One of my least favorite things is being mean or cruel to a movie. I write about movies because I love movies. I've never been the kind of person that takes any pleasure in tearing something apart or trashing it. That said, I always knew when I started looking back at all of these MCU movies I was going to get to Thor: The Dark World and wasn't going to have a lot of nice things to say about it. This movie was never particularly great, but considering just how good some of Marvel's more recent offerings have been, it makes the unabashed averageness of this movie much more difficult to endure.
Thus far on our journey to Infinity War series, we've covered all of Phase 1 and Iron Man 3, which provided a bit of an uneven kick-off for Phase 2 of the MCU. It's a mixed bag of a movie that fails (in some major ways), but fails because it takes some big risks. I'll take something risky and interesting anyday over something like Thor: The Dark World, which is, aside from being a superhero movie that understandably doesn't get a lot of love, truly uninteresting and takes zero risks. As a moviegoer, I firmly believe that the biggest sin a movie can commit is to be boring. Despite a lot of action set pieces, fancy costumes and fantasy movie trappings, this movie is surprisingly boring.
Aside from that, I challenge anyone who hasn't watched this movie recently to recall anything terribly specific about the plot. Perhaps more than any other MCU movie, Thor: The Dark World suffers from being surprisingly generic in this respect. In case you're in need of a refresher, and after sitting through this movie again myself I'm willing to bet you are, the movie starts out with a look at ancient times when the gods of Asgard fought and won a war against an evil race known as the Dark Elves. The survivors, including the generically evil elf Malekith, retreated into hiding with the Aether, aka the Reality Stone, which was buried in a secret location. Cut to hundreds of years later and Jane Foster finds the Aether on Earth, because reasons. The Aether then bonds itself to her. This forces her old boyfriend Thor, who's been missing for a couple of years, to bring her to Asgard before Malekith captures her and uses the Infinity Stone (which isn't really a stone) to destroy the Nine Realms at the time of a convergence that occurs every 5,000 years.
I, having just watched the movie, am still in disbelief at how many details about the plot I wouldn't have been able to recall if someone had held a gun to my head. There are moments in Thor: The Dark World, for better or for worse, that are quite memorable. We have the battle on the Dark World with Loki and Thor where we get a couple of famous Marvel fake-outs. "Oh no! Thor totally got his hand cut off!" Nope. He didn't. Just kidding. "Oh no! But Loki totally died!" Nope. No he didn't. He survived somehow and tricked his way to the throne of Asgard. Now, this ultimately helps set up the excellent Thor: Ragnarok (more on that in several weeks when we get to it) so that can be forgiven to some degree. But isolated here, it's kind of frustrating.
Thor may not be my favorite MCU movie, but I find it to be surprisingly charming in many ways. And Loki as the bad guy in that movie makes it way worth it. To that point, Thor: The Dark World takes its biggest step down as a sequel in this department. Marvel movies are littered with not-so-great villains, but Malekith, by no fault of former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston, is the worst of the worst. And not in the way that phrase might be complementary when it comes to a bad guy. Malekith is painfully generic as presented in this movie. He ultimately wants revenge, destruction and power. I think. But even those motives are very poorly outlined. And what's maddening is that Malekith, in the world of Marvel Comics, can be an outstanding villain. He just sucks here. Big time. No two ways about it.
It's actually miraculous how many things don't work in this movie. I don't know how much of it rests squarely on director Alan Taylor's shoulders, but I think there's a reason he never directed another MCU movie. Once again, the whole Earth team of Darcy, Jane and Eric just doesn't quite get there. It feels fluffy. Getting rid of that whole thing was one of the best things Thor: Ragnarok did. A lot of the actions scenes, while technically well-executed, just aren't that exciting. Even Stan Lee's cameo isn't all that great. Though, that Captain America cameo is one of the best cameos in all of the MCU. Seriously, that bit is so good. And honestly, if I'm really going to commit to this negativity parade, the Aether is probably the lamest Infinity Stone we've seen so far.
But hey. It's not all bad. The dynamic between Thor and Loki is still good. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston aren't really ever the problem, despite the Thor franchise's issues. Anthony Hopkins' Odin is also so solid, for his part. There's also a reasonable amount of cool, practical costume and makeup work when it comes to the Dark Elves and some of the other fantastical stuff we see. In fact, I imagine if you're a hardcore fantasy nerd, as opposed to leaning more toward the sci-fi end of things, Thor: The Dark World might actually work better for you. Also, the death of Thor's mom is pretty impactful, even if it gets glossed over pretty quickly. It's a relatively significant death the MCU has stuck to and that's a rare thing.
The box office and Rotten Tomatoes, relative to the high standard set by the MCU, would tell you I'm not alone in my lack of appreciation for Thor: The Dark World. And what's really strange is that I remember enjoying this movie upon my first viewing in theaters. But it falls off of a very steep cliff upon repeat viewings and that's where it really reveals itself. The good news for Marvel is that, if this is truly the worst they can do, they're in pretty damn good shape. That would mean, at it's very worst, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is simply, harmlessly forgettable. That's not really so bad, is it?