There’s one film from last year that I keep finding myself reflecting on whenever I see other opinions on it. And that’s Thor: The Dark World. I just can’t let it go, even after contributing to a review on it last year. This morning I read Total Film’s review of it, because I was flicking through the January issue of the mag, and again found myself shaking my head. I know it’s not healthy to keep thinking about the things from the film that really didn’t sit well with me, but it’s like a scab I can’t stop itching. (From this point on, there will be spoilers for both Thor films and Iron Man 3.)
Let’s get one thing straight before I continue, I really enjoyed 2011’s Thor. I found it to be an interesting introduction of the character into the cinematic Marvelverse that Marvel had been busily putting together since Iron Man. The character of Thor went from outlandish dick to thoroughly humbled in a manner that was well scripted, acted and directed. The supporting cast, too, were interesting individuals and I liked Natalie Portman as Jane and Kat Dennings as Darcy – these two were around role model material.
I like it when I can watch a film that has female characters in it that I can feel a degree of identification with, and I found that in the presentation of Jane and Darcy in the first film. They were interested in things other then men and had jobs that weren’t traditional, i.e. working in physics, and could do things: solve problems and make stuff. On a whole the pair made for reasonably progressive representations of western women on screen and it was perfectly fine for Jane to fall in love with Thor, because the character had so much else going for her that her love of him wasn’t what defined her. And then Thor: The Dark World happened.
While Darcy remained her usual self in the sequel, Jane’s role in The Dark World troubled me, and is the main reason I can’t agree with most reviews of the film. In the course of the second Thor film, Jane went from being able to solve problems and make stuff, and also being in love with Thor, to being unable to solve problems and not really make stuff, but still in love with Thor. The transformation of the character from being one with agency and power to one without really annoyed me.
When Jane is infected with the Aether, it was comparatively worse than what happens to Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3 when she’s dosed with Extremis. Pepper becomes a partial damsel in distress, because if she survives the process, she could become an individual that’s not just smart, but able to kick ass. Jane on the other hand, once the Aether possesses her, can’t control the power within her and is going to die if it isn’t removed and she can’t treat herself. Sure both characters end-up with their respective afflictions removed by the end of their films, but Jane’s switch from capable to damsel is just too much.
At least Pepper grew as a character. Jane has been made to regress. Even though Jane spends time in the film sticking those pylons into the ground to stop the evil Dark Elves getting their wicked way, unlike the first film she’s not really the one who came up with the solution. Instead, Erik Selvig provides the real solution.
You could argue that allowing Jane the chance to use the Aether in a way that allowed her to help fight against the Dark Elves would have been too much like Iron Man 3, but due to mainstream films having too few female characters with measurable agency, it would have been fine. There was already the huge similarity in having the female leads be infected with something anyway.
As I argued in the review I wrote last year, the dramatic stakes of the film would have been better served had the Aether refused to leave Jane. If the Aether had stayed put then the Dark Elves would be even more strongly compelled to struggle against Asgard as a last desperate attempt to create meaning for their existence. And Thor would have really needed to try to pull something off. And Loki could still do Loki like stuff. To me though, the overall dramatic stakes of the film would have been better served if the Dark Elves hadn’t had got what they wanted.
This is why Thor: The Dark World didn’t impress me as much as the first film and why I cringe at other people’s reviews.