A wise man once told me that writing film reviews is like immediately shoving your boat from the dock without hope of getting back if you change your mind.
For those of you who have been reading for a while (hi Mom!), you know that I had a very low opinion of Thor (2011). My entire review says that the film is a fluffy good time, but overall very weak, confusing, and directionless. I didn't hate the experience, but it left me incredibly frustrated. At the time, I had no idea how Thor and Loki were to fit into The Avengers Universe, and what's more I thought that the film may have actually been the Achilles Heel that could take down the entire franchise. Director Kenneth Branagh, who I usually adore, failed to do the one thing the film needed to do: effectively introduce a new hero. He didn't. Despite the fact that Tom Hiddleston does an excellent job with very little material as Loki, I still believed the character to be a "whiny emo bitch". My sincerest of apologies, Tom.
The Avengers (2012) fixed this problem by finally explaining to me what the deal was with Loki, allowing the rivalry between he and his brother to be further revealed, and somehow making Thor less confusing on re-watch. I eased up on Loki, a bit, but still thought that without Tom Hiddleston he would have been insufferable. Okay, I was still being really hard on Loki (an unpopular opinion, I realize), but now we've come full circle. With the release of Iron Man 3 and now Thor: The Dark World, we've entered what the Marvel filmmakers refer to as "Phase 2", and I for one welcome it with open arms.
This latest film helped me realize that my initial misunderstanding of Loki was partly because of one of the downfalls of these Marvel movies: you can't see the big picture until years later. Each film must stand on it's own, and also stand as part of the whole. Each film must tell it's own story, and yet fit perfectly into the planned stories to come. These are stories that the audience is yet unaware of, though. So in 2011, while I watched Loki whine and fight with his brother, I was irritated. I didn't understand his journey, nor his part in the wider Marvel universe. Now that I can see that progression, I see why he is so great. Loki, in fact, is the saving grace of the Thor universe. In fact, Marvel should give Tom Hiddleston a massive raise for being the secret ingredient no one (least of all me) could see coming. Much like Iron Man is the anchor of The Avengers, Loki is almost more important to Thor 1 & 2 than Thor himself.
In case you haven't noticed, Tom Hiddleston is poised to become the next inductee into my Crushing Series.
Many of my issues with the first film are fixed in this sequel, namely the problem of the setting. We finally get a very clear picture of Asgard, the 9 realms, and how they all fit together. This is laborious to explain, particularly since it wasn't done properly in the first film, and many will find that the first act is a bit tough to get through. Thankfully, it quickly gets itself out of that rut and into some seriously exciting, scary, and even funny territory.
The film takes place after the events of The Avengers, and Thor is home in Asgard where he still pines for Jane (Natalie Portman) and fights to re-establish stability in the 9 realms. His father King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is sitting back on his laurels while his son does all the work, taking a break from pseudo retirement only long enough to completely destroy the last remnants of hope for his relationship with Loki. For his crimes, he is locked away for eternity (which for Loki is at least a couple thousand years.)
|At least he brought a book|
Back on earth, Jane tries to get back to normal without Thor, but still searches for him. She stumbles upon a strange anomaly related to the rare convergence of the 9 realms, and accidentally falls into a strange realm. She is possessed by The Aether, a dark power which awakens the ancient Dark Elves, who return to reclaim the world they believe to be theirs. Oh, and did we mention that Jane is now infected with the Aether they need to do it? Suddenly, a breed of truly terrifying elves that look as if they belong in Star Trek descend upon Asgard and Odin, far past his prime, may not have what it takes to save them all.
Loki is helpless from inside his cell, and he himself seems torn as to which side he should take. When his and Thor's goals finally align, the unthinkable happens: the two work together. While we're never quite sure whether Loki is trustworthy or not, the sibling rivalry in this script is much more dynamic and fun. This is where the writers have the most fun, letting Loki not only trick his brother, but the audience as well.
Credit must be given to director Alan Taylor, who was an absolutely inspired choice to right this ship. Why? He's the director of Game of Thrones, possibly the most confusing and well-executed period drama on television ever. If he can do that, Norse Gods are a cake walk.
The end result, while still not the strongest of the Marvel films, is an outright good time. Hilarious returning characters Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) are joined by bumbling British intern Ian (Jonathan Howard), and the great Chris O'Dowd as a man vying for Jane's heart. Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth is kind of hard to compete with (how is it possible that he got sexier?) I can forgive his occasionally ridiculous line delivery because, well... he's playing one of the most ridiculous characters in the Marvel universe. Also, he distracted me with his abs during a gratuitous and well-placed "staring out the window shirtless" scene.
The weak link of this film may shock you: it's Natalie Portman. Not only does she still fail to establish any kind of sexual tension or chemistry with Thor (made worse by the fact that the hottest scene is some intense hand-holding), but she phones in the rest of the film too. I think I know why, too. The film originally was slated to be directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), but she dropped out, citing "creative differences". Portman was reportedly so upset with this change that she refused to be in the sequel, however she was eventually forced to because she was contractually obligated to do so. She didn't want to be there, and it totally shows.
I don't know why they don't just write her out. While I could only count a total of 4 female characters in this film, Thor has plenty of sexual tension with Sif (Jaimie Alexander). She's a fierce warrior, she's independent, she's loyal, she's got the smoulder, and she's actually who Thor marries and fathers children with in the legend. There are moments in this film where I saw Marvel leaving some possible breadcrumbs for this love triangle to emerge in the future, namely the stink-eye that Sif gives to Jane upon their first meeting (daggers!), so here's hoping they have a Portman exit strategy.
In the end, what the film succeeded in doing was making me chomp at the bit for more. The key to Phase 2 is to avoid exhausting us with more of the same characters, same stories, and accidentally killing off this great franchise. My confidence in Marvel's franchise is once again restored, and I can't wait to check out Captain America: The Winter Soldier this spring.
My question for you all is this:
Have you changed your opinion on any Marvel characters since we've entered Phase 2?