Thor: The Dark World is Jane Foster’s movie. The film finds in Jane both narrative potential and recognition that Thor isn’t all that interesting by himself. And with Thor: Love and Thunder putting the hammer in her hand and the winged helm on her head, it’s difficult to ignore The Dark World because it’s now difficult to ignore Jane Foster. It’s the Natalie Portman show, and problems arise whenever or wherever the film forgets or ignores that.
Buoyed by its apparent prescience but burdened by a shoddy narrative, the movie is a complicated beast. It’s not good and it’s not abysmal. It exists in a space where quality is secondary to the discussion. And despite its mediocrity, the film has oft-overlooked talking points that actually change the experience entirely.
Criticisms leveled against the film hold merit, but what would happen if we viewed the film through a Jane-Foster-is-the-main-character lens? It’s a bold choice that transforms the film into a response to superheroes within the context of the MCU, where aliens and gods run rampant and regular Janes have to process what the fuck that means for their world. At the same time, it’s a mature approach for an action movie about Norse gods, and it works fairly well. It’s not explored as thoroughly as it could have been but there are glimpses of a good movie here.
Director Alan Taylor keeps the script tight but dense with clunky exposition, and the most interesting moments come when Jane is science-ing the fuck out of the Aether and fisting Malekith with unrivaled on-the-spot thinking. The film’s climax showcases Jane’s competence as a scientist and gives her power over and understanding of the cosmic force that possessed her. With Thor’s help, she’s able to teleport pieces of Malekith to his homeworld, Svartalfheim. Sounds like a raunchy sneeze/fart combo, I know.
Pre-Ragnarok Thor is an archetype of Herculean strength, a hammer-chucking warrior with thunder at his disposal and brute strength built into thickly-corded muscle. Beyond that, he’s not worth much. Not to knock Chris Hemsworth; the guy actually elevates the character through sheer charm and unwavering commitment to the role. He’s a fuckin’ delight. But Thor has never kept my attention (except for when he is squabbling, screaming, or fighting with Loki) and neither this film nor its overrated sequel changed that.
A story is only as interesting as its characters and its central conflict. Thor and Malekith are dull enough when they don’t share a screen but together they are unwatchable. Watching Thor stagger through a crimson storm toward Malekith didn’t excite me in the slightest, and that’s the end of the damn movie. But throw Jane (and, for some of the film, Loki) into the mix and you’ve got yourself a movie. If anyone is gonna beat the Aether, it’s gonna be Jane Foster, and the film recognizes the importance of that.
But the film is ultimately unfocused and mostly lifeless. It isn’t ballsy enough to commit itself fully to Jane’s story and it isn’t smart enough to make Thor’s arc worth anything. Where does that put it? How do we rank it? Well, we kinda can’t because, in many respects, it’s almost objectively bad. The case for The Dark World as a good movie is a tough case to make because, as a film, it’s narratively uneven, terribly written, and dull to an astounding degree. Put simply, it follows procedure and has a terrible time doing it.
Compounding the problem are Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins, who look far less pleased to be seen in this movie than any of the other performers ever do. You would think Hiddleston’s stunning performance in 2012’s The Avengers would help mitigate the bullshit on full display here, but alas, said shit still stinks. And Hopkins? He just sits in a chair, perfunctorily imparts wisdom, and barks at Loki for being a fuckhead. Super riveting stuff. Luckily, their roles feel smaller and less significant when Jane is around.
But given how often it attempts to make Jane the damsel in distress, it’s interesting that the movie turned out the way it did. It recognizes her potential but still wants to paint Thor as her savior and protector. The Dark World is just as confused as we are and it’s the one trying to tell us a story. We all know what that says about a movie, and it isn’t good.