which doesn’t go to plan), the villain gets hold of it, and now they have to part him from his artefact, or part both from the Arbitrarily Appointed Place Of Destruction. And yes, there are at least 3 attempted jailbreak scenes in there. When you look at it this way, Thor: The Dark World is a heist film just like Star Wars Episode IV was a chase movie.

That’s why the best moments of this film, padded a little too much with its generic and uninteresting villain (who is essentially a walking MacGuffin that spawns other MacGuffins), tend to be its heist elements where you can feel a good plan coming together, getting torn apart, and put back together via a plan B from out of nowhere. You get the sense that this is where the writers’ sympathies lie, though they’re narratively obliged to provide some kind of a superpowered villain for the superhero movie they’re making. There’s so cheeky fun happening when the film is in heist movie mode than in superhero movie mode.

Being a heist film, the central character and the heart of this movie isn’t really Thor but Loki the trickster, whose character and redemption arc fuels the narrative logic of this film. Even though Thor and Loki are set up as the Marvel universe answer to the Superman-Lex Luthor dynamic of Smallville, and even though the film could have used a tad more editing, it’s still a surprise to see Marvel’s writers take their most imaginative and unexpected approach, and to see that pay off so well.

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