Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save the universe.

The Avengers aside, the first Thor was my favorite single hero film out of Marvel Phase One. Before Thor, all the Marvel superheroes established were all real world and based in scientific reality. There was a lot of uncertainty to whether Thor would work cinematically. It carried the most risk and was Marvel’s quintessential make-or-break point of expanding its cinematic universe into the realm of magic and aliens. Thankfully director Kenneth Branagh delivered. He balanced the ridiculousness of the Norse Gods with light comedy, done fantastic world creation with Asgard and provided the most interesting villain out of the Marvel cinematic universe.

Thor: The Dark World properly continues the story after The Avengers (sorry, Iron Man 3) and Thor. It retains the things that I liked about the first installment without repeating them. The plot moves fast and it’s intense. Things never gets too grim and has a genuine sense of adventure and awe. Dry witty humor is used again effectively to balance out the ridiculousness of Norse gods walking amongst humans. The fights look tough and grueling, more so than in The Avengers. Partly because everybody’s physically melee fighting and the Dark Elves are actually physically challenging to Thor and the Asgardians.

The Nine Realms are explored more thoroughly and the audience gets to spend more time on Asgard, which is a much more interesting place to be than Earth. The designs and world creation are impressive, particularly in the disaster sequences. It shows how brilliant an idea it was in the first film to imply that magic is unexplainable science, thereby combining and justifying both.

Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor with his presence. Thor is a character whose depths are only shown when interacting with other characters, which served as a disadvantage in The Avengers. In his own movie, there’s an immense cast to give him that depth. I liked his arc in this story. Natalie Portman gets to be the fish out of water this time around and it’s an entertaining reversal.

Tom Hiddleston again oozes charm as Loki. It’s a great actor relishing a great part.  He plays the audience like an instrument as we intermittently love and hate him. The writers put a lot of work in designing the twists and turns in Loki’s infinite mind games, truly earning the character the title of “God of Mischief”. Loki fooled me again and again throughout and I kept wanting to trust him.

The Warriors Three gets wrecked a bit. It seemed like there was some scheduling problem in which Tabanobu Asano’s Hogun had to be reduced. Also, I prefer the Joshua Dallas as Fandral, who had to be replaced by Zachary Levi from Chuck. Levi by comparison seems to struggle channeling Errol Flynn. Both cases are unfortunate.

The new villain Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston is buried under a lot of Dark Elf make-up and speaking an alien language in his own scenes, which removes any chance of proper scenery chewing. His presence as a villain is ultimately functional on par with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. Malekith exists for the main characters to grow and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is noteworthy. Marvel seems to be ensuring that their villains never are more interesting than their heroes. The heart of the story is still the central relationship between Thor and Loki. In fact, it’s probably the most interesting relationship in the current Marvel cinematic universe. Director Alan Taylor knows this and competently moves their story forward.

The numerous Stan Lee cameos is starting to get creepy because it means there are a growing amount of Stan Lee lookalike clones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And is it me or has Anthony Hopkins been playing the majority of his roles like a Norse god all this time? I am just kidding.

Depending where Captain America: Winter Soldier goes with Captain America’s story, I wonder how many more solo movies Marvel actually needs to plan out. It doesn’t look like they’re planning any solo Hulk films and Iron Man seems to be up in the air right now. Who knows how Guardians of the Galaxy is going to turn out. But they can really just start doing more Avengers movies at this point. That said, I do want to see what happens with Thor and Loki in a third installment. Actually, a third Thor is very necessary.

Related Links
Iron Man 3 by Shane Black
The Avengers by Joss Whedon

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Iron Man 3 by Shane Black

Iron Man 3 by Shane Black

When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Iron Man 3 follows in the vein of  The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall in which a hero is broken apart entirely and has to put himself back together. I personally like this story of a hero falling, rebuilding himself and rising again. The similarities in story for both Rises and Skyfall didn’t bother me because both films individualized the story specifically towards its hero.

Unfortunately, this is where Iron Man 3 drops the ball. The event that causes Tony Stark’s fall does not make much sense. What happened to Stark’s friend wouldn’t lead to what happened, let’s just leave it at that. The rebuilding of Tony Stark is the strongest portion and was something new. They do a good job breaking Tony Stark apart and putting him in a place where has to work without his armor. But Iron Man 3 makes its biggest sin in its third act when Tony Stark resurges – they forget and forego the essence of Tony Stark.

The story events that are affecting the characters never seem to match logically. Why is Tony Stark stressed about the New York incident in The Avengers? He didn’t cause the incident. Is it post-traumatic stress? It didn’t seem so, but it was not clear. Shouldn’t his guilt be centered upon his past as a weapons arm dealer and his continuing journey to right his past mistakes?

What they choose to do with The Mandarin was disappointing. He is a plot device, he’s not a character. Ben Kingsley is just collecting a cheque and selling some self-parody. I’m not even going into Guy Pearce’s villain except to say his character motivations were underwritten and his abilities are ridiculous.

Shane Black is one of my favorite screenwriters (The Last Boyscout and the first two Lethal Weapon films) and I am a big fan of his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was nice how they were a Christmas theme running through the film, like in all the other Shane Black screenplays. I’d like to believe the finished product was not the film he wanted to make. In fact, I bet a year or two from now we’ll be hearing a statement from Shane Black about how he did not have creative control or had a better draft of the script that was heavily changed. Or he could have dropped the ball. Who knows? Seriously, the script seems written by a marketing committee, checklisting certain plot points from successful examples such as Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises, and forcibly inserting them into the script.

I remember years ago reading a quote from Shane Black saying how the producers on The Last Boyscout bought his script based on his ability to write sharp witty one-liners, not on account of the story or anything creative he was trying to achieve. That complaint is talismanic of the problem with the use of humor in Iron Man 3. There were way too many silly jokes that didn’t add to the story and it kept distracting from the seriousness of what was happening. It’s a poor unnecessary attempt to make things family friendly.

Let me make something clear, I do not equate these criticisms against the film having to follow The Avengers. It was a good choice to not include S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury and the other Avengers, and set it as a solo Tony Stark story. But the place they go with the character totally nullifies the entire essence of Tony Stark. It would have been like Batman using a time machine to stop the death of his own parents, so he can stop being Batman. First of all, that would be okay if this was the last Iron Man movie. But it isn’t, this is the beginning of Marvel Phase 2. Secondly, having the hero removing his very own essence without fighting through a conflict is just plain cheating.

As I’ve said with my Avengers review, Marvel doesn’t need to make more solo movies if they don’t have legitimate stories to tell, they can just make more Avengers movies at this point. They’ve already upped the ante and we’re naturally expecting more.

I like Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and they’ll move on to do better things. But this sadly wasn’t one of them. It’s the weakest of the three.

The Avengers by Joss Whedon

The Avengers by Joss Whedon

Nick Fury, director of the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America to form a team that must stop Thor’s brother Loki from enslaving the human race.

It’s here, finally. The movie that Marvel really wanted to make and arguably the film every fan really wanted to see, anyways. It really started to test my patience while I was watching Captain America: The First Avenger. It wasn’t that it was a bad movie, but it’s more or less of the same thing and I wanted to see these Marvel movies go somewhere else. The good news? The Avengers go somewhere else with it and it works!

The major sell of The Avengers are the characters themselves and that’s what the story is mainly about. In Joss Whedon’s own words, there is no reason for all these heroes to share a movie. After all, if I had superpowers and had the ability to solve my own problems, why would I work with another dude? Or take orders from somebody that’s supposedly weaker than you?

Whedon accomplishes this with a lot of discipline and balance. For example, the alien army that Loki employs to take over the Earth with are underdeveloped and their motivations are quite simplistic, but it works because it acts only as an extension of the heroes’ conflict. They’re fighting these aliens not because the monsters necessarily have a direct beef with our heroes, rather they just exist as an idea to push them to working together as a team. It is functioning quite like a musical in that aspect. Conflicts are physicalized in the form of fights (everybody fights with everybody at some point like a fighting game), comedic verbal banter and things are kept light and bounce along smoothly. Personally I found myself enjoying the banter more. Yes, The Avengers was a lot more funnier than I expected.

It was fun anticipating and seeing how each character interacted with each other, very much like how you might anticipate different friends will interact with each other at your birthday party. Like in 2009’s Star Trek, I appreciated that each member had a individual specific contribution to the team.

People tend to argue about how filmmakers interpret the Hulk in the past. I do like the Ang Lee version because Lee attempted to bring a genuine pathos to The Hulk that seemed unpopular with the masses. The issue I actually have with the Hulk is that his character never seemed heroic to me because he is not in control of his own actions once Bruce Banner is in the Hulk state. It’s just random carnage and it happens that he’s a hero because he does good, albeit accidentally. Suffice to say, they solve that in this movie.

As for the switch with Mark Ruffalo, fans will perpetually argue over which actor played the best interpretation of the Hulk. I personally do not see an actor-specific interpretation. It seemed like Ruffalo is playing the continuation of Bruce Banner/The Hulk after the events of The Incredible Hulk (what Edward Norton would have played had he stayed in the role). This is a less conflicted Bruce Banner who’s made peace with who he is and is in better control. I do not know why in the past the actors who have played Bruce Banner did not get to play The Hulk on motion capture, I am glad that is over because the consistency really makes a huge difference. Ruffalo manages to be scary at times but it is ultimately drowned out by the film’s light tone. The ever-present humor does work against the story at times because I would have liked a few darker moments in the film. Suffice to say, Ruffalo makes the role his own.

I can see from a writer’s standpoint how Captain America is a challenging character to tackle. There is no real darkness within him and he always does the right thing. So how do you make that engaging? The story of The Avengers was originally going to be based from Captain America’s point of view and there was a whole subplot about him trying to reconnect with the modern world. I’m glad that was cut out (this is fully packed as it is). All those scenes can totally be in Captain America 2. Even stripping his storyline away, they do manage retain Steve Roger’s charm in The Avengers. The charm of Captain America are not his powers; the character represents the human limit and how human will and heart can push someone to do great things. He is a competent superhero in his own world and story, but his powers do not mean much standing next to Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man or even the alien army. They do highlight this fact in the battle scenes. There were many instances where I was thinking, “Wow, Captain America can totally die right now.” The humanity and obvious vulnerability of the character engaged me and it stood out as he starts leading the Avengers. It made me think about how poorly Cyclops was handled in the X-men movies. Captain America was the stand-out character for me.

The Hawkeye and Black Widow story is serviceable and it only gives them enough motivation for the duration of this installment, which really is just giving them an excuse to exist and kick ass in the story. It doesn’t really develop them that much in my opinion, I’m not complaining but it didn’t really do much for me either. They are not interesting enough to have their own movies.

Robert Downey Jr. has really settled into his Tony Stark role and gets all the zingers, as expected. I liked that his character is consistent with the end of Iron Man 2. They give him a small arc in The Avengers and I rather liked that. He is comparatively less of an ass and more likable than in Iron Man 2. Shane Black is doing Iron Man 3, sign me up baby!

I like Chris Hemsworth as Thor, he plays the role with the right combination of masculinity and vulnerability. Thor carries the guilt of bringing a new threat to Earth while trying to stop his brother’s madness without killing him. The film presents all this but it seems like there’s a lot more untapped drama that is not explored. We only get a very serious side of Thor compared to the last installment because the characters like Jane or Darcy that bring out other sides of Thor are not present. I do look forward to seeing if there are more Thor scenes in the 30-minutes of cut footage.

Tom Hiddleston oozes charisma as Loki. Honestly at times I found myself rooting for Loki to win. It’s important that people see Thor to understand his motivations. I wonder if fresh viewers will miss Loki’s complex characterization and magnetism. He’s magnetic as hell and steals the show.

The set pieces are great and should satisfy any comic book fan. We get every superhero match up possible without hindering the story. The end set piece is reminiscent of the finale in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I do wonder if Michael Bay is at home screaming, ripping his hair out right now. The Avengers puts his Transformers films to shame and shows how a similar finale can be truly exciting by developing characters and a story.

So the problems? My biggest criticism of The Avengers is probably that it was overhyped. Even with actively avoiding all the promotional clips and featurettes online, I dangerously felt the presence of the movie before actually seeing it. There’s enough clips of the movie currently available online right now for anybody to piece together the entire story. It was a real fight to go in with a fresh clean mind. There’s a moment at the very end of the finale that was ruined by a shot that was shown in the trailer and I would have preferred if they just left that one shot out because the pre-knowledge ruined the tension of the scene. If it was left out, it would have been more tense wondering if the movie would have just ended on a dark cliffhanger with a character possibly being dead.

It’s imperative that I warn anybody who has yet to see the movie: do not see this movie in 3D. The light loss was problematic (duh!) and I found it very difficult to follow the action scenes (to it’s own credit, they were not edited in a choppy fashion) or anything indoors or at night. Please do your part and pay to see it in 2D and let 3D die. And also, there are 2 end credits scenes, stay till the very end.

What can I say? Marvel has made an awesome achievement with The Avengers and it only seems natural to ponder how Marvel will escalate things for the future. For my money, it seems superfluous to have to go through another set of sequels with each individual hero before an Avengers 2: Still Avenging. Let’s just get to it!