Thor: the Dark World — review

Screenplay by Christopher YostChristopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

So – some might say “too” – many current releases attempt dark atmosphere. Darkness brings a sense of danger, and that allows for easy drama. A dark mood can create an interesting backdrop for a story, and yet so many creators use it as a fallback in case the story itself didn’t really work. It’s as if to say “well, it could been a failure, but at least we managed to create a tone”. Which is a shame because a lot of releases have an appropriate tone, and can create worlds that are consistent and feel significant to the story, without seeming forced. Generally, the theme of darkness is exploited as a cheap get-out clause for directors with not confidence enough not to do it. The people like darkness, and they’re prepared to hand it to them. When you create a tone for the sake of that tone being present, it’s either overdone or underdone. Only when it fits does it actually feel “right”.

What I liked about Thor: the Dark World is that it manages to create a consistent and developing theme of darkness. The beginning, the end and the middle are all linked by a through-line. The narrative itself, the concepts and the execution are presented in such a way that you begin to think the creative leads worked from a mood board or a central idea. This shows. And at no point does this motion picture in any way feel self-indulgent or overly-enigmatic. Yes, the theme of darkness is well-developed and appropriate, but half of that is knowing when not to do it, and there enough moments of the weight being lifted that the darkness is only brought-out more. The storytellers understand the value of light, because that contrasts well and makes the dark moments genuine.

It even opens on a black screen, as Odin Bhorson declares that “before the Universe… there was darkness. And it has survived”. Rather than just depending on characters using words like “dark” and “darkness”, or indeed making the picture much darker itself, the “darkness” here is a tangible one. The heroes’ enemy literally is a physical darkness from before the Universe as we understand it to be. And for it to have survived the creation of the Universe, for it to have returned, makes it significant. Rather than having dialogue written for trailers, everything said about this “darkness” is actually literal. The Aether, as it’s being called, has the power to manipulate reality and alter physical properties, while also making a valuable weapon in a war. Speaking of which, the cold-open battle was one of the most cinematically satisfying sequences of a Marvel production, akin to the computer-generated scenes from World of Warcraft. As someone that didn’t really find the original Thor very interesting, I was pleased to see the potential really coming out here – this feels like the Norse epic it always could have been.

But it’s not without moments of peace. Peace is important in a war, as it highlights the less optimistic moments. We get Asgard and its golden city, which is still an amazing spectacle to behold. There’s scenes on Midgard – “Earth” – in London, which was a nice touch. I feel that London’s under-appreciated by Hollywood, so it’s nice to see it getting some recognition. Although I still don’t know why London was chosen specifically. Maybe it’s because UK tax laws make it cheaper to shoot there? Anyway, it was just nice to see alien intervention at the Greenwich Meridian that wasn’t caused by the Rani.

In fact, the final battle scene across the Greenwich Meridian was by far the best part. With Thor Odinson and Malekith battling in the skies, and moving through the portals caused by the convergence, it still felt like a continuous sequence, as if it was all one place. But then the way Odinson arrived there was very amusing as well, having taken a tube train after demanding to know “How do I get to Greenwich?” It’s a shame there weren’t more of these moments, though. Putting him in domestic situations is what makes the character interesting. It grounds him in reality, which is important from a franchise constructed around Human life.

Still, the other characters were likeable, if underused. Apart from the cowardly English boy, who was… well, annoying. Did he even do anything? I honestly can’t remember.

The way the Aether was used to be a tangible darkness that would physically affect characters, causing the same effects as “dark situations” might in weaker examples of an attempted atmosphere, is almost a parody or commentary on those very examples. It’s as if to say “this is how it should be done”. It’s certainly something Zack Snyder could learn from.

While it’s not perfect, Thor: the Dark World manages to be consistent in its darkness, while also controlling it for appropriation. The locations were easily likeable, and the Aether was both an original concept as well as an imaginative way of taking the tone down a few notches without making other elements suffer from grittiness.

Thor: the Dark World – uneven characters; consistent, appropriate tone 7/10.

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