Movie Review: “Thor: The Dark World” (Take 2)

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(Note: Sean Burns reviewed “Thor: The Dark World” earlier today; here is Shawn Kotzen’s take.)

I felt like I was experiencing two very different films while watching “Thor: The Dark World.”

The first half of the movie is all set-up, which I suppose is necessary in order to tell a story correctly, but the narrative becomes plodding and boring. Plus, the plot is dull and predictable. Even so, it still managed to overcomplicate things, due to the sheer volume of Norse mythology being thrown at moviegoers every step of the way.

It felt as if I bought a bookshelf from IKEA and was trying to assemble it, but the instructions were written in an ancient language – put the Tesseract here, place the Aether (pronounced like “ether”) over here, which fits inside the Vanaheim, and then, when all nine realms are finally in place, you have yourself a new bookshelf. In other words, it’s fairly difficult to keep up with what’s going on during the proceedings.

For example, when the action moves to a new “realm” (there are nine of them, with Thor’s home called Asgard and Earth referred to as Midgard), the filmmakers always place the name of the realm on the screen for all to see. So, midway through the film, when the story moves to a realm by the name of Svartalfheim, there was an involuntary chuckle that moved throughout the audience like a wave. Since the word “Svartalfheim” is introduced by sight only, I assume that a good portion of the audience took it upon themselves to attempt to pronounce this word, which I’m pretty sure is where the snickers and giggles came from. When a segment of your audience is laughing at their inability to sound-out words, while a pivotal scene is occurring in the background, it’s fair to say that moviegoers have been effectively taken out of the action.

I know, I know. It’s not fair to penalize a film, due to what certain cultures choose to

Chris Hemsworth in "Thor: The Dark World"

Thor drops the gavel.

call their people, places and things within the annals of its myths and legends. I mean, in the original “Clash of the Titans” film, it’s not like anybody made fun of the legendary Laurence Olivier (who portrays Zeus) for the way he bellowed, “Release the Kraken!” Now, did they? Okay, bad example. But, you still get my point, don’t you?

The harder-than-usual pronunciations are not the only problem occurring within the first half of “Thor 2.” It’s all the back story, plot development and set-up which poses that biggest hurtles in what is supposed to be a fun, superhero fantasy film. I understand that this has to be done, in order for the plot to make sense later, but it bogs down the story regardless.

The film starts out promising enough. Irish, comedic actor Chris O’Dowd makes a welcome appearance, towards the beginning, as Richard — a concerned lunch partner for confused heroine Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), whose mind has been elsewhere since her boyfriend Thor disappeared after fighting in that epic battle in New York City with the rest of his Avengers teammates (as portrayed in the 2012 blockbuster film.)  This five-minute cameo is about all we see of Richard, which is a shame, since I loved O’Dowd’s work in such films as “Dinner For Schmucks,” “The Sapphires,” and “Bridesmaids” and I was excited to see

Chris O'Dowd joins Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman for dinner in "Thor: The Dark World"

I hope you’re not too big of a Chris O’Dowd fan, because this is pretty much his only scene.

him join the cast of “Thor 2.” I just had no idea I wouldn’t be seeing him again until the end of the movie, when his character has a pointless, minute-long phone conversation with Jane. So, basically, O’Dowd has a nothing part. As far as I’m concerned, this is an opportunity wasted.

Another cast member who sadly doesn’t make an appearance until the film is almost half-over is Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Dr. Erik Selvig. The good doctor was a major character in the first film (which is a much more entertaining picture than “Thor 2″ is), but his role is greatly reduced in this entry. However, to make up for it, the filmmakers have turned his character into a hilarious, cartoonish version of itself, as Dr. Selvig has gone a little cuckoo since being possessed by Thor’s evil brother Loki. He romps around Stonehenge completely naked, while stumbling around in his underwear for most of the film’s second half. I just wish his character would’ve entered the fray a little sooner than he did.

The same can be said for the character of Loki (perfectly portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, who has this role down pat), who’s not only banished to Asgard’s dungeon, in order to pay for the crimes he committed in “Thor” and “The Avengers,” but seemingly has his status as main villain also stripped away as well, taking a back seat to Dark Elf baddie Malekith (Christopher Eccleston of “28 Days Later” fame) and his right-hand elf Algrim (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje — who played Mr. Eko on “Lost“). Malekith, Algrim and the rest of the Dark Elves have nothing on Loki, in terms of charisma and total mischief made, and are pretty poor excuses for bad guys.

Even when Malekith magically transforms Algrim into a seething, giant

Chisopher Eccleston as Malekith in "Thor: The Dark World"

Not exactly a Keebler elf…

version of himself called Kurse, who wreaks havoc on any Asgardian he gets his claws on, these guys are just not that formidable of a foe. At least, not compared to Loki anyway. However, I do have to give kudos to screenwriter Christopher L. Yost (writer of dozens of cartoons featuring various Marvel Universe superheroes), as well as the collaborative duo of Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (“Pain and Gain,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and its upcoming sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) and give credit where credit is due for deciding to bring Thor and Loki together to fight the Dark Elves as a brotherly duo, if only for a short while… and for different reasons.  Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth (who does an admirable job as the sarcastic and jock-like Thor) have a fantastic chemistry and tend to light up the screen when paired together.

As for the rest of the supporting cast, which is full of talented actors by the way, a few stand out from the rest. Kat Dennings returns in her role as Dr. Selvig’s intern Darcy Lewis, who has been more than a little lost ever since the doctor lost HIS marbles… and trousers. She ends up delivering most of the comic relief in the film’s first half. In fact, her lines

Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in "Thor: The Dark World"

Thor and Loki finally team up.

are about the only humor in the movie’s first half AT ALL. Thank goodness for Darcy providing some form of levity during this time, or else, it would’ve been ALL set-up and back story, which usually makes for a dull movie-going experience.

Anthony Hopkins continues to chew up the scenery as Thor’s angry father Odin, who also happens to be King of Asgard. His internal struggle of having to deal with one throne-worthy, yet preoccupied son, who’s in love with a human (Thor) and another unworthy and treacherous son(Loki), who’s in jail for treason and also has wicked Frost Giant blood running his veins, would have made for an interesting plot point. However, Hopkins just likes to run around, with his long hair and eye-patch, shouting at the top of his lungs about anything and everything, which just ends up being completely and utterly distracting. Chewing up the scenery is okay, in small doses. That being said, when an actor is constantly picking pieces of the set out of his teeth, it starts to pose a problem. Mr. Hopkins, if they wind up making a “Thor 2,” please tone it down — just a tad… for me. Thanks.

The talented Idris Elba does the best he can with a boring role, portraying the imposing Heimdall — who’s sort of like the living toll

Idris Elba as Heimdall in "Thor:The Dark World"

Only in Asgard, does the toughest guy guard the Rainbow Bridge…

booth and the (Beam me up) Scotty of Asgard’s Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost). Jaimie Alexander plays the beautiful (and somewhat jealous of Thor and Jane’s relationship) Sif, while the completely unrecognizable Zachary Levi, the always solid Ray Stevenson and mostly absent Tadanobu Asano, respectively, portray Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun (aka: The Warriors Three) — Thor’s noble and trustworthy companions. Even former 1980s/1990s leading lady Rene Russo (“Lethal Weapon” series, “Ransom,” “Get Shorty”) returns in a supportive role as Thor’s mother Frigga, as she continues along the comeback trail she started with “Thor” — her first film role in over five years.

As to be expected in a Marvel superhero flick, the special effects are abundant from start to finish. From big-rig trucks that defy gravity to a “Flash Gordon” style aerial siege on Asgard to a bridge made entirely out of rainbows to Thor’s hammer (aka: Mjolnir — which Darcy hilariously pronounces as “Meow-Meow”) that always finds a way to boomerang back to his hand to characters that appear and disappear at will, the effects team of “Thor 2″ was responsible for figuring out how to portray ALL of these moments (and hundreds of other shots) as realistically as possible. Well, they wound up pulling it off – with flying (rainbow bridge) colors. Never too over-the-top, the effects of “Thor 2″ are rather impressive, as is the set design, makeup and costumes. Technically, this film is a marvel (pun intended) to behold.

Like I stated before, the problem lies within the film’s first half. Let Odin’s beard be praised, the second half of the film more than makes up for it. The last hour or so is action-packed, full of cleverly placed sight gags, and laden with hilarious, well-timed dialogue that never takes the audience out of a scene. In fact, the second half reminds me of Thor“ (directed by Kenneth Branagh and released in 2011), which had all of the elements that the second half of “Thor 2″ possesses, but kept it going for the entire film.

It appears as if “Thor 2″ director Alan Taylor (countless episodes of multiple cable shows, such as “Game of Thrones” and “The Sopranos,” plus the upcoming “Terminator” reboot) was visited by the spirit of Ken Branagh, about halfway through the shooting schedule, experiencing an epiphany as a result. Or maybe somebody else replaced him – on the QT — midway through and had a totally fresh outlook on the project. Or possibly, the fact that three different writers were responsible for the script was the reason for the schizophrenic nature of the film — “A Tale of Two Thors,” if you will.

Whatever the case may be, you should come into the theater about an

Hemsworth and Portman in "Thor: The Dark World"

A Viking and a scientist walk into a bar…

hour into “Thor 2.” You know, so you don’t have to watch the film’s tedious first half. As you slip into your seat, ask the guy sitting next to you for a brief synopsis as to what you missed. When this poor, confused soul turns to you with a straight face and says, “I have no idea — something about some Dark Elves, Anthony Hopkins is mad at somebody, and most of it takes place somewhere that I can’t pronounce,” then you’ll know you’ve made a wise decision.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: Just stay in your seat, until the final credits have ceased, for some “stingers.” One scene occurs after an initial, post-film credit sequence and one scene happens after the entire list of contributing names has finished scrolling down the screen. I’m not saying you’ll totally understand what these scenes “mean,” but you should experience them nonetheless. I have a strong feeling that “Thor 2″ is just the tip of the iceberg, as far as confusing plotlines and premises go, for any and all upcoming Marvel Comics superhero films.

So, basically, get ready to put some more IKEA bookshelves together.

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