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'Thor' still not the big hammer in ‘Avengers’ franchise

POSTED: November 7, 2013 1:00 a.m.

When “Thor” thundered into theaters two years ago, the prospects for the franchise looked very different than they do now. 

Chris Hemsworth certainly looked the part of Thor, but he wasn’t yet a bankable lead actor. The Iron Man movies had already posted huge earnings, but “The Avengers” had not yet conquered the cinematic world and thus raised the bar for all other Marvel properties.

“Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” posted mediocre earnings and were only moderate performers abroad.

In the post-Avengers world, though, turning the same modest profits will likely not meet Marvel’s standards. So a number of interesting questions surround “Thor: The Dark World.” 

Will the success of “The Avengers” boost the second Thor’s performance? Or will the franchise suffer because it is no longer buoyed by the Iron Man franchise? Ultimately, will this sequel allow the Thor franchise to succeed independently of the other Avengers properties?

In many ways, “Thor: The Dark World” is a better movie than “Thor,” but it’s not strong enough to catapult the franchise into the same stratosphere as “Iron Man,” and it comes nowhere near to the level of entertainment or box office potential of “The Avengers.”

“Thor” was a solid franchise starter but left plenty of room for improvement. Thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s direction, the dramatic scenes and comic relief worked very well, but the action sequences were downright incoherent at times.

The strengths and weaknesses of “Thor: The Dark World” are exactly the opposite.

The dramatic scenes have very little impact and the dialogue leaves much to be desired, but the action sequences are huge improvements.

The stories for these movies are more or less interchangeable. A villain, in this case Malekith (Christopher Eccelston), seeks a source of unlimited power, in this case some nifty red stuff called aether, which he will use to destroy the universe. And of course the attack point is on Earth, in this case London.

All the principals from “Thor” — Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy (Kat Dennings), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Frigga (Rene Russo), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and the rest — are back and mostly unchanged, though Selvig has gone a tad crazy after being possessed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Darcy, Selvig and Chris O’Dowd, in a small role, provide the movie’s laughs. It’s also fun watching Loki and Thor spar as very believable sibling rivals. Eccleston brings plenty of gravity and menace to Malekith, and Elba gets to expand Heimdall’s presence.

The visuals are vastly improved over “Thor.” It was apparent in the 2011 film that the animators had created an extensive world for Asgard, but the landscape was mostly shown at night and the 3D made it even darker. It was a muddled mess.

Much more care was put into creating the computer-generated landscapes this time, and Asgard looks wondrous. The filmmakers also set scenes in pubs, at court and in the streets, fleshing Asgard out into a fully developed place. 

Tying the story into the other Avengers storylines adds a level of enjoyment, and the action sequences are well-crafted and fun to watch.

But in other ways the writing ranges from ho-hum to awful. A love triangle subplot between Thor, Jane and Sif is introduced as significant early on, then it disappears. At one point, an Asgardian uses the cliché phrase, “I’ll see you in hell.” So, the Asgardians suddenly have a hell?

Something is also beginning to nag at me about these individual Marvel superhero movies. Malekith very well might destroy the universe. So why not assemble the Avengers? How is this megalomaniac’s threat any less than Loki’s in “The Avengers?” And if it is, why should I care as much?

Of course, these questions might be more a result of superhero exhaustion rather than flaws with this movie.

“The Dark World” is enjoyable viewing, but Thor will continue to be a supporting player. Marvel has yet to find a character who can replace Iron Man as the brightest star of the Avengers universe.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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