sovay: (Rotwang)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2013-11-09 04:22 am

There is nothing more relaxing than knowing the world is crazier than you are

I have loved Stellan Skarsgård since I first saw him with a starfish stuck to his face, but I never expected to see quite as much of him as I did tonight in Thor: The Dark World (2013). To be fair, I didn't expect that shot of Thor half-naked and gleaming with water like Achilles at the end of the Iliad, either, but I think the market for that sort of thing is rather more strongly indicated on the internet than Erik Selvig with no pants on. It is the internet. I could be wrong. If there's an audience for wild-haired scientists with interstellar hangovers running starkers around the ley-lines of Britain like the second coming of Lord John Whorfin, it will be out on Tumblr somewhere. And I should probably know about it.

The short version, before I fall over: it didn't surprise me as much as Thor (2011) and it's not as neatly put together as The Avengers (2012), but it does nothing with the characters of either Chris Hemsworth's Thor or Tom Hiddleston's Loki that I need to scream about, there is lovely world-expansion and whoever was in charge of costume and art design should take home several kinds of prize, I still feel about almost every movie in this franchise that someone has trimmed a vital scene here or there, and Stan Lee's cameo is probably my favorite so far.

The film has problems; they are at least different problems than its predecessors. The prologue is unnecessary. It feels too much like Peter Jackson and the exact same information is later reprised by Odin for Jane and Thor with a runic manuscript whose illuminations move and breathe as softly as the spells in Coriakin's book; it's a much more graceful and unusual way of filling the audience in on the war between the Æsir and the Svartálfar and made me wonder if the prologue was added after the fact or at least repositioned. After some unexpected shout-outs in The Avengers, the Norse myth in this movie is back to blended crack pretzel. The image of the Nine Worlds coming into alignment is another example of the Thor-verse's evocative intertwining of myth and astronomy (and allows for some of the best physics-bending in a fight scene since Portal), but the Norse pre-cosmos is the void of Ginnungagap with ice and fire to either side of its emptiness, not a dark matter universe full of knife-eared militaristic types. That said, Malekith's ships are a gorgeous showcase for the film's unapologetic genre-mixing, in which swordplay and illusions and rocket launchers and antimatter grenades coexist and interact in ways not usually seen onscreen, and I liked the decision to show us the faces of the Dark Elves before they don their battle masks (white as larvae, staring-eyed; their mouths are not even snarling, but dispassionately closed) and become the indistinguishable body count of a villainous army.

I do not know how I feel about Frigga's death. It's not a fridge: it would have been impossible for Loki to pull off his final turn with his mother alive, and quite possibly he wouldn't have tried with one parent with whom he had a genuine, affectionate connection still around. Her funeral sequence is one of the most powerful set-pieces in a film that kept surprising me with its sheer visual beauty (the vortex of arterial cinders that is the heart of the Æther, swirling and blinding like the blood of a rotten heart) and no one explains anything about the ritual, half longship pyre, half shooting ashes into the sun. I like that she was as proficient a warrior as her husband and sons and that if not for the near-unstoppable intervention of Algrim the Kursed—I assume the spelling is a carryover from the comics, because it doesn't make any sense as a svartálfar word—Malekith would never have gotten anywhere near Greenwich. But it is still the death of a character I would like to have seen more of, considering how little she had to do in Thor and the promise of her brief scenes here with Loki. She was the one person left in Asgard whom he would let see he still loved. Of course, it did not stop him from trying to hurt her.

I did like that the film trusted its audience enough not to play Loki's betrayal of Thor and Jane to Malekith as anything but a fakeout—we can't believe it of him; it's not subtle enough—so that we wondered not whether he'd gone over to the Dark Elves' side out of spite and vengeance, but at what point he'd started the pretense and what magic he had up his sleeve to salvage the situation. The same questions apply to his survival and replacement of Odin. The former did not surprise me; it had troubled me in his apparent death scene that he did not revert to his natural jötunn blue, as I would have expected when the spell that kept him Æsir-looking died with its wearer. The latter is what I assume we'll have to watch the next movie to find out. It seems unlikely to me that he would have killed Odin, but perhaps there is a Loki-shape with a curiously blind eye in those gold-grilled cells below Asgard now, shouting to no one listening that it's not the poisonous traitor, throne-stealer, it's the Allfather, can't they see? That should be fun for Hiddleston, if so. He is much more trickster than villain here, which is as I prefer my Lokis. His scenes with Thor are messier, funnier, and more bitter than anything in Thor or The Avengers and I could have watched an entire movie of their conversation, that uneasy high-wire of wariness and familiarity—there is too much between them for uncomplicated trust, but neither can quite disown the other, not even Loki. In Odin's guise at the end, is he telling Thor what will get him off-planet fastest, or is he giving his brother the honorable due he would never let himself as himself voice? And for all his illusions, that one violent moment of grief: wordless. He is not all deceiving. That is not reason enough to relax.

What I like about this movie is what I liked best about Marvel's previous outings into this universe: the strength of Hemsworth and Hiddleston's acting, which continues to avoid collapsing the one character into dull good and the other into plain slick-talking evil; the humor that isn't used to undercut or apologize for the epic scale of the story, except when it's Loki flyting; the ability to create action scenes that don't bore me and were here both intellectually and visually clever; the fact that it passes the Bechdel test straight off. I love Jane's gravitational anomaly box—it is spot-built and jerry-rigged and the film makes it very clear that it is the combination of her plane-manipulating astrophysics and Thor's god-strength that defeats Malekith, because that is their story, magic and science meeting where a soul forge is a quantum field generator and galaxies drift in the branches of Yggdrasil. The first third of the movie really is kind of shapeless, but by the time we get to the heist-film intercutting of Thor's plan with its results, the timing is flawless. I saw two stupid romantic triangles looming and the script avoided both of them. Skarsgård's Selvig gets some fine moments of knowing as well as awkward humor and I'm rather glad the film bothered to deal at all with the aftermath of being god-ridden by Loki. And the uncredited cameo is great.

So, not perfect, and I'm sure I'll remember tomorrow all sorts of observations I should have made tonight, but right now I'm going to take a hot shower, nurse my sore throat, and go to bed. Really enjoyable and next, yes, please is so much better than I ever expected from any of these movies. Keep surprising me, Marvel.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-11-09 01:12 pm (UTC)(link)
I desperately want to see that cameo. But you see now why I had that post about MCU death distribution earlier.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-11-09 07:33 pm (UTC)(link)


I would love to see Frigga back, or Maya Hansen, but they have neither a major comics storyline nor an outpouring of fannish love, so I doubt it extremely.

coffeeandink: (Default)

[personal profile] coffeeandink 2013-11-10 05:22 am (UTC)(link)
Well, she's currently one-third of the All-Mother ruling Asgard, since Odin's been deposed, but she's still treated as a supporting character in Thor and Loki's stories.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-11-09 07:41 pm (UTC)(link)

By the way--since you also get many comments on LJ, would you consider going here and checking Display Crosspost Link to make it easier for me to get to the LJ post and see the comments? If you've principled objections, of course, never mind!

kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-11-09 08:51 pm (UTC)(link)

You'd probably need to republish. Thanks!

kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-11-10 03:01 am (UTC)(link)

I was going to say that you have really rotten luck with your LJ crosspost experience, but I don't actually check that mine don't double-post because I have comments disabled, so for all I know it's happening constantly! But yes, next post, absolutely, and thank you.

coffeeandink: (Default)

[personal profile] coffeeandink 2013-11-10 05:21 am (UTC)(link)
Thor says Frigga gave her tricks to Loki but her trust to Thor in one of their arguments. I was very pleased with the nod towards Loki learning women's magic.

[identity profile] 2013-11-09 09:35 am (UTC)(link)
Delighted that it flew for you. I so love your musings on film.


[identity profile] 2013-11-09 01:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I had heard that Skarsgård doffs his kit in this one. I find myself looking forward to this.
ext_2472: (Default)

[identity profile] 2013-11-09 04:22 pm (UTC)(link)
There's one nice unspoken touch in the Jacksonian prologue: the very first time we see the Aether, it's clear as water. The narrator gives us "unstoppable force of destruction" (or close to that), and it's all blood-and-ash imagery in Malikith's hands, but -- something happened. It could have gone another way. I liked that.
Edited 2013-11-09 16:23 (UTC)

[identity profile] 2013-11-09 06:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Two things, neither hopefully spoilery: to me, it constitutes a form of growth for Loki to introduce himself, even to people who A) don't know him from Ymir and B) maybe have no idea how much baggage this admission "chould" come connected to, as: "I am Loki, of Jontunheim." And I believe Loki's words just before [that thing that happens] at face value; in the moment, I think he too is convinced [that thing is happening], and wants to say exactly what he says. Five minutes later he's probably ret-conning it, and yet.

[identity profile] 2013-11-10 12:20 am (UTC)(link)
This one seems to be one I should definitely see. Thank you for your insights!

[identity profile] 2013-11-10 10:48 am (UTC)(link)
Yes to all of this.

Something someone raised in comments elsewhere -- there's a visual continuity with Loki's fighting style and Frigga's. I love the thought that she taught him to fight, and that he would have learned to fight smart from her, rather than trust to an unbeatable weapon and relentless Aesir stamina.
selidor: (happy astronomer)

[personal profile] selidor 2013-11-13 06:16 am (UTC)(link)
Saw this the same night you did (I'm behind on LJ) and delighted to see your review.

Here's hoping the Director's Cut loses the prologue - agree it's completely unnecessary. If I could describe the plot of Thor sufficiently to convince a new-to-these-movies friend to see this one: an astrophysicist is in a desert, she encounters a Norse god, then there are explosions and snark; this sequel will be Return of the Snark, with more explosions - then it didn't need a prologue.

I had little hope above blended crack pretzel; since when do sequels ever turn out continuously satisfying? Apparently when they're Marvel sequels. (It seems next week's Agents of SHIELD will be a tie-in episode featuring the glorious manuscript. Hopeful.)

There's nothing quite like seeing three movie-watching astrophysicists simultaneously inhale to complain about the description of dark matter and then stop themselves. But the technobabble aside, the interactions are completely right: Jane sees Selvig again for the first time in years and it's entirely pushed aside by the joy that they have an urgent problem to solve, this is what they're good at and the whole prof-researcher-intern-(intern) team knits back together for going after it.

Someone on Tor mentioned having a Jane and Thor PBS kid's science show, with Jane hosting and Thor as her assistant. I hope the Internet makes this exist.

[identity profile] 2013-11-20 11:47 am (UTC)(link)
I didn't love the first Thor movie as much as you did, which may have contributed to the time it took me to get back to this entry, but now, having read your write-up, I do confess to being curious about the sequel. Even just to see the animation in the book might be worth it, but I'm also tempted by what you say about the dialogue between Thor and Loki. Plus, I've been on Tumblr! The Thor-Loki comics there and general level of fannish affection have been sanding down my negative feelings and watering my good ones, when it comes to those two.