Thor: The Dark World and the Modern Movie Serial

thor_poster
I have seen “Thor: The Dark World” and I pronounce it to be Good. Very entertaining, with enough good character moments to balance out the Hitting of Large Things. The copious CGI served its purpose well. Thumbs up from this geek!

Plus, they threw in a nice bit for their female fans (or, more likely, the girlfriends of their male fans) involving Chris Hemsworth, a sponge, and the conspicuous absence of a shirt.

After thinking about it a bit this evening, I suspect what Marvel has sneakily done is to re-create the old-time serial in the modern world. In the age before televisions (and television shows) were ubiquitous, studios regularly put out installments of popular franchises as chapters to keep the movie-going public entertained. You’d get your periodic installment of the adventures of Superman or The Green Hornet, each of which advanced an overarching plot line. They were very much comic book story arcs put on the silver screen.

I would argue that this, updated for the modern palette, is what Marvel is doing with these interstitial super-hero movies since they undertook their production. Each installment advances the over-arching character development of the protagonist, bringing back some of your favorite supporting cast from episode to episode. Each one uses bits from the previous film to inform your enjoyment of the current one (for instance, in “Thor: The Dark World” not having to re-establish the characters’ backstories is a huge help in terms of building the plot and keeping momentum), and each ends with a tease that whets your appetite for the next.

The production values are much higher now than they were in the 1940s of course, and each chapter, if you will, has a more satisfyingly complete internal story arc. But they all feed into a larger narrative, continued not just in further movies in the same franchise but across other properties as well — “Iron Man 3″ strongly references the events of “The Avengers”, as will, I’m sure, the upcoming “Captain America” sequel. You aren’t obligated to watch each one, but they feed off of and enhance each other, building a whole interlocking network of fiction that greatly improves the individual installments and the impact of the gestalt.

What do you think, am I on to something here or whistling in the dark? Also, WARNING! Spoiler discussions about “Thor: The Dark World” will surely be in the comments for those of you who have seen it.

9 Responses to Thor: The Dark World and the Modern Movie Serial

  1. I loved it! My only complaint was that Malekith didn’t come across as a very engaging villain. I suppose he was just a very straight and to the point kind of villain. He knew what he wanted to do and how to do it, so he did.

    He probably only felt a little flat because of how phenomenal Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was again. The movie could have just been retitled Loki: The Dark World and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

    Some really cool action sequences (dimension spanning brawl with the Big Bad at the end? Awesome), a few really nice serious moments (the cosmic viking funeral scene, Loki’s “I’m sorry”s) and just the right touch of humor in the appropriate places. (the giant glass skyscraper with the appropriate window squeegee sound effects!)

    I suppose my only other serious complaint would be the grievously gratuitous use of pants in the aforementioned ‘sponge’ scene. C’mon, Thor. How are you supposed to properly bathe with pants on? ;)

  2. True, pantsless Thor would have been a marked improvement. Probably they didn’t want the theater workers of the world having to clean up THAT much drool.

    SPOLIER ALERT: One of my only plot hole questions was just how one Dark Elf ship could so completely devastate Asgard, when before the Asgardians seemed to have little trouble mopping up hordes of those guys. Either in the intervening 5,000 years Asgardian tech (and warriors) got a LOT less effective or Malekith’s minions sharpened up considerably while in hibernation. Also, I wish they’d made Volstagg considerably larger. I am not buying that svelte fellow as our Brobdingnagian warrior.

    Those are minor nits, though, I thought it was a really fun and entertaining movie.

  3. This is a great example of how the modern industry can do well.

    . . . I must say, the singularity grenades were a cool touch. The acting was excellent, the plot was well-written, the direction and characterization consistent, and the balance of mood successful.
    Little humorous touches sprinkled into the awesomeness.

    Well worth watching.

  4. Agreed, the singularity grenades were pretty darn cool.

  5. DiCicatriz:
    The movie could have just been retitled Loki: The Dark World and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

    Ha, we’ve been referring to it as “Loki 3″ around here. :) But then, I am a flag-flying member of both the Movie Loki and Actual Norse Mythology Loki admiration societies. (Haven’t read the comic, myself, though I understand the comic at some point tells the story of “The Lay of Thrym.” I would pay double to see Hiddleston and Hemsworth portray that one. Though the joke of the myth is that Thor doesn’t make a very convincing Freya, and as Marvel Loki can evidently disguise others as realistically as he does himself, it might not be *quite* as hilarious.)

    Saw it Friday as part of my birthday weekend fun stuff, and then I saw it today by myself, since I had the day off. So pleased to see Loki with even more sass. And, you know, competence. This may not be a popular sentiment, but while I enjoyed “Avengers” enough see it several times, I didn’t really buy how they wrote Loki. Unless it turns out that my fanwank is true. (Which is this: Just as Loki intended to be captured initially, he also intended to fail at the entire mission, disliking being a tool of the Chitauri but unable to escape them. Basically, what TV Tropes calls a Xanatos Gambit — arranging the situation so that, win or lose, you still win. I know mythology Loki and comic Loki are two different creatures, but if Loki of any incarnation truly wanted to take over the world, I can’t imagine that his first tactic wouldn’t have been to try charm rather than aggression. Why’s he’s still going on about wanting a throne, then? Because he doesn’t want to admit being scared of the Chitauri. Anyway, digression. Different movie.)

    Since nobody probably wants to read me continue to prattle about Loki all night (although if anybody really did want me to, I easily could, just saying …), what else can I say … I was happy to see Darcy back again. Had to wonder how many people in the theater got the callback to “Meow-meow!” I didn’t know Roy from “The IT Crowd” (Chris O’Dowd) had a role. It was fun to see him, though did anyone else think he was downplaying his accent? When Jane was smacking the tracking thing on the table, I kept wanting him to say, “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” Also liked Idris Alba’s somewhat expanded role. Cool orange eyes.

    Was NOT expecting the Frigga thing.

    I guess Thor’s okay, too. Nah, he’s fine, he’s just not the main reason I watch his movies. Though it’s nice they make it clear he’s really not just dumb muscle — it’s this way in the myths, too. Thor comes across as not exceptionally bright simply because he’s pretty much always hanging out with one of two diabolical geniuses, who make anyone else seem less smart by comparison. But Thor’s got a solid tactical mind, made more impressive by the fact he can use it in a pinch. (And if anyone is confused by me calling Odin a diabolical genius, go read Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”)

    So, yes, quite enjoyed it, would be happy see it again in the theater if my spouse wants to, will probably get the DVD.

  6. Enjoyed it.
    The characters were solid (save Nathalie Portman, who’s just… bland), and the interaction between loki and thor was pretty nice, they nailed the brothers/family thingie, IMO.

    Only complaints:
    – Malek- who?
    – THe whole technological angle. In a asgard story, I don’t mind magic-as-technology. But having tech-as-tech, with asgard and the dark elf fleets seemingly coming out of a space opera… No. It made harder to swallow having the asgardian troops uses shields and swords vs he elf’s blasters.
    – THe whole “I ignore you, but once you save my live, I suddenly cling to you and kiss you and you’re the man” thingie. I gate that cliché

  7. You nailed that, Lime, thank you! Totally agreed on all points and very well put.

  8. I too thoroughly enjoyed this second Thor. Having not been familiar with the character in the beginning I was skeptical when the first film came out thinking… “Norse god/Superman guy, rainbow road, really?”, but I was impressed and I have to say that the Thor films have been some of my favorites of the comic movie explosion over the last 10+ years.

    Jeff, to your point about serials… yes, I agree and I love it. Not to mention Marvel is setting up a beast of an overarching (cash-cow) franchise. Looking it up after the movie, De Toro’s Collector is set to be a part of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and probably tied into the larger ‘Avengers’ plot with Thanos. I can only imagine what will be teased in ‘The Winter Soldier’. And ‘Agents of Shield’ has been tying into the series and has a planned tie in episode for ‘Thor 2′.

    I see at least 1 more Thor and Captain America to round a trilogy for each like Iron Man. Probably not another Hulk since that franchise got a little wonky, though I did like Rufalo’s Hulk the best. Two more ‘Avengers’ to round out that trilogy, whatever is planned with GotG, and by that time I would imagine most of your main characters would be ready to hang it up like RDJ has mentioned in regards to Iron Man. After that, I’d be happy to own that awesome box set, plus whatever else they may throw in between it all.

    As far as Hiddleston’s Loki, damn if they hit a winner, and glad they’re keeping him around rather than the traditional kill off the bad guy b/c it’s a movie.

    Now the elephant in the room…. DC. I’ll leave that rant to others, but as a brief side: does anyone else think that Jaime Alexander (Sif) would make a great Diana/Wonder Woman? (she almost looks the part in both Thor films) And if anyone wants to cry foul b/c of cross-superhero-ing… Chris Evans was Human Torch before becoming Cap.