y last review was a mess. I was torn between enjoying a movie because it was fun and disliking it because it was so very bad. I have a similar dilemma this week, with Thor: The Dark World. It’s kind of like a Syfy “original” with a thin layer of faux Whedonisms and a crack design team.
It really is beautifully made. The director, Alan Taylor, has a solid sense of composition and visual narrative (though in Thor his work is often undercut by clunky editing). More than the director, however, credit goes to the Production Designer Charles Wood, or possibly Supervising Art Director Ray Chan; those two roles are often ill defined and sometimes interchangeable. In terms of overall design, Thor: The Dark World is in a class with Dune and Blade Runner. The production team has succeeded in creating a variety of locations, within and between dimensions, so that each has a feeling of solidity while still being ethereally beautiful. The amount of effort put into detailing the weaponry and men’s costumes (the women’s are more of an afterthought; little more than togas made with expensive textiles) is at times astonishing. It’s just too bad such technical brilliance was wasted on what is essentially an exercise in committee filmmaking.
Beyond the visuals there isn’t an original moment in the whole movie. Clearly the producers thought that if they stole enough bits and pieces from enough of their artistic betters, they’d come up with something worth at least the sum of its parts. When has this ever worked? Why is it impossible for H’wood suits to learn that copying a successful original work completely undermines one of the things that made it successful: the fact that it was an original. From the campy excesses of Duel in the Sun, an attempt to replicate the success of Gone with the Wind, to Calamity Jane as a watery stand in for Annie Get Your Gun, to Vampire Diaries completely missing what makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer the greatest American TV series of all time (all you need is vampires and teenagers, right?), Thor follows a long tradition of trying to recreate a great recipe while leaving out the main ingredient.
In trying to insert so many “guarantees” of boxoffice success, any attempt at a consistent narrative tone is jettisoned early on. The universe is in peril of being swallowed by darkness (really? again?) but pretty much everyone gets their shot at being the comic relief. It works OK when it’s Kat Dennings as Darcy, The Wisecracking Intern®, that’s all her character is written for. But just because you can think of a line that would be funny if Loki said it, writers, doesn’t mean you should contradict everything the character is about just for a quick laugh. None of which are even funny enough to justify the sacrifice.
Plain and simple, it’s a mess. At its best, Thor: The Dark World is kind of Dark Knight meets Game of Thrones. At its worst, which is most of it, it’s third-rate Xena Warrior Princess meets Starship Troopers III. (Yes, I said III.) The leaps in logic and physics are distractingly WTF-ey (cell phones between dimensions?), the characters don’t make any human sense, and is it racist to wonder what Idris Elba is doing as Heimdall, a Norse god? Wikipedia describes Heimdall as, and I’m not making this up, “the whitest of the gods.” I’m all for colorblind casting, but again, really? Besides, what a waste of Idris Frikkin Elba.
Speaking of waste. Thor reaches new heights of wasted talent by burying Christopher Eccleston as uber-badguy Malekith in six-hours’ worth of makeup for a role that could’ve been played by anyone from Keanu Reeves to Joan Rivers. The only thing that needed to be on the set was the latex, which was dense and stiff enough to render the actor irrelevant. Another of today’s greatest character actors, Stellan Skarsgård (whose son Alexander was once set to play Thor, that might’ve been interesting) is also wasted. Most of his lines are jokes about pants. Really? (Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman are so ill-used that the only thing worth mentioning about their characters—generic father figure/narrator and generic damsel in distress—is how generic and ill used they are.)
What really hamstrings the movie is the committee’s apparent insistence on including every possible plot point that was suggested in their meetings. Eventually the story disintegrates into a wall of noise. Pretty noise, original and thoughtful design—I love the asymmetry of the space ships, and their “black hole drive” is a new thought where you wouldn’t expect to find one. I can see myself watching it again on bluray just for the art direction. But it will definitely be muted.
Thor: The Dark World would have been slightly above average as a syfy “original.” In fact, you wouldn”t miss much if you watched Syfy’s version, Almighty Thor, in which Loki is played by none other than Richard Grieco, instead. You can rent it on youtube for a buck ninety-nine. Which, please do, the dude who plays Thor, Cody Deal, is a friend of mine. Watch this space for news of a sequel.