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Most families have problems. Sibling rivalry is as expected as father-son squabbles, especially when the sons grow into men and vie for their father’s approval. But there’s nothing normal about the family disturbances in Thor: The Dark World.
Sparring brothers challenging their father’s authority is only part of the entertaining story in The Dark World. While this sequel’s plot is not as complex or sophisticated as in the first Thor film, The Dark World sticks mostly to the straight path blazed by its predecessor, avoiding many common pitfalls on the way to ensuring that positive messages triumph over darkness in the end.
Building on the continuous story told in Thor and The Avengers (consider these films prerequisites), The Dark World begins where The Avengers left off. Thor’s villainous brother Loki is imprisoned in Asgard while Thor works to restore order to the Nine Realms of the universe.
Yet even once Thor fights the last battle against the evil forces that Loki helped to unleash, he cannot enjoy the peace any more than he could find happiness in the fighting. His heart and mind are far away as he thinks of Jane Foster, the scientist who captured Thor’s heart when he visited Earth.
Jane only recently tried to stop thinking about Thor. After two years of searching for him, only to hear he was in New York City and didn’t see her, Jane is making an attempt to forget Thor and her scientific research. Her already pitiful effort is sabotaged by Jane’s intern, Darcy, who announces that Jane’s equipment is detecting strange anomalies in the atmosphere.
Jane goes to investigate and ends up finding much more than she expected. Soon, Jane isn’t the only one in danger. The Dark Elves of the ancient past awake and determine to swallow the universe in darkness, starting with Thor’s home of Asgard and Planet Earth. With more than their lives at stake, Jane and Thor must battle death, fear, and doubt in order to preserve the light of the future for themselves and the world.
With a fluid sense of continuity, The Dark World undoes the damage done to Thor’s progression as a character in The Avengers. In the latter film, Thor seemed to have regressed into his old days of immaturity and unadulterated pride. The Dark World, however, fully honors the changes Thor underwent in the earlier Thor and shows that he is now a respectful son to his father and a thoroughly humble man who shows more compassion and kindness than he did before. In short, he is far more mature, still changed by his painful journey movingly depicted in Thor.
While this continuation of the first film’s story is excellently done, the filmmakers are unable to find an equally compelling plot line or theme to replace the remarkable, redemptive one at the center of Thor. Thus, as with many sequels of tremendous films, which Thor is, The Dark World cannot reach the same level of depth, complexity, and power that marked the first picture.
That said, The Dark World is still a fully entertaining film that grabs the audience’s attention and communicates meaningful messages in between excitement and awe-inspiring images. As in the first Thor, the computer graphics in this film are stunning.
The jaw-dropping beauty of Asgard never gets old, and the graphics in this sequel are, with the passing of a couple years, even more technically sophisticated and smooth. A greater realism is evident in The Dark World, as the computer generated images feature more detail, including the little blemishes and imperfections that signal a real object in a real world.
Such authentic imperfections also mark the characters in this film, even the “gods” who rule Asgard. In contrast to the first Thor, in which the status of Thor and his family as gods was not disputed, Thor’s father, Odin, says in this film that they are not gods. Rather, they are mortal, but simply live longer than humans. Mortality, viewers see, is not their only flaw. Even Odin does not, as Thor says, “know everything,” and Odin’s actions can be wrong.
Asgard, then, becomes more accessible for viewers as a humanized world in which anything can happen. Unpredictability is especially the case when Loki is involved. Through his magical abilities of deception, Loki is dangerously unreliable and, in two previous movies, has proven that he is untrustworthy, to say the least.
Again brought to the forefront of this film, Loki is given more of the nuances his character possessed in Thor but was stripped of in The Avengers. He still lacks the intriguing complexities he once had, but is rounded enough to keep things interesting.
Loki's character and journey in this story would be more meaningful if any of his actions and emotions could be trusted. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] Instead, the filmmakers get so carried away with Loki’s ability to deceive that they actually undermine some of their own attempts to give him depth and progression, resulting in a disappointingly static character instead.
Most viewers, however, won’t miss this reduction in sophistication amid the thrilling, action-filled plot and strong acting performances. Despite being given a lesser character, Tom Hiddleston is still captivating in his performance as Loki.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor demonstrates greater comfort with the camera and his role than in the first installment. Just as his character has matured, so too has Hemsworth as an actor. His increased authenticity, emotional depth, and ability to fill moments with the tiny, real gestures that bring scenes alive enable him to create a wonderful chemistry with several actors.
Though one might fear from the title and this movie’s status as a sequel that The Dark World could never be as uplifting and minimally harmful as Thor, this film is not overcome by the darkness of its topic. As in its predecessor, The Dark World shows restraint with offensive language to an uncharacteristic degree for an action film.
Two uses of the s-word (one interrupted) and about three uses each of “d--n” and “h---” account for the obscenities, while profanities, sadly still present, are limited to three or four uses of “god.”
Violence, while heavy in Thor, sees an increase here in amount and graphicness. Battle scenes comprise most of the violence in The Dark World, though Jane twice slaps a person and punches another person once (these moments are supposed to be funny, but both slaps and the punch are done for inexcusable reasons). In the more graphic scenes, there is remarkably little blood.
Even when a fighter cuts another’s neck, the action is reduced in impact thanks to a lack of gore. Still, viewers will be aware that those necks are sliced or broken, and people and elves are stabbed many, many times.
In an unusually tactful move for an action film, the Asgardian heroes are careful to only hit, rather than stab, their opponents when the opposition is comprised of Asgardian guards simply doing their jobs.
A few stabbings are more disturbing: when a large elf and a man are gored by a long spear-like weapon, an elf volunteers to be killed for the cause, and a woman gets murdered (with a single non-bloody stab). Another person gets a hand cut off and another loses his arms, but both of these incidences seem almost strangely matter-of-fact since there is almost no blood or gore.
While this violence, thanks to the way it is depicted, is not as harmful as violence can be, the increase in this sequel’s amount and intensity of violence indicates a disturbing pattern. There will no doubt be a third film about Thor, and the trend here would indicate that the violence in that installment would be still worse. The chance of desensitization to violence is already present in The Dark World and does not need to be increased a third time.
The negative content that does exist in The Dark World gets outshined by the light of the positive messages the film imparts. Sacrifice, once again, emerges as a central theme of the story and is responsible for the most moving and powerful moments. Several of the main characters demonstrate selfless love and humility through their willingness to sacrifice their lives for others.
Always interesting, the dynamic between Thor and his two-faced brother Loki is revisited, as Thor struggles with a palpable longing to trust his brother who continually deceives. This emotional battle provides the most compelling moments in the film, as even Loki seems affected for brief moments by the love that Thor still has for him. Their relationship deepens as Thor demonstrates the power of an undying love and hope for a person who is undeserving and unworthy.
In this, too, Thor demonstrates his maturity and growth as a humble hero that parents can be pleased to have their children admire. Thor also treats Jane with respect and gentleness, just as he displays perfect manners and cordiality with everyone he meets. Everyone, that is, except for the villains.
Even when facing his enemies, however, there is a noticeable change in Thor and his approach. He is no longer hungry for a fight and now displays only confidence as a fighter, rather than the cocky, self-glorifying pompousness that characterized him at the beginning of Thor.
Romantic love is also depicted in a refreshing light in The Dark World. The filmmakers do an excellent job of showing that the love Jane and Thor have for each other is not the shallow kind based only on physical attractiveness, but rather the type that stems from an appreciation and love for each other’s personality and character. They support and care for one other, caring for their loved one with a maturity that means they don’t have to be physically intimate or in constant physical contact to still love each other.
This remarkable portrayal of real love of the more lasting kind is sadly contrasted by a sudden fling Darcy has. Thankfully, the silliness of Darcy’s romantic attachment is confined to only a couple brief scenes in which she and a guy passionately kiss.
Other suggestive content includes an obligatory shirtless scene (in which Thor is alone, washing his hands) and two women clinging to one of Thor’s Asgardian friends. A scientist bordering on insanity is shown on TV, getting arrested for streaking in a public area (his nakedness is blurred out). The same scientist also wears only a shirt and his briefs in another scene; sight of some but not enough of the briefs is covered by the shirt.
“Before light, there was darkness,” Odin says. If Odin is referring only to the lights found in the physical universe, then his description matches the biblical account of Creation. God, however, existed before even the darkness. In this world of myth and superheroes, God is never acknowledged, and viewers should take care in separating the “gods” of this film from the real, much more powerful and perfect God of the actual universe we occupy.
Yet through the themes of self-sacrifice, humility, compassion, love, and forgiveness that are demonstrated in this tale, God’s truth is partially (though imperfectly) taught. There are far better ways, of course, to learn of this truth. But if you’re looking for a fun, minimally harmful, and meaningful movie-watching experience, then The Dark World just might light up your day.