One Step Closer, by Tyler Smith
This is an odd time for the Marvel film franchise. After the wonderful Avengers last year, we have had an Iron Man film and now another Thor. Next year, we can look forward to a second Captain America. All as we work our way towards The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Normally, I wouldn’t name-check all of these films, but such is the nature of where this franchise currently stands. Much as the studio may want us to view each film individually, the fact is now that it is part of something bigger; indeed, as we saw from the first Avengers film as compared to the movies that preceded it, they are all part of something much, much bigger.
This makes every new chapter in the Marvel film universe very exciting, as we feel like we are watching one more piece fall into place. With each film, we are one step closer to the next climactic battle. This makes the franchise as a whole very intricate and fun, but it can be very frustrating when dealing with each film individually. When one is putting together a puzzle, one can take a step back and be pleased at the progress being made. However, when dealing with each separate piece, it’s a little less satisfying.
And so we have Thor: The Dark World. In many ways, it is a perfectly serviceable film. We have mostly interesting characters, fun action, solid comic relief, great visual effects, and some pretty stunning production design. What we don’t have is a sense of gravity. There seem to be almost no stakes in the film, which seems strange, given that we’re dealing with the possible end of the universe.
An ancient race known as the Dark Elves, led by a particularly ruthless man named Malekith, have reawakened at a crucial time in our universe. The planets are about to align- an event that occurs every 5,000 years- which will throw the space-time continuum out of whack. Portals will be opened to other worlds. If ever somebody wanted to destroy the universe as we know it, now is the time. Malekith seeks out an all-powerful weapon with which he will return the universe to utter darkness.
Okay. “The end of all life as we know it.” Not a bad plot to hang a movie on. But, of course, we all know that that isn’t going to happen, at the very least because we know that there are going to be at least two more movies in the Marvel franchise. It’s going to be awful hard for Captain America to square off against Winter Soldier if the universe has been plunged into darkness. So, really, the story of Thor: The Dark World becomes generic and largely without stakes.
What we are left with are smaller consequences. There are a number of notable supporting characters that could conceivably not make it to the end of the film. Perhaps they will die in a noble way, mourned by those that love them. Or maybe they will die in the midst of a betrayal, and their end will be welcomed. And as these smaller, more manageable, stories play out, we get a hint of what all of these Marvel movies are really about: relationships.
Thor’s complicated relationship with Jane Foster, stuck on Earth for two years without the man she loves. Loki’s struggle to maintain a relationship with his parents- and Thor- whom he has betrayed in a grab for power. Then there is Odin’s relationship with the responsibility of being king of Asgard. He clearly has a heart and desires to do the humanitarian thing, but the pressures of leadership force him to be cold and calculating.
These are the true pleasures of a film like this. And while the characters are fairly stock and we’re not thrown a lot of curve balls, we are treated to an ensemble of capable actors clearly enjoying the opportunity to rise to the heightened level of both the genre and the surroundings in which they are working. And some of the relationships truly are fleshed out in a meaningful way.
Unfortunately, just when the film starts to get interesting, the franchise mentality kicks in and the film backpedals on all of the character progress that has been made and we’re right back where we started. The film can’t have really any closure to speak of, lest we not be quite so desperate to see the next Avengers movie. So, in many ways, the film feels more like a placeholder than anything else; like something to just tide us over until we get what we really want. And, yes, there are mild pleasures along the way, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that, for all its bluster and special effects, Thor: The Dark World amounts to little more than a stepping stone.