Silver Screen: Thor: The Dark World *
I can prove, on paper, that Thor: The Dark World is not actually a movie.
First, let’s agree that the most basic ingredients of a conventional narrative feature are a protagonist, an antagonist, a conflict, and a setting.
Thor has, at best, one of these. Debatably, it has none.
We can eliminate two of the four elements in the first thirty seconds of the film, which opens with narration from Anthony Hopkins that’s so grave and self-serious you might not immediately recognize it as nonsense. In the time before light existed, Hopkins growls at us, the world was ruled by darkness, and the dark world was ruled by elves. Because nothing can exist without light, except elves, apparently, and they really like living in darkness even though their entire being would be little more than an abstract concept.
The elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), rebelled against the forces of the light— not for any discernible reason— and so Thor’s grandfather committed genocide and exterminated the entire species. Or so he thought. But Malekith and a few devoted followers remain alive, waiting five-thousand years for the “nine worlds” to come into alignment in a galactic event known as the Convergence. During the Convergence, the boundaries between the nine worlds become porous, which will allow Malekith to harness the power of the Aether, a never-defined flowing red gooey substance whose conveniently vague power will allow him to return all of existence to darkness. Somehow.
Let’s review: A villain you’ve never heard of in comic books or mythology, played by an actor you probably don’t know buried under so much makeup you couldn’t recognize him anyway, is trying to gain control of a generic MacGuffin so he can return the universe to darkness, which will accomplish nothing in particular, for no stated reason.
Of course, plenty of comic-book movies have ginned up off-brand threats with stilted logic as an excuse for the hero to awe and entertain us with his mighty powers. That brings us to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the erstwhile Avenger who spends his non-Avenging time back on his home world of Asgard, where he helps out his dad, King Odin (Hopkins), and waits around to inherit the throne.
In one of those astonishing coincidences that’s so astonishing nobody even bothers to mention what a one-in-a-trillion shot it was, Thor’s earthbound girlfriend Jane (Natalie Portman) accidentally stumbles upon the mystical red gooey Aether, which, for reasons unexplained, attaches itself to her body. Sometimes the Aether sends out a blast of power that harms anyone who touches her, while other times it does nothing at all. The Aether is killing her, and there’s no way to extract it, according to Odin, although later in the movie it will be extracted with the greatest of ease by Malekith, who is not injured when he touches her, and who is not poisoned by the Aether, and who in fact is granted incredible powers by it when it attaches itself to him, which is not a thing that happened to Jane when she had the Aether.
None of this makes a lick of sense, but it provides a lot of opportunities to see our daring hero Thor do cool stuff, right? Not so fast, Ace. The five credited screenwriters seem to have realized that their lead has no defining traits outside of a big hammer and name recognition from The Avengers, so they hide him in his own movie, interspersing brief scenes of Thor doing a modest amount of Thoring with endless subplots involving the exploits of Thor’s Asgardian pals (most notably Idris Elba) and a painfully protracted distraction involving Jane’s pal Darcy (Kat Dennings) and the Avengers’ deranged scientist pal Erik (Stellan Skarsgård). Comic relief Darcy is given her own comic relief in Ian (Jonathan Howard), an intern who makes quips in response to the quips she makes to shoehorn levity into all the self-serious nonsense. As a consequence of all this, Thor is onscreen for half of his own movie at best, and when he does arrive, mostly he’s listening to other characters babble exposition.
To recap: Thor isn’t interesting enough that just watching him do his thing is inherently entertaining, the thing he’s doing makes no sense, and the person he’s doing it against is bland to the point of total anonymity.
No protagonist, no antagonist, no conflict.
As for the setting, technically Asgard would qualify, although pretty much everything save for a few small interior sets is obviously computer generated. And the society itself seems to have no underlying logic— sometimes its inhabitants pilot laser-shooting spacecraft, but at other times they have nothing to oppose enemy spacecraft except squadrons of powerless guards armed only with tiny shields and short swords. Asgard’s technological and magical abilities, not unlike Thor’s, fluctuate according to the needs of the story; when the script needs them to lose, they’re powerless, and when it needs them to win, they’re invincible.
So a green-screened world whose ill-conceived fantasy/sci-fi mashup lacks any internal logic—if it counts as a setting, it isn’t much of one.
If Thor has no protagonist, no antagonist, no conflict, and no setting, what does it have? The answer is Tom Hiddleston, reprising his role as Thor’s brother Loki. Thor imprisoned Loki after the catastrophic events of The Avengers, but now that they have a powerful common enemy, he must consider freeing his duplicitous brother so they can team up. It’s the one moderately compelling interaction in the overstuffed, two-hour enterprise. Hiddleston is an excellent villain, and his conflicted motives provide Thor: The Dark World with the briefest spark of the character and dilemma that actually makes a movie a movie.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.