The Dark World was, for me, a terrible disappointment.
Now, before you kill me, hear me out! The movie is a disappointment because it could have been … so much better.
Many of my reasons have been covered in other reviews and comments, both by critics and fans. There’s no doubt that the center of the whole shebang was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Even my husband, who had no investment in the movie at all and was not terribly interested in seeing it (he’s a Cap fan) felt that Tom was the only thing that made the movie remotely interesting.
I wouldn’t put it as harshly as that, but the movie didn’t even live up to the fairly low expectations the various spoilers and comments had given me. This movie suffered from a major no-no in any kind of fiction: It “told,” not “showed.” And it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be: a comedy, a drama, or an epic. There was nothing particularly “dark” about the Dark World. Those sections where we were supposed to fear for Jane or the Universe … well, they just didn’t happen. The whole tone was entirely wrong, even though the humor worked very well in itself. Too much of it was lighthearted rather than the darker humor one might expect under the circumstances (though Tom pulled some of that off.) I found the transitions from these humorous interludes and the supposed danger to the universe—and Jane, slight as it was–deeply jarring.
So, two (or three) movies trying to hang together as one. And it just didn’t work.
But while that may be the broadest problem in the film, it’s not the one that bothered me most.
Why? Let’s start with the vast inconsistencies of character in two of the major players: Loki and Odin.
The Loki in Thor: The Dark World bears nearly no resemblance to the Loki in either Thor or The Avengers. It’s not that he’s been through some new crisis by the beginning of the film: there’s simply no transition from the mad, grandiose god of The Avengers to the relatively cool, cynical, nearly resigned man we saw at the beginning of The Dark World. It implies that the “theory” of the Tesseract’s—and possibly Thanos’s—influence in The Avengers is true, and Loki has broken free of some malign interest to return, once more, to a trickster rather than a madman. He still covets the throne and will do almost anything to get it, but the epic changes of mood and sanity are gone.
But why, and how? Was his humiliation and capture at the end of The Avengers sufficient to change him, or break the hold of the Tesseract? This is never made clear, either at the end of the The Avengers or beginning of The Dark World. Instead, we see a wholly different Loki who seems, by contrast, quite reasonable, if still the scheming god he’s always been.
Tom has hinted in the past that this film would involve a redemptive arc for Loki, and he’d be put in his darkest place. Unfortunately, we never felt that descent. It was hinted at, and briefly shown in a shorthand way when Frigga died. But there was never any lasting sense of it, even when we knew Loki was out for revenge, even when he said “trust my hate.” There wasn’t nearly enough follow-up after he received the news of Frigga’s death. Nor was there nearly enough in a single scene to show us just how close Loki and Frigga had been, given that the relationship was undeveloped in Thor, and some was left on the cutting room floor.
Of course, this kind of development, of relationship and character, is not possible in a large-scale epic super-hero movie. It must be left to fan fiction. But it’s immensely frustrating for a writer to see all this potential wasted—potential for truly heart-breaking, moving drama.
I suspect that Tom initially expected something quite different—optimist that he is, he may have hoped for more for the writers and director, and made the best of it afterward. But I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t a tad bit disappointed. Certainly his hints early on were very strongly directed at major changes in Loki … but the changes were never explained, or even properly developed after Frigga’s death. Even Tom’s immense talent couldn’t overcome what wasn’t there in the first place. But oh, if he’d been given the chance to really show his suffering, his pain … what a difference that would have made.
I can see that defining moment, that moment of deep change in Loki, as coming with Frigga’s death, but that would only work if we’d really seen his closeness to his mother in more than one brief scene.
So where was Loki’s “darkest place?” It didn’t occur in this film, even with Frigga’s death. In fact, one could make the case that the entire story, from Loki’s agreeing to help Thor seek revenge to his “faked” death, was all a plot to gain the throne by less violent means. In other words, his technique has completely changed, almost unbelievably.
I don’t think that’s true: I think Loki really did want revenge, did mourn Frigga’s loss deeply, even though we were denied the chance to witness the depth of his feelings. One can’t help but wonder if his desire to protect Jane was part of a scheme to keep her alive and send Thor back to earth with her. (I don’t want to think that … and won’t, for my own sake, but a good case could be made for that scenario.)
I won’t get into the bits of dialogue that I thought were out of character, even for Loki (who in the past spoke much more formally): “Ta-da!” being the main example. For me, this tiny bit of dialogue was indicative of some of the character inconsistencies shoehorned in to “up” the humor quotient at the expense of consistency, even though it was immensely fun.
As great as Tom is and was in this film, there were so many missed opportunities for his dramatic talent to shine that I weep for what might have been. The inner “hurt” was barely hinted at, even though we were shown more of why he might have been influenced to veer in a darker direction than his straightforward and selfless brother. At least some of the theories of fans were confirmed, but not nearly as dramatically as they might have been.
In many ways, I feel the first Thor movie was much more successful dramatically than The Dark World, more intense and much darker. In spite of Taylor’s reputation for directing for one of the darkest series on television, I feel that Branagh was far more successful in that tone I’d hoped for: the Shakepearean approach that seems so appropriate to the setting and relationships
Again, this movie wasn’t Loki: The Dark World. But how little it would have taken to show Loki fall to those depths and rise again, rather than quickly dismissing the one seminal event that might truly have changed him.
The second major change of character was in Odin. It was another shorthand way of doing two things: making us more sympathetic to Loki (to which, otherwise, I have no objection) and also to provide a barrier to Thor’s and Jane’s romance, as well as to Thor’s escape to save her.
And it didn’t work. The difference in the character between Thor and The Dark World was, again, jarring. One might make the case that a year or more of battling the bad guys, and his physical weariness and evident pain, might have changed him. But even that couldn’t explain the total darkening of his character from stern father, who had made serious mistakes with Loki, to callous tyrant who didn’t mind throwing lives away and was only interested in winning, refusing even to claim there was any other difference between himself and Malekith. (Had this been established in the first film, a great deal more of Loki’s attitude and behavior would have been made clear, but here it seemed shoved in to serve a plot point rather than the characters.)
Now, being a Loki fan, I was never an admirer of Odin, however much I may like Anthony Hopkins (which I do.) However, this movie went much too far in the other direction. It was too easy to dislike Odin and turn him into another villain … again, without visible cause.
And even that was inconsistent within the film. Odin expresses his opposition to Thor’s relationship to Jane, but he doesn’t carry through: Instead of being distant from Jane and showing an arrogant disdain for her, he speaks to her as an equal and seems to go out of his way to provide various explanations that make him seem almost indifferent to her relationship with Thor. I found this utterly unbelievable. He’s supposed to be above everyone in Asgard, and yet he didn’t even seem to put himself above Jane during their interactions.
He also mentioned early on, when speaking to Loki, that the Asgardians weren’t gods, that they also could die. Yet later he firmly states that humans are by far inferior and are merely mortal, with an entirely negative connotation attached.
So which is it? Are Asgardians vastly superior to mortals, or very much like them? Is he opposed to Jane, or does he consider her someone he can speak to as an equal, a minor inconvenience? Why is he behaving so casually when he should be using every ruthless means necessary to destroy the Aether—and Jane along with it, if necessary—to protect his people?
And that brings me to the entire Jane/Aether problem. And I do mean problem, because at no point in the film did I feel she was in any real danger, or was I invested in her fate.
Part of this is because I feel that Jane, scientist or not, is still a cipher in this film, a passive participant who shows almost no emotion even when the Aether is supposedly (supposedly, because we barely see it) tearing her apart. She seems to feel pain or distress only occasionally, more as if she has heartburn than an alien force inside her. We’re “told” how dangerous the Aether is to her, but, as Loki so aptly put it, “She seems all right.” (general sentiment if not exact dialog.) And she does, a few faints and pained looks notwithstanding.
This totally undermines the supposed threat of the Aether: If it affects a mortal woman so little, how can it destroy the universe? And how much more we might have sympathized with Jane’s predicament if, instead of treating it so casually, almost as a minor inconvenience and curiosity, she were actually concerned about what its “defense” of itself might do to those around her? I found Jane entirely uninteresting, as I did in Thor, though I had hoped to be won over in this film.
I don’t blame the actress, who has been nominated for (or won? ) an Oscar. She really wasn’t given the chance to do anything but stand by, occasionally look a bit faint and make scientific observations, all while being the McGuffin Damsel in Distress. Far from considering her a positive female role model, I felt her character fell into the same trap as so many others … starting out with great promise, but ultimately becoming a passive participant until the very end. She was more a problem to be solved than a person. If she’d taken a more active approach in fighting the force with her, I would have been much more apt to appreciate her character. As a scientist, and knowing the stakes, why wasn’t she far more engaged in finding the solution? For me, Jane only really came alive when she was first exploring the effects of the alignment, and again when she slapped Loki. There was intensity and emotion then; elsewhere, not so much. Not enough to make me ever care about her except as a foil for Loki’s and Thor’s relationship.
This is added to the fact that I never felt a single iota of chemistry between Thor and Odin … but that, like everything else, is my subjective response as one who has written about romantic relationships between fictional characters for twenty years. I felt there was more chemistry between Jane and her new “boyfriend” than there was between her and Thor.
And why, oh why, did they add more Darcy and this entirely unnecessary “intern?” Obviously the filmmakers were appealing to a demographic to which I don’t belong (and clearly this actress, unknown to me otherwise, is a favorite of a younger generation), but I felt these episodes of “humor” took away from the film rather than added to it, except perhaps in the very beginning when the characters were beginning to r4ecognize the effects of the alignment. In another film, Darcy and her intern might have been charming, but here they merely undermined the sense of suspense and danger that should have been echoed in the behavior of those whom it affected most.
I won’t go into Malekiths’ underdevelopment; we all know scenes were cut that explained his motives. But the old “I’m going to conquer the world and replace it with darkness” is so hackneyed that it never feels like more than excuse for the heroes to go gallivanting about in search of something (the gallivanting admittedly being one of the high points in the film.) If the dark elves wanted a universe of darkness …. How do they live in it? Clearly hey are humanoid and can be hurt and killed like any humanoid. I presume they eat, drink and excrete. So what would a universe of darkness entail, and how would they survive in it? From a science fiction point of view, it made no sense at all. And clearly the film was going for the science friction angle, rather than the fantasy.
As for Thor and Loki together—the high point of the film—there not only wasn’t enough, but it lacked the intensity I had so very much hoped for. This was the time when the brothers were working together as allies after the dreadful events of The Avengers and Loki’s numerous attempts to kill Thor. But other than warning Loki he’d kill him in case of betrayal, there was very little strain between them except what was expressed in a few bits of dialogue, little of it convincing.
It’s not that I wanted them to hate each other, and I wanted reconciliation, but it was won far too easily. These were scenes in which Tom could have really put his acting chops to work by focusing on the dangerous complexity of their relationship but, once again, he wasn’t given the chance … or, more specifi8cally, the screen time. He did what he could, but the drama Branagh would have injected into such scenes was almost completely absent. It all became a lighthearted romp—fun and funny, but belonging in a different movie and under entirely different circumstances, not directly after Loki had been imprisoned for acts of treason and mayhem, and following the death of their mother at the hands of the villain. When Loki says “trust my hate,” it almost seems to come out of the blue, and stands in for all the acting that could have conveyed the same message far more effectively.
As other have pointed out, the sheer lack of time for the characters to absorb tragic events was … tragic. Loki’s death was almost treated as a rather middling event, hardly a blip in Thor’s life after his initial reaction. The same was true of Frigga. How I would have loved to see real tears in Loki’s eyes, or even in Thor’s. Loki should have learned if the tragedy from his brother, and the two of them could have shared a real, immediate bonding moment over their mutual anger and grief, even if Thor left Loki there to deal with it alone afterward. The bonding that came later just didn’t have the impact. Told, not shown.
Altogether, there were so many missed emotional opportunities, and such a jarring conflict between the supposed “big danger” and the behavior of the characters, that there was very little of the movie I had hoped to see. Certainly Tom, as the “savior” of the movie, deserved much better. So many missed opportunities that can’t be recaptured, except in fan fic. How much better this movie would have been if it could have been a more intimate study like Thor, but where the brothers were on a personal quest for revenge—a driving force we could actually feel—instead of fighting an evil entity in which we had no investment, and a peril that never seemed much of a peril at all.
I wish I could have felt more, but for me, the entirely movie lacked an emotional heart. What should have been there under the ribs was a focus on Loki and Thor … simply not possible in Hollywood, but oh what a film it could have been.
I’m of half a mind to rewrite all the Loki/Thor scenes the way I’d hoped to have seen them–if I had access to the actual dialogue–as fan fic, including all the emotional beats I feel should have been there, and with a deeper exploration of Loki’s feelings: grief, rage, his reluctant love for his brother. The rest can go on in the background: for me, it’s the intimacy so greatly lacking in Thor: The Dark World I’d want to recreate.
I realize this has been a very harsh review, and none of it reflects back on Tom Hiddleston; nearly everyone agrees he was the movie’s saving grace. But there just wasn’t enough for me, not merely in time on screen time (which , considering his powerful presence in the film, wasn’t nearly as problematic as I’d feared) but in terms of emotional resonance. Very few of the things Tom had envisioned for Loki took place, and I think that’s worse than a shame. It’s very nearly an obscenity.
I still hope for the raging success of the film, for the sake of the actors and for the third Thor and, one hopes, a solo Loki venture. Maybe if Branagh comes back for Thor Three (unlikely) I might finally get the Loki I expected in this one. But it’s not likely, given the demands of Hollywood. A Loki solo movie would be our best chance, but given that the powers-that-be have said such a film wouldn’t come until after Thor 3 (and, indeed, given the ending of The Dark World, it’s hard to see how you could fit one in between) It will be years before we would be treated to such a chance for satisfaction.
If they’d been smart, Disney would have realized what they had in Loki and struck while the iron was hot; will Loki still be a popular in three or four years? Only time will tell. He will be, for me. But unless his admirers hold steadfast in sufficiently high numbers, the chance may pass by.
Let’s hope it doesn’t, and we can finally have the Loki Tom—and we—deserve.