I don’t want to misspeak, but “Thor: The Dark World” might just be the comic-book-iest film that Marvel has produced yet, and that’s wonderful. And yet, to be expected. After all, between Iron Man, the Hulk, or Captain America, Thor, the hunky Norse god, is the only superhero that lives, quite literally, worlds apart from us. Sure, his heart belongs to Natalie Portman, on Earth, but his home is the golden, gleaming citadel of Asgard, galaxies away. Visually, such a level of world-building is always tricky, expecially, it seems, when a large budget permitting excess usage of CGI is involved, and Asgard is clearly not a matte painting (although that would have been nice). And thematically, how do you make the audience care without spending too much time doing so?
The Asgard in “Thor” fails on many of these points, true. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s much more exciting, and frightening indeed, to see such a fantastical city coming under attack than seeing New York City leveled, if only because maybe we can’t imagine it as clearly. Asgard could have easily been Marvel’s Minas Tirith, if that had been the wish of the filmmakers, and, similarly, when Asgard comes under attack, it could have easily held the same emotional significance as when the White City was besieged (in “The Lord of the Rings”). Although it was not to be, still, Asgard and its denizens are realized satisfactorily enough.
I particularly liked Heimdall, the all-seeing guardian of the Bifröst, an revolving portal to the planet of your choosing, attached to an impressively out-there rainbow bridge leading to Asgard. He’s played by Idris Elba, outfitted with a golden suit of armor—complete with a horned Viking helmet—and multi-colored eyes of unfathomable, almost doleful depths, which is not unusual considering that he stands gazing out at the myriad universes and the billions of lives arrayed in front of him all day. Although that’s literally all you know about him, you find yourself hoping Heimdall won’t be killed off, if only because he is a good reassurance that while onscreen, “Thor” is a comic-book movie that isn’t afraid to be a comic-book movie. Is Heimdall substantial to the plot? Not really. But if you’re making an offworld superhero adventure, why not indulge a little in the cool details of that faraway land, unbound by any expectations of realism?
Since it seems superhero movies are required to culminate in explosive, expensive world-destroying that involves an alien ship descending on Earth and wreaking havoc, however, here the finale involves the alignment of the planets over the Greenwich Observatory, in England and not in Asgard. It’s another noisy, who-can-get-back-up-the-fastest-after-being-thrown-fifty-feet battle, although here the film experiments with Thor and the bad guy tumbling though invisible, randomly-situated “portals” that suck them up mid-brawl onto different worlds and then spit them back out again. True, it makes things marginally more interesting, but all super-important, fate-of-the-universe matchups are getting stale. The superhero, out-matched but redoubtable still, needs to delay the destruction while his human friends scientifically fiddle with buttons and try not to get killed. Here in “Thor: The Dark World” it’s no different, and you wish that something other was at stake than our skyscrapers. Wouldn’t it be so much more exciting if Asgard instead recieved the attention it deserves?