Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Recap: "Thor: The Dark World" Part 1: What's Past is Prologue

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” -Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

Which makes one wonder if the Flash can run faster than the speed of darkness. Though he's managed to outrace the Black Flash, and... Yeah, I'm getting off-topic. This movie gives me more than enough to analyze without bringing DC to the table. Gonna warn you right now, this'll be a long one.

So let's not waste any more time and get right down to brass tacks Or whatever magical metal tacks are made of in Asgard. Uru? Mithril? Stalhrim? Orichalcum? Tilkal? Tilkal tacks?

If you actually knew what that last one was from off the top of your head, you win nerd forever.
After the traditional flipping pages of the Marvel logo…

Wait, what’s this mess?
You fools! What have you done?

So… I’m not a superstitious man by any stretch of the imagination. But I do recognize patterns. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the more a movie tweaks the Marvel logo, the worse luck it has at the box office. Adding movie-relevant images to the flipping pages seems to be okay in small amounts, but look at the fates that befell the major offenders.

Tim Story’s Fantastic Four duology tinted the Marvel logo blue. Mixed-to-negative reviews.

Hulk tinted it green. Mixed reviews. (But can be so-bad-it’s-good.)

Ghost Rider pimped it out with flames and chains. Critically panned.

Punisher: War Zone tried creating a revamped “Marvel Knights” version of the logo. Critically panned.

Even with the cool new fanfare composed by Brian Tyler, messing with the sacred Marvel logo is the kind of hubris that gets your film struck down by the gods before you can say “Look upon my works, ye mighty.”

Speaking of gods, the movie begins with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) narrating over the darkness.

Odin (voiceover): "Long before the birth of light, there was darkness. And from that darkness came the Dark Elves."

And like all elves in fiction nowadays, these elves are tall, pale, willowy, and dressed in ornately-detailed armor. And like all Dark Elves (except for Drizz’t Do’urden, of course), these guys are evil. And long ago, the evilest one of all, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), was preparing to extinguish the light from the universe, because he and his kind hail from a universe of darkness that predates our own.

Let me get one thing straight: That is freaking awesome.

Turning the Dark Elves into a race of darkness-dwelling creatures that see light itself as an unholy blight upon all of creation was a great way to introduce them into the MCU. It adds a cool science-fantasy edge to the Dark Elves and gives them a plausible reason to want to snuff out the light in creation. Namely, to return the universe to what they see as its rightful state.

I cannot stress how much I love this concept. But in practice, a lot of details regarding this film’s depiction of Dark Elves don’t exactly match up with that concept. I’ll go over these as they come up, but I'll try not to harp too much on it.

Anyway, Malekith had an ancient, powerful MacGuffin called the Aether, which would give him the power he needed to carry out his evil scheme. And we cut to the fateful battle for reality itself, on that ancient day when Malekith prepared to use the Aether. On the Dark Elf home world of Svartalfheim, one of the Nine Realms, the elves defended the Aether from their enemies below dark clouds on the rocky terrain.

Whoops, wrong picture.
There we go.
Seriously, though, I keep half-expecting Sauron to show up.

And not Marvel’s Sauron, either.
One of Malekith's generals, Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), tells him that the forces of Asgard are approaching. In subtitled Elvish.

…I can see right now that this Recap could easily devolve into a 15,000 word sequence of Lord of the Rings references. So I’m limiting myself to five more.

A beam of rainbow light streaks down from space, bringing the armies of Asgard to fight the giant army of laser-wielding Elves. …Okay, the lasers are helping to give this film its own distinctive look. But I find it interesting that these Dark Elves, whose civilization predates light itself, primarily use weaponry that discharges bolts of light. But to be fair, this is could very well be weaponry they pioneered after light filled the universe. And as we’ll see, they have other weapons that don’t rely so much on the one thing they hate with a passion.

Odin's father, King Bor of Asgard (Tony Curran), leads the charge against the Dark Elf armies, basically mowing them all down with the mighty energy bursts of his spear.

Malekith: "Send in the Kursed!"

Yes, that's supposed to be spelled with a "k.” I'll just get the explanation out of the way. Basically, they're blending together two aspects of the Dark Elf lore from the comics. First, in the comics, Malekith's title is "the Accursed.” Second, these "Kursed" take their cues from the comic version of Algrim. Long story short, a cosmic being transformed Algrim into an armored warrior known as "Kurse.” Here, the Kursed are regular Dark Elves who… well, they crush these glowy rocks, absorb the rocks’ energy, and transform into hulking warriors. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but it seems to work rather well for them.

Anyway, Malekith is getting ready to finally unleash the Aether into all the Nine Realms at once. But he has to do it within a certain time frame. You see, the Nine Realms are aligning in a super-special way that’s linking the entire universe together through portals because…

…I don’t know, Yggdrasil?

But before Malekith can unleash the Aether across the universe, the Asgardians use the Bifrost to teleport it away. And with the Dark Elves’ primitive lasers unable to defeat the technologically-advanced spears and swords of the Asgardians, the Dark Elves are fighting a losing battle. In a last-ditch effort, Malekith turns off the power to the Dark Elf ships, sending them on an unwitting kamikaze mission as they fall onto the Asgardian armies.

Malekith: "Their deaths will mean our survival. This war is far from over."

"And I don't care how many of my own people I have to kill to save my own people!"
As the realms unalign, Malekith escapes in an invisible spaceship. Which means that the Dark Elves have more similarities to the Romulans than just pointy ears.

Odin (voiceover): "Malekith was vanquished, and the Aether was no more. Or so we were led to believe.”
Einherjar: "Sire, the Aether. Should we destroy it?"
Bor: "If only we could."

Unfortunately, the Asgardians don't have a convenient volcano nearby to throw it into, so they decide to keep it secret, keep it safe.

Bor: "Somewhere no one will ever find it."

We then cut to the Aether inside its stone prison, both secret and safe. And then we zoom out to reveal that they hid the Aether in the very title of the movie, right in the letter "H" of "THOR."

A few thousand years after the incident on Svartalfheim, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned to Asgard in chains, ready to be taken before Odin. But before Loki gets a stern talking-to from daddy, he gets a moment with his mother, Frigga (Rene Russo).

Frigga: "Please, don't make this worse."
Loki: "Define 'worse.'"

Of poorer quality or a lower standard; less good or desirable. It’s an adjective, if that helps.

But the moment is soon over so father and son can have a moment alone.

Loki: "I really don't see what all the fuss is about."
Odin: "Do you not truly feel the gravity of your crimes? Wherever you go, there is war, ruin, and death."
Loki: "I went down to Midgard to rule the people of Earth as a benevolent god. Just like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, and all that jazz.

Odin: "We are not gods. We are born, we live, we die. Just as humans do."
Loki: "Give or take 5000 years."

You’d think Asgard would have an overcrowding problem if they can spend a few thousand years having kids. Though I’d imagine all those battles do wonders to curb overpopulation.

Odin: "All this because Loki desires a throne."
Loki: "It is my birthright."
Odin: "Your birthrigh-tuh. Was to die as a child."

For a guy who's bored with his role as Odin, Anthony Hopkins can still have some fun with it.

Odin: "Cast out onto a frozen rock. If I had not taken you in, you would not be here now to hate me."

I think every dad has whipped out the old "You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me" at some point. In fact, pretty much everything these two say to each other can be translated into a normal, human, father/son argument.

Loki: "If I am for the axe, then for mercy's sake, just swing it."

Translation: "If you're gonna punish me, then just do it and stop lecturing me."
Odin: "Frigga is the only reason you are still alive and you will never see her again. You will spend the rest of your days in the dungeons."

Translation: "Your mom's the only reason I'm only grounding you, kid."
Loki: "And what of Thor? You'll make that witless oaf king while I rot in chains."

Translation: "You always liked my brother better! You'd never do this to him."
Odin: "Thor must strive to undo the damage you have done. He will bring order to the Nine Realms, and then, yes, he will be king."

Translation: "That’s because your brother never pulled this crap.
In fact, he's out there fixing your shit, you ungrateful little brat. That's why we bought him a car and not you."
Now, this scene was actually added into the movie after principal filming. It originated in a tie-in comic and the filmmakers liked it so much that they incorporated it into the movie itself. The only little problem is that the trial scene seems to take place soon after the events of The Avengers, when the rest of the movie takes place a while after, judging by Jane’s later comments on how long it had been since she’d seen Thor. So while Odin talks about Thor beginning to undo Loki’s damage, the next scene actually shows him nearly finished with it.

The scene in question is a battle in Vanaheim, where the Asgardians are busy saving the day from the marauding... um, Marauders. Which is funny, because in the original mythology, the Asgardians basically wiped out the people of Vanaheim in the Aesir-Vanir War. Here, the Vanir are one of the few people the Asgardians haven't tried to wipe out, unlike the Dark Elves and the Frost Giants.

So now’s as good a time as any to discuss continuity, then.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that adaptations of Thor should probably get a little bit of leeway. I mean, there’s both the comic books and Norse mythology to draw on for inspiration. For example, in the original myths, the “Dark Elves” are actually what we would consider today to be dwarves. Short, subterranean blacksmiths. Heck, a Dark Elf forged Mjolnir in the original myths! And in the comics, the Vanir were wiped out and had their souls merged into the vengeful beast Mangog (give or take a retcon or two, as I’ve discovered).

But the Thor films take bits and pieces of comics and myths and blaze their own trail, which is why I feel it’s kind of unfair to judge these movies on how close they stick to the source material. Because… well, which source material? Myths or comics?

Anyway, if the opening battle looked like Lord of the Rings, then this one looks like something out of Xena, because the first warrior we cut to is none other than Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), fighting alongside the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Fandral, now played by Zachary Levi of Chuck fame. Or to you Tangled fans, Flynn Rider. Or to you very few fans of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel, Toby.

From a burst of rainbow light, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appears to bring the thunder. Looks like they managed to fix the Bifrost since the first film. I’d imagine the Tesseract helped.

Sif: "I've got this completely under control."
Thor: "Is that why everything's on fire?"

The battle continues until a gigantic stone humanoid appears. In a neat little nod to the comics, the head shape and armor design clearly marks him as a Kronan (as do the Marauders' chants of "KRO-NAN!"), who were first referred to as the Stone Men of Saturn. They were the very first threat that Thor ever faced in his very first Marvel appearance. In fact, this is allegedly (since I can’t find any official sources, but a lot of various sources keep claiming this is true) the MCU version of Korg, who joined the Hulk's gladiator rebellion on the planet Sakaar.

So who knows? Maybe we'll see this character again in an eventual Planet Hulk movie?

At the very least, we'll probably get a really cool battle that does this classic Thor foe justice.
Or maybe he'll smash the guy in one hit. That works, too, I guess.
With the big guy defeated, the other Marauders wisely surrender.

Fandral: "Perhaps next time we should start with the big one."

As the Marauders are taken back to Asgard to be imprisoned for their crimes, Hogun and Thor have themselves a goodbye. It’s Thor's idea; the Nine Realms are pretty much at peace, and Hogun should probably help his people recover. Maybe catch a baseball game? I assume the local baseball team is the Vanaheim Valkyries.

The two warriors part ways as Thor returns to Asgard, which... can I get a picture of that real quick-like?

Oh yeah, that's the stuff.
Thor meets with Odin, who is busy overseeing some soldiers sparring. Thor tells Odin that Vanaheim is secure, along with Nornheim and Ria. Which, even beyond the references to other realms, is a nice nod to the comics, where Ria is the home planet of the Kronans.

I guess Thor scared the rest of them into submission.
Thor tells Odin that the fight wouldn't have taken as long if he had been fighting alongside his pa, but Odin knows a suck up when he hears one.

Thor: "That was not my intent."
Odin: "For the first time since the Bifrost was destroyed, the Nine Realms are at peace."

I can only imagine that every realm was as easy to rescue as Vanaheim was, since Thor seems to be as full of energy as ever, despite saving each of the Nine Realms from chaos.

Odin: "Nothing out of order except your confused and distracted heart."
Thor: "This isn't about Jane Foster, father."

Then why did you bring it up, Thor? Odin sure didn’t.

Odin: "Human lives are fleeting; they're nothing.”

Odin should totally sing a song about how great Asgard is.
Odin: “You'd be better served by what lies in front of you."

Odin gestures out in front of them, toward the area where all the ripped musclemen are sparring. But I think it’s safe to assume that he's referring to the only woman wielding a weapon: Lady Sif.

Odin: "I'm telling you this not as the Allfather, but as your father."

So... as the Allfather.

Odin: "You are ready. The time has come for you to take the throne."

You know, I really feel bad for Odin. I mean, the guy had been raising Thor since birth to be his successor, only for Thor to demonstrate that he didn’t have what it took by committing an act of war against Jotunheim. And his other son, Loki, proved to be a traitor. Luckily for Odin, Thor matured a bit, but I can’t help but think that he wouldn’t make a very good ruler. Even though he's learned his lesson about humility, he's proven time and again that his talents lie on the field of battle. Ruling a kingdom takes intelligence, patience, and wisdom. Sorry, but Thor just doesn't have enough of those qualities, despite what he's learned.

Thor could very easily grow into the leadership role, but I don’t think he’s quite there yet, even though Odin seems to be absolutely determined to give up his throne to somebody ASAP. And I know that I just said that it’s unfair to judge this movie by how closely it matches the source material, but I still have to ask this because it's something pretty crucial to comic history and mythology.

Where the heck are Odin’s other sons? Baldr? Vidar? Vali? Certain texts even list Heimdall as one of Odin’s sons. And what about his son Tyr? Tyr’s even actually in this movie! Don't blink or you'll miss him.

Odin’s plan to pass on the throne and retire to the Asgardian equivalent of Florida seems to have hit a bit of a snag, since the only apparent heirs, Thor and Loki, are respectively unwilling and unable to become king. Perhaps it’s time for Asgard to willingly adopt something along the lines of parliamentary democracy? Just saying, an Asgardian version of the French Revolution would not be very pretty.

Anyway, Odin tells Thor that he should go out and party with the other warriors that night to celebrate their victory. And we end up cutting to just that. But not right away. First, we get to have a scene of Thor washing up in his bedchamber.

Because with pecs like that, it would be a crime to not film them.
Now, I’m a pretty detail-oriented guy. Some would say “nitpicky,” and they wouldn’t be wrong. So now that I’ve seen Thor washing up in what appears to be the Asgardian equivalent of a sink, I can’t help but idly wonder what bathrooms are like in Asgard. I mean, out of sheer curiosity, how do toilets work in Asgard? Do they break the matter down into energy to power the Bifrost? Is it flushed away into sewers? Who, exactly, is in charge of sewage treatment in Asgard? Do they wear the Asgardian equivalent of overalls? Does it have little lines and metal etching on it like Asgardian armor? I want to stress that I’m not marking the movie down for not elaborating on Asgardian bathrooms, but this is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.

Anyway, Thor joins in the festivities that evening, but his heart really isn't in it. Unlike the other revelers who drink and party in front of roaring fires.

“You can keep your fancy ales, you can drink them by the flagon.
But the only brew for the brave and true...
…comes from the Green Dragon!"
“By the flagon? Way ahead of you.”
Lady Sif notices Thor’s lack of mirth and brings it up to him.

Sif: "There was a time when you would celebrate for weeks."
Thor: "I remember you celebrated the Battle of Harokin so much that you nearly started the second."

Hmm. Interesting namedrop. Harokin is a warrior who was allied with Hel, the Goddess of Death, in the comics. So perhaps after they killed Harokin once, a drunken Sif made Hel so angry that she nearly decided to bring him back just to try and get her to stop partying.

Anyway, Sif invites Thor to have a drink with her, but he's got to slip off in the middle of the night, like he's been doing for the past while. And Sif has noticed.

Sif: "There are Nine Realms. The future king of Asgard must focus on more than one."

He is focusing more on just one. Odin wants to coop him up in Asgard. That's the problem, Sif.

We then cut to London, where Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is on a date with some goober in a rather nice restaurant. So now we're suddenly in a romantic comedy. The guy she's with notices that she hasn’t been talking, so he pulls a rom-com move.

This is a Marvel film, right? Is this the long-awaited Patsy Walker adaptation?
Goober: "So what's the story with you?"
Jane: "Why does there have to be a story? There's no story."
Goober: "You spent the first ten minutes of our date hiding behind a menu that has three choices on it."

This is a terrible restaurant. Or possibly a very fancy one. Maybe both.

Goober: "It's either chicken, vegetarian, or fish, Jane."

What's wrong with steak? Did steak suddenly stop being fancy and expensive and no one told me?

Goober: "I think there's a story... and I'm thinking the story involves a guy."
Jane: "It's complicated."
Goober: "Is he still around?"
Jane: "No, he... went away."

Geez, Jane, your suspicious pauses make it sound like you killed him and can hear his still-beating heart beneath the floorboards.

But Goober can relate; he once had a girlfriend who took a job in New York. Eventually, the distance killed the relationship.

Goober: "And the fact that she kept sleeping with other dudes."
Jane: "No!"
Goober: "Oh, so many."

A woman enters their ongoing romantic comedy, and the goober asks her if they could get some wine.

Darcy: "Sure, I'd love some."

“What do I look like, a waitress?”
Jane introduces Darcy (Kat Dennings) to Goober Richard, and asks exactly why Darcy has interrupted them. So Darcy grabs some bread and takes a seat to reveal some embarrassing information about how Jane has finally stopped moping at her mom’s place in pajamas.

Darcy: "You even showered, didn't you? You smell good."
Jane: "Is there a point to all this? Because there really needs to be a point to all this."

On behalf of the audience, I agree. We're fifteen minutes into this movie and all we've really established is that some bad stuff happened a few thousand years ago, but it's all fine now. And Thor is fighting bands of Marauders while Jane Foster finds herself in a chick flick.

So Darcy finally sets the plot in motion by telling Jane that their sciencey-doohickeys have detected stuff and are going ding.

Darcy: "It kind of looks like the readings that Erik was rambling about."

Erik, after the events of The Avengers, as Darcy puts it, kind of went "banana balls." Jane manages to convince Darcy to leave, and she does, leaving Jane and Richard to continue with the conversation Darcy had interrupted.

Goober: "I think I'm going to have the sea bass."
Jane: "Sea bass, yeah. Sea bass is good."

Wonderful conversationalist.

Jane: "Sea bass, sea bass, sea bass, sea bass, sea bass, sea bass. Sea... bass...."

Jane: "Sea bass...."

Goober tells Jane to go do some science, since her mind already is, and Jane runs off to find Darcy's car and gets in.

Jane: "And I hate you."

I'm pretty sure those were also her first words to Alan Taylor after he replaced Patty Jenkins.

As they make their way towards the site of the weird readings, we're introduced to the passenger in the backseat, Darcy's intern, played by Jonathan Howard.

Jane: "You have an intern?"
Darcy: "Oh, yeah."

As he gives directions to Darcy, Jane calls up Erik (Stellan Skarsgård) and wants to know where he is. We then cut to ITV filming a news story about exactly where he is and what he's doing. The location? Stonehenge. The reason? Running around naked. The result? He done got nicked by the rozzers and shoved in a flowery dell for showing his cobblers.

Some extra stones were on display at Stonehenge today.
Anyway, Jane and the others soon arrive at the site of the odd readings. While the intern, Ian, attempts to get them to start using his name, Darcy asks if they should bring the phase meter.

Jane: "No."
Darcy: "Bring the phase meter."

Remember when Jane was excited by science? I miss those days.

Anyway, Jane wanders around an abandoned area filled with shipping crates and empty buildings until Darcy calls her to tell her that she's going the wrong way. Darcy is calling from twenty feet away because she didn't want to shout. Also, so we can hear Jane's distinctive ringtone in order to set up a plot point for later.

They head inside a building and find some little hoodlums, who end up leading the team to the floating cement mixer they found in a loading bay.

Darcy: "That doesn't seem right."

Then the kids take them up some stairs to show them what happens when they drop a bottle down the stairwell. Before it hits bottom, it disappears and reappears above the stairs, following the same route over and over.

Which is always the first thing people try with portals.
But when Jane tosses down an empty can, it disappears... and doesn't reappear.

Darcy: "I want to throw something! Jane, give me your shoe."

But Jane is busy with one of their sciencey devices, discovering that she hasn't seen readings like this since...

Darcy: "New Mexico?"

As Jane wanders off to check the readings, the others have fun by tossing in random things. Eventually, Ian tosses in the car keys... which don't come back. Smooth. As Darcy probably considers throwing in Ian next, Jane wanders off to an upstairs corridor with spoopy wind blowing around. Eventually, the wind sucks her in for somehow, depositing her in some dark, endless tunnel.

Where's all that light coming from?
Oh. Watch out for Balrogs, Jane.
Next to her, Jane finds a big stone slab with some kind of glowy red stuff inside. The glowy red stuff lashes out at her hand like the Carnage symbiote when she foolishly reaches inside, and she fruitlessly tries to scrub the stuff off like Lady Macbeth and her eternally-bloodied hands. Then she takes a very sudden nap.

Elsewhere, in the depths of space, a Dark Elf spaceship lights up after years of dormancy. And I mean that literally, a spotlight shines on Malekith as he wakes up from his hibernation.

Okay, what the heck?
Malekith is a member of a race of light-hating beings who typically wear masks with dark lenses to filter out what they see as the unholy glow of photons. And Malekith has a ship featuring a big ol’ spotlight that activates when he exits hibernation. Did nobody involved with this movie realize this big steaming contradiction?

Malekith: "The Aether awakens us. The convergence returns."

Isn’t that always the way in fiction? Whether it be the Aether or the Last Great Time War, somebody will always accidentally teleport somewhere where they shouldn’t be and screw things up for the universe.

Back in Asgard, Thor is paying his black best friend, Heimdall (Idris Elba) a visit. He's still doing his job as well as ever.

Heimdall: "From here, I can see nine realms and ten trillion souls."

“S.H.I.E.L.D.’s currently working on something similar. We call it Project: Insight.”
Heimdall starts talking to Thor about the upcoming alignment of worlds, called the Convergence.

Heimdall: "The universe hasn't seen this marvel since before my watch began."

Another Marvel we haven't seen since before his watch began? The Fantastic Four. They really need to get the Spider-Man treatment soon.

Heimdall: "Few can sense it. Even fewer can see it."

Which is why it will manifest as obviously-visible portals that everyone can see. Thor asks Heimdall how Jane is, and Heimdall tells him about how Jane is also studying the Convergence. Of course, he leaves out the part about how she was dating that goober for a bit. But then Heimdall has a bit of a brown trousers moment.

Heimdall: "I can't see her."

Coming up in Part 2! A blast from the past and a fight for the future.


  1. Clearly the light is like cold water to face to make sure that Mal is awake-awake. Dark Elves don't mess around with their alarm clocks. You don't want to snooze trough Aether o'clock.

    I'm mostly jesting but I guess if if my six-fifteen spouted "Best of Hitler's speeches" I would never miss school again.

    - Faceless Enigma

    1. Makes sense, actually. It could be that he's using it as motivation to get out of bed and start snuffing out the light.

      For all we know of his backstory (which is nothing, as I'll get to in the Review), it is.

  2. They absolutely do, thought that would leave X-men it funny position, wouldn't it? The last position that Marvel doesn't have rights to, that one would think need to be absorbed sooner or later. And yet I think most people would be upset if Marvel did it.

    1. Yeah, most people agree that X-Men's the only non-MCU property that's consistently good.

  3. Well, technically the MCU already has a Patsy Walker adaptation. It's called Jessica Jones. And speaking of, where'd you get those Purple Man gifs? I don't remember that from the show. (Sarcasm intensifies)

    - That One Anon

    1. Really? you don't remember the episode where Killgrave fights Giles from Buffy the Vampire slayer?