Wait! Maybe 'Thor: The Dark World' is Marvel's Villain Problem

We are eight days into our MCU rewatch, but we'd all be a little bit happier if we could skip the Thor sequel.

Thor: The Dark World Loki

In the wake of The Avengers, the realm I was most excited to return to was Asgard. What fresh Hel would Odin thrust upon Loki for his crimes committed upon Midgard? The only death toll ever associated with him was Black Widow’s reminder to Thor that his adopted brother killed 80 folks in the span of two days. But, looking at the delightful destruction caused during The Battle of New York, we can assume that number increased dramatically before the gang went for shawarma.

Let loose upon the planet Earth, the relish in which Tom Hiddleston took to the would-be conqueror was infectious and we all fell in love with the murderous little scamp. Loki would never be allowed to rip out an old man’s eyeball again. His charisma was just too damn infectious, and we would forgive the atrocities of this black sheep no matter how vile they got.

I was at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2013 when Hiddleston stepped out onto the Hall H stage to scream insults at the crowd in full character. For about thirty seconds he stuck to the role, but the cacophonous adulation from the crowd split a smile across his face. It was over in that moment. We would never see the villain again. We loved him too much, and Loki would remain the trickster versus the psychopath.

Thor The Dark World Loki Is A ScampAm I sad about that? Not really. I love our mischievous rapscallion too. I just feel sorry for the guy who had to follow in his footsteps.

Thor: The Dark World was charged with building the mythology around the Infinity Stones, repositioning Loki as a scalawag, and introducing a threat worthy of Mjolnir’s thunderclap. With the confidence of The Avengers’ box office dollars, they no longer needed to rely on the first film’s fish-out-of-water rom-com formula and could get a little crazy with Thor’s comic book roots. Enter The Dark Elves and all the awkward voice modulation that came with them.

The sequel had one of the rockiest productions since Iron Man 2. Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth were contractually locked into place but, as is often the case, a new director would need to be scouted. Natalie Portman made the case to Marvel that Patty Jenkins was the perfect fit for their aesthetic. She would eventually be removed from the project, and it was reported at the time that those pesky “creative differences” were to blame. In the wake of Wonder Woman’s phenomenal success, Jenkins elaborated earlier this year in an interview with Indiewire that her idea was for “Romeo-and-Juliet-esque space opera that hinged on the separation of Thor and Jane Foster.”

Thor The Dark World Hero Stance

Jenkins’ extraction from the film apparently left Portman furious, and it’s speculated that’s why she disappeared from the MCU after The Dark World. Game of Thrones journeyman Alan Taylor and his HBO cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau would eventually be brought on to shoot the film, and the result is a muddy looking adventure romp that fumbles the chemistry that made the original film compellingly adorable.

Despite the necessity for “dark magic” to explain Thor’s assembling with The Avengers, two years after its sacrificial destruction, the Bifrost has been rebuilt to its full rainbow colored glory. Earth is just a hop, skip, and a jump away, but Thor is too busy bringing peace to the Nine Realms. Loki has been placed in shackles and locked away in Odin’s basement. Jane is left to wonder why her bae didn’t drop by after savaging spacemen in New York, and is burying her misery in blind dating. She could do worse than a Chris O’Dowd cameo.

The pre-title introduction explains the origins of The Dark Elves in The Lord of the Rings-like fashion. “Long before the birth of light there was darkness, and from that darkness came the Dark Elves.” So yeah, they’re basically demons who dream of a time free of sunshine and Asgardian incursion. They waged war with Odin’s papa, King Bor, and disappeared a millennia ago after they lost the power of The Aether. That’s the indescribable McGuffin we should all fear cuz, you know, Thanos is coming.

Thor The Dark World MalekithStepping into the role of the big bad, Malekith, is Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston. He looks pretty rad. Dungeons & Dragons on goth steroids. There’s enough latex there to give him a funky brow and his albino wig is wound tightly sinister. The frustration occurs when he opens his mouth. Not only does his tongue have to mumble around Elvish, Taylor has decided to mask his actual voice even further with a synthetic garble. Why hire Eccleston if you’re going to drown out every inch of his personality?

With Jane Foster infected by The Aether, Thor must vanish her away to Asgard. For a hot minute, you think you’re going to see a reversal of the first film’s narrative. Sadly, no time for humor, we’ve got Infinity Stones to worry about. Malekith is too large a threat for any one god to handle and, since Odin’s not listening to reason as per usual, Thor must trust his untrustworthy brother to take down the villain and save his girlfriend.

Originally, Hiddleston was only supposed to be a bit part in The Dark World. Reshoots were requested and that Hall H reaction sealed the deal. A Thor film without Loki is no longer an option. Just take a look at the Marvel Studios banner for The First Ten Years. He’s one of the gang now, ready for action alongside Hawkeye and the Hulk. Malekith never stood a chance.

Marvel Studios The First Ten Years

The Dark World has some fun. The comedy of Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) in London bumbling about with Convergence wormholes earns a chuckle or two. As the Nine Realms align, permitting Malekith to unleash The Aether through a series of portals, Taylor shines in the action. The bit with Mjolinir attempting to track Thor while he teleports from one planet to the next is joyous, and I could easily have enjoyed another half hour of that particular interplay.

But Malektish is a joke, and it spawned an endless outcry from the fan community about how Marvel just doesn’t understand proper villainy. Honestly, the only two villains who are just bad to be bad are this dope and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. At least James Gunn gave Lee Pace a little religious zealotry to spur on his actions.

For the most part, the MCU pays lip service to bad guy motivation. Following in the footsteps of their greatest villain (until Killmonger reveals himself in Black Panther) proved to be a tremendous challenge for the Thor sequel and maybe they were always doomed to fail. Loki was given three films to strut, and he has at least two more coming. He’s a have-his-cake-and-eat-it-too character, playing good and evil when it suits him, and I guess I’ll suffer through a few lamebrain baddies if Hiddleston is forever allowed to peacock. The man deserved Odin’s throne.

Thor The Dark World The CollectorWhat Thor: The Dark World Contributes to the MCU:

  • The Marvel Villain Problem – See Above Rambling Rant.
  • The Infinity Stones – While we’ve already seen two of them in previous films (The Tesseract and Loki’s Glow Stick of Destiny), The Dark World is the first film to put a name to Thanos’ much sought after McGuffins. Odin describes them as “relics that predate the universe itself” and while they “often appear as stones, The Aether is fluid and ever-changing.” In the mid-credits tag of the film, The Collector is given The Aether for safekeeping as it’s not “wise to keep two Infinity Stones so close together” — the Tesseract having already been returned to Odin’s treasure room at the conclusion of The Avengers.
  • The Collector – Speak of the devil! The Collector, as played by Benicio del Toro, is a funky spaceman with bizarre hand gesticulations that rival Nicolas Cage.

Thor The Dark World Jane FosterWhat Thor: The Dark World Withholds From the MCU:

  • Jane Foster – As mentioned above, Natalie Portman peaces-out after the events of this film. She’s referenced briefly in Age of Ultron, and Thor: Ragnarok explains away their relationship as a mutual dumping. Will she return? Portman recently stated that she would not be opposed to coming back. I’m a fan of their chemistry, or at least as it was portrayed in the first film. I’d like to see them reconcile or, better yet, give Portman the hammer to wield as she does in the comic books.
  • Darcy – No Jane Foster means there’s no place for Kat Dennings to comic relief against. I wonder where she’s interning these days?
  • Frigga – Poor Rene Russo. She’s finally given a few moments to kick ass and she’s unceremoniously executed by Malekith’s henchman. Frigga is used as a motivating factor in bringing Thor and Loki together, and I certainly appreciate seeing Hiddleston’s mopey side, but it’s a bummer seeing one more female character dispatched from the MCU.
  • Sif – Jaime Alexander left Asgard for her primetime gig on Blindspot. Upgrade? Not for us. As is the case with all these actors, the MCU never really found a place for them in the first place. There are a few knowing glances between Alexander and Portman, but I’m so thankful the Thor films didn’t descend with these two women fighting over that Thunder God beefcake.

Thor The AccusedFurther Reading:

Thor: God of Thunder Volume 3: The Accused” by Jason Aaron, Nic Klein, and Ron Garney – If you came away from The Dark World disappointed but curious about Malekith and The Dark Elves then I suggest taking a dip into the middle of Jason Aaron’s epic run on the character. This Dirty Dozen-like adventure sees Thor partnering up with various heroes from the Nine Realms to clash against the Dark Elf. Malekith is also looking for a few allies to betray and he sets his eye upon Loki. This is the beginning of the saga that would eventually put Mjolnir in Jane Foster’s grasp. Imagine The Fellowship of the Ring but with a helluva lot more punching.

Thor The Dark World SifRead more from our series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

PHASE ONE

PHASE TWO

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.