Thursday, November 7, 2013

“Thor: The Dark World” – Bucking the bad sequel trend.

Has someone in Hollywood finally figured out the problem of how to avoid making bad sequels? Sure, there are still plenty of really bad sequels being put out (The Hangover 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Grown Ups 2, and many more), but it seems like there have been more sequels lately that don’t suck. The Dark Knight, The Bourne Supremacy, Ironman 2, and The Expendables 2 are just a few examples of good sequels. Maybe some of the writers and studios have finally paid attention to the untold number of fans bitching about bad sequels and decided they actually did care what we thought. Of course it could also be that the initial movies were bad enough (but successful enough to warrant sequels) that even a subpar sequel looks good in comparison. I’m not saying Thor: The Dark World is a subpar movie, but both of those ideas are true – the writers do seem to care more and Thor was not a good movie.

The reason Thor was not a good movie is that it existed solely to say “here’s Thor, future Avenger” and collect your money. What story existed was scattershot, if not almost non-existent, and the CGI and sound threatened to destroy at least two of your senses. Even children understood the movie was a stepping stone to The Avengers and nothing more. But, rather than simply make the next round of sequels stepping stones for The Avengers 2, Marvel decided naked money grabs weren’t good enough. After collecting more than a billion dollars for The Avengers, they decided that the fans deserved more and delivered a much better story and movie in The Dark World.

As expected, The Dark World picks up Thor’s story after the events of The Avengers. Loki is in Asgardian prison and Thor is restoring peace to the nine realms (a.k.a. the universe). We also get a flashback from 5,000 years earlier in which Odin’s father defeats the dark elves and their leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to bring light to the universe. On Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is waiting for Thor to return, as was promised in the first movie, when she inadvertently falls through a portal and is infused with the Aether, a substance hidden from Malekith after he tried to use it turn the universe dark during that flashback. Okay – I know how this sounds so far, but it isn’t any loonier than being asked to believe George Clooney can fly himself and Sandra Bullock from the Hubble Space Telescope to the International Space Station using a half-empty jet pack. And besides, you didn’t get on this ride for the realism, so just sit back and enjoy it.

Anyway, the rest of the movie is very standard comic book plot – the dark elves have returned to finish what they started so long ago and Thor has to stop them. On the way, he also has to figure out how to get the Aether out of Jane without killing her, work with Loki without killing him, and kill as many dark elves while keeping them from killing everyone. Don’t worry – the film is rated PG-13, so the killing is all blood free and suitable for viewing for most people without parental guidance.

One thing that was hard not to notice is how much the film feels like a mash-up of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (the prequels). There are elves, characters that seem much more like dwarves than gods, the Asgardians insist on fighting with melee weapons even though their cities are protected by laser cannons, energy shields, and flying fighter ships, and Natalie Portman is there too. The ships even make the same noises as the fighters from Star Wars, though nobody is jumping around with light sabers.

With all of that, you might think I’ve completely lost my mind – even I’m wary of a movie sharing similarities with the Star Wars prequels and I’ve already seen the movie. The difference is The Dark World has a sense of humor (even though it gets hacky at times), isn’t filled with contradictions of its own universe, tells a coherent story, and even manages to tone down the sensory output to levels that don’t make your brain vibrate in your skull. In short, it’s a fun popcorn flick that delivers exactly what you want – a fun popcorn flick.

Rating: Ask for a dollar back – anything that shares things in common with The Phantom Menace could have done better.

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