Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Triple Thunder

I did something very out of the norm for me recently: I went to see the same movie three times over the course of five days.

As you know, the movie Thor: The Dark World opened in theatres this past Friday. I was originally planning to see it at midnight on Thursday with a bunch of friends in a VIP screening room, but due to some complications, we weren't able to reserve the room until Sunday night. Since I was tired of tiptoeing around the Internet to avoid spoilers, I caved and went to see the movie alone Friday evening. Naturally, the theatre was jam-packed and I was forced to sit on the floor level behind a really tall man whose head blocked all of the subtitles. He also climbed over the back of his seat to come and go multiple times throughout the film. Believe me when I say I was tempted to hurl my one-gallon Carmike popcorn bucket at him the third time it happened.

Normally, this would have been my last time seeing it in theatres, but when my friend who reserved the VIP room texted me Sunday evening asking if I was still interested, I caved again. I was curious about the room and I felt like I'd missed a lot by not seeing any of the subtitles. I saw Thor: The Dark World a second time, understood it better, and got a giant free drink that took me all night to finish. Good times.

Then today, I happened to be typing on my laptop in Starbucks when another friend of mine stopped in with four kids to get something to go. I said hello as she passed my table, and long story short, she was on her way to see Thor: The Dark World with those kids and she invited me to tag along. So I did.

I know this story may have you thinking that I'm an obsessed drooling Thor fangirl (also given my bizarre tolerance for looking at beefy shirtless Australians), but that actually wasn't the reason I kept returning to the theatre. Part of it was because I wanted to see the movie with several of my friends who weren't all available on the same day, though the main reason was because, frankly, I needed to see this one a few times to decide what I really thought about it.

The Thor trilogy (counting The Avengers) has always been an odd series for me. I was never really blown away by any of them on the first viewing and had to see each one several times for them to grow on me. Even then, I still think they're just okay movies. The only thing that's ever kept me interested is, of course, the conflict between Thor and Loki--which all three films have been very happy to deliver on. Sadly, that isn't the only element in these movies, and pretty much every other element is done adequately at best.

Which leads me to the first thing that underwhelmed me on my first viewing of The Dark World: the villain. Our main bad guy this time is a dark elf named Malekith whose goal is to wipe out all life in the universe and fill it with darkness so he and the other dark elves can start a new life. As generic and obvious as that is, I barely got that on the first viewing since the majority of his lines are spoken in Elvish and thus subtitled. On top of that, the character is completely lacking in personality, to the point that I don't think he ever changed his facial expression or tone of voice once in the whole film.

I suspect that a lot of Malekith's underdevelopment is the result of a serious trimming down during editing. A lot of other subplots and scenes seemed to fall flat from that, including the love triangle between Jane, Thor, and Sif, Thor's relationship with his father Odin, and the emotional whiplash of a scene where Thor seems to get over the tragic death of his brother in two seconds. Ironically, for as much as this trimming down apparently streamlined the pacing, it actually made the film feel way too short. I think that was my biggest problem the first time I saw the movie. I felt like I'd only seen a short film instead of a feature-length one. I would be very curious to see that director's cut that fans are petitioning for right now.

After having a full day to read reviews and let the movie sink in, I decided I wanted to see it again to make sure I hadn't missed anything vital. Whether it was the much better viewing conditions of the VIP room or if things were honestly clearer to me that time, I was far more pleased with the movie on my second viewing. But there were still one or two major problems that I had with it...

Below is a comment that I posted on IMDb's messageboards earlier today. I actually finished typing it literally seconds before my friend walked into Starbucks with all of those kids and invited me to the movies. I wanted to see if my opinion on the matter would change after a third viewing, but I posted the comment anyway for the heck of it:

Okay, I've had a few days to think this over and I think I know what could have made this film a lot better. 
In the cave scene after Loki's "death," Thor and Jane should have had a huge argument. Thor's grief should have made him realize that Jane has been doing nothing to help anyone throughout the whole movie and that her helplessness has caused all off his suffering (Malakith's return, Frigga and Loki's deaths, etc). He accuses her of all this, Jane points out that he was the one who brought her to Asgard and enabled those things to happen, then Thor loses his temper and rebukes her for "letting" the Aether take hold of her in the first place. He tries to apologize immediately afterwards, but Jane bitterly admits that he's right about her being helpless in these realms. Then she can say that line from the trailer, "we come from different worlds. Maybe they're different for a reason." THEN the phone rings and the rest of the scene plays out like it did in the movie. 
Everyone has been telling Thor that Jane isn't right for him, and that cave scene should have been the moment when he finally starts to doubt her. The movie would have addressed a huge problem with their relationship and then added dramatic weight to Jane's actions during the climax, particularly when she tries to physically drag unconscious Thor out of harm's way near the end. Then their decision to be together at the very end would be fully earned.

It'll probably make more sense if you see the movie first.

Thor and Jane's romance has always fallen flat for me, especially since Thor seems to have much better chemistry with virtually every other character in these movies. I shudder to even make this comparison, but it has the exact same problem as the Twilight series, in that the female romantic lead doesn't seem worth any of the trouble that her suitors go through for her. What is so wonderful and special about Jane? Thor has fellow Asgardian and warrior Sif practically throwing herself at him, and yet he pines for a woman that he's known for two days and who can barely take care of herself.

I mean it, Jane is off screen for the entire second half of that fight scene where Loki "dies," and she spends the first half just cowering on the ground while everyone else fights. If I was Thor and I tragically lost my brother in a senseless melee like that, the first thing I would ask Jane is, "What were YOU doing while the two of us were fighting that battle? Were you just standing there watching while I was getting pulverized and Loki was racing to my rescue?" Not only would an argument between Thor and Jane have made their relationship more believable, it would have also given them AND the audience the proper amount of time to dwell on Loki's "death." It's because the scene moves on from his "death" so quickly that I predicted he was going to come back at the end.

Having seen the film a third time,  I've softened on the issue a tiny bit. That's because (and I admit I may be rationalizing here), there appears to be a moment right after Loki "dies" where Thor looks angrily up at Jane. This could be interpreted as him thinking about the villain while coincidentally looking at Jane, but this time I saw it as him glaring at her with accusation and resentment. That could be why in the following scene, she jumps right into blaming herself for everything that's happened. Bottom line, while it's not done as well as it could have been, I believe there was at least some hint of conflict between Thor and Jane in the movie.

So that's my take on Thor: The Dark World. It has problems, but the closer I look at it, the less severe those problems become. These movies will probably never be as good as Lord of the Rings or any of my other all-time favorites, and maybe I'm way more forgiving of them because I've come to accept that. It could say something bad about me as a filmgoer that I keep lowering my standards to enjoy a movie, or maybe it says something good about me as an aspiring writer that I keep looking for ways to improve the stories. In any case, I'm done seeing this movie in theatres.

Long live King Loki.

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