Welcome to my MCU Rewatch, where I write an analysis of the MCU movies in the order of theatrical release. In this installment, I talk about my two biggest issues with Thor: The Dark World: villains without a clear motivation and Jane Foster, the Living McGuffin.
Release Date: 8 November 2013
Director: Alan Taylor
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the movies belonging to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) seem to be the most culturally underrated. This is probably because no one seems to realize the strength of the Thor movies lies not in the fantasy genre from which it takes its cues, but the comedic elements littered throughout.
Unfortunately, we don’t see the Thor movies find their true calling as a comedy with fantasy elements until Thor: Ragnarok. Until then, we have Thor: The Dark World.
Off all the MCU movies to suffer from sequel syndrome, the worst cases are Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’ll talk about Age of Ultron in a later essay. As for Thor: The Dark World, I have two major complaints in addition to my earlier statement that the Thor movies work better as comedies. Here they are in detail.
Villains Without Motivation
First, what are the motivations of the Dark Elves? The movie opens with a battle between Asgard and the Dark Elves where the All-Father comes riding in on his eight-legged horse and prevents the Dark Elves from doing that thing where they ingest the Aether and bring darkness to the Nine Realms.
I’m a fan of the belief that everyone is a hero in their own story, which means villains have to fully believe that what they’re doing is righteous and justified. This is what makes Loki such a compelling villain. His methods are based on trickery and deceit, but his goal is to prove himself a good leader to his people. Loki is not the only sympathetic villain in the MCU either. General Thunderbolt Hunt from The Incredible Hulk wants to study a scientific anomaly to further a program that’s been around since World War II. Ivan Vankov from Iron Man 2 wants to redeem his father’s name and reputation.
Not every MCU villain has a sympathetic story. Obadiah Slane (Iron Man) and Johann Schmidt (Captain America: The First Avenger) are pretty cookie-cutter in their villainy. But we the viewer can still understand their motives. Obadiah was motivated by greed, and Schmidt was motivated by fascism and curiosity.
But what are the motives of the Dark Elves? They invite the Aether into their blood and they are really determined to bring darkness to the universe. What’s unclear is why. Do they require darkness to live the same way humans require water? Are they merging the realities of the Nine Realms because that opens the gateway to their true home? Are they warrior-scientists studying the effects of reality and don’t realize their violence is causing actual harm to actual sentient beings?
Since this is unclear, the Dark Elves don’t really stand out as villains. Perhaps that’s why they’ve been forgotten by time and only remembered as fairy tales.
The Living McGuffin
The second thing I want to discuss is the role of Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). When last we left Jane, she was in New Mexico, studying cosmic phenomena in the hopes of one day reuniting with Thor. It was sweet and hopeful and you’re left rooting for the two.
But then Thor returns to save New York and doesn’t bother to stop and say hello. I understand that he had a bit of a time crunch, what with Loki’s havoc taking priority and then wanting to get him back to Asgard as fast as possible. But he apparently didn’t even call Jane when he returned to Earth. Not so much as a “Hey honey, I’m in the area but something came up. Please stay in Tromso where it’s safe and I’ll call as soon as I’m back on Earth.”
It’s no wonder they eventually break up.
In addition to being regulated to the sidelines romantically, Jane’s biggest role in Thor: The Dark World is as a McGuffin. I mentioned in my essay about Iron Man 3 that Marvel is starting to show more women in roles of power. This is seen through Maria Hill in The Avengers, Pepper Potts in Iron Man 2 and 3, and the character of Black Widow (Iron Man 2 and The Avengers). Jane’s role is an attempt to give her power, but she does nothing with it.
Instead, she’s taken to Asgard because she’s “sick” and then everybody without a name dies fighting to keep her from the Dark Elves. This is how Jane spends three-quarters of the movie. The final 20-30 minutes, when the action inevitably returns to Earth, she does some good with McGuffin Science Sticks. This is one of the strongest points in the entire movie, when Thor’s Earth friends are running around doing Midgardian science while Thor stalls for time by distracting the Dark Elf villain.
Everyone’s Favorite Momma’s Boy
Other than the camaraderie between Thor’s Earth friends, the other strong point of Thor: The Dark World is Loki. Trapped in a cell for most of the movie, it’s fun to watch Loki mess with the Asgardian guards and get rejected by his fellow prisoners. Truly scorned by everyone except his mother, Frigga (Rene Russo).
Because of his imprisonment, we don’t see Loki do much until the second half of the film. What we do see is his relationship with his mother, which gives him more dimension as a character. He’s a little short with her, being imprisoned and rejected and all, but we can tell they love each other. Loki’s magical prowess comes from learning under Frigga, who utilizes the same tricks as Loki to get around her husband’s orders.
Unfortunately, Frigga is fridged. Not for the development of Odin or Thor, but for the development of Loki. Loki is the one that physically falls apart as a result of her death. He hides his grief with quips and taunts, but we the viewer know that of everybody in the Thor movies, Loki is the one that needs a hug the most. Frigga was the one most likely to give it. And now Loki is left with nothing.
Stay tuned next time for the return of everybody else’s favorite anti-hero, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Random Thoughts on Thor: The Dark World
- Erik Selvig’s story is interesting. Hawkeye didn’t go crazy after having a god in his head. Is that because of his SHIELD training?
- 2/2 Thor movies pass the Bechdel Test (so far) with Jane interacting with Darcy and Frigga. Finally, a woman who interacts with more than one woman!
- There’s a random British fighter pilot that goes through a portal and ends up on one of the Nine Realms and I really think that should be revisited at some point. What does he do on that realm? Do the people help him return to Midgard? Does he get caught up in some shit before he can return only to have the way blocked off by the destruction of Asgard a couple years later? This is a story I want to see unfold!
- Darcy is still the best thing in the Thor movies, and the third Thor misses her