[img]http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSWXVn1dPr07vbcI0f0ladyjD7D_HVeTlWBvAFYrM35mxG3vVMMqZQMqcMg1Q[/img]Releasing/Participating Studio(s): Disney/Buena Vista/Marvel
Disc/Transfer Information: Region A; 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 (Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit; tested in 5.1 configuration)
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins
In the interest of saving time, below is my analysis of Thor: The Dark World upon returning from its theatrical exhibition – I will return to the thread with my audio and video analysis of the Blu-ray release once I view it tomorrow (Region A release day, Tuesday February 25).
Saw this opening night (last night, Friday, November 8 for U.S. theaters) upon anticipation being a fan of the first, of course, and I’d like to share my thoughts (and perhaps begin a discussion thread here for those who have seen it). Not nearly the absolute bomb Marvel/Paramount’s Iron Man 3 was, the sequel to Thor has all the elements that normally comprise a big budget follow up film: More action, enhanced effects, more powerful enemies for our hero to fight (in the case of comic adaptation sequels) and a somewhat more complex (not for its own good) plot. In the case of Thor: The Dark World, the notions and mythos from the first film are taken up a couple of notches; if you were confused about the “Nine Realms” and the “World’s Tree” and all that in the original, this one knocks you over the head with the science fiction and keeps going (and it seemingly is going to get even thicker in the sci fi/alien-esque territory if the teaser after the credits is any indication of what’s to come in a third film). Everyone from the first film – save for one of Thor’s “henchmen” that quips ”Complicated fellow, isn’t he…” in the original when the gatekeeper makes a sort of contradicting statement – returns for this one including Chris Hemsworth, of course, in the lead; Rene Russo as Thor’s mother; Tom Hiddleston as the campy and always-mischievous Loki; Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Thor’s father; Natalie Portman as the gorgeous Jane Foster; the yummy Jaimie Alexander as Sif and Stellan Skarsgard as the scientist Erik Selvig, who has truly gone off the reservation in this one. We get chilling performances from the bad guys here in the form of Christopher Eccleston, playing leader of the “Dark Elves” Malekith and one of his henchmen Algrim/Kurse, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Here’s the storyline, according to IMDb:
Thousands of years ago, a race of beings known as Dark Elves tried to send the universe into darkness by using a weapon known as the Aether. But warriors from Asgard stop them but their leader Malekith escapes to wait for another opportunity. The warriors find the Aether and since it can't be destroyed, they try to hide it. In the present day, Jane Foster awaits the return of Thor but it's been two years. He's trying to bring peace to the nine realms. Jane discovers an anomaly similar to the one that brought Thor to Earth. She goes to investigate and finds a wormhole and is sucked into it. Thor wishes to return to Earth but his father, Odin refuses to let him. Thor learns from Heimdall, the one who can see into all of the realms that Jane disappeared. Thor then returns to Earth just as Jane returns. But when some policemen try to arrest her, some kind of energy repulses them. Thor then brings her to Asgard to find out what happened to Earth.
The essential plot of Thor: The Dark World suggests that somehow Jane comes in contact with this “Aether” when exploring some vortex anomaly in London, sending her into another dimension to a world where this weapon was buried by Odin’s own father and his warriors centuries earlier in a battle with the Dark Elves. The power of the Aether somehow gets into Jane’s body and acts like a massive defense system, seriously attacking anyone who approaches her and attempts to examine the force within her (discovered when she’s taken before Odin himself on Asgard). But before we get into that, the film opens with Anthony Hopkins narrating, again, for us a story regarding the Dark Elves and how they attempted to send the entire universe into darkness with this Aether, their leader “Malekith” lying dormant in space within a strange-looking vessel waiting to escape to attempt another go at casting the world into a dark abyss. Odin’s own father, leading a band of powerful Asgard warriors, eventually beat the Dark Elves and their armies and the situation fast-forwards to present day where Thor, Sif and the other top Asgard fighters are battling to get the Nine Realms in order – it seems with the destruction of the Rainbow Bridge in the first film, the universe had been thrown into chaos and to make matters worse, there is an “alignment” of the universe approaching which will allow alien hostiles such as the Dark Elves, if awoken, to jump from realm to realm as easily as we consume Papa John’s pizza. Be that as it may, the opening battle sequence depicting Asgard’s warriors and Thor battling hordes of alien creatures on other realms – or a realm – was fascinating to watch in its scope, if a bit Dungeons and Dragons-esque in nature. Thor utilizes his hammer in clever ways, again delivering witty, daring threats and instigating commentary to the aliens he faces…until a massive, rock-like beast arrives, smashing everything in his path and wielding a giant spiked club. When “it” and Thor meet face to face, the creature hovering above the Asgard God of Thunder like he’s an ant in comparison, our hero merely says ”Hello.” and proceeds to utilize his hammer to smash the creature into a million pebble-like pieces…with one uppercut of a move. He then asks, ”Anyone else?”, looking around at the aliens that have worshipped this creature, but the armies rightfully throw down their weapons and surrender. It was a very cool kick-off moment for the film.
On Earth, Jane (Portman, looking as lovely as ever) is on a first date in London when the pain-in-her-side Darcy (Kat Dennings) runs up to their restaurant table with some new news. Another space anomaly is taking place, leading them to a group of children playing in an abandoned building structure of some kind who claim they have stumbled upon something extraordinary. When Jane witnesses one of the kids turning a gigantic cement truck upside down with merely a finger’s touch, we know something isn’t right – she, Darcy and Darcy’s assistant intern climb some steps to where other children are waiting to show them what else they’ve discovered, which turns out to be an invisible portal to another dimension of some kind. This is evidenced by objects such as cans, keys and shoes being dropped from one of the floors they’re on into the empty center of the abandoned structure where they completely disappear and then re-appear from above them. When some objects end up not returning, Jane does some further investigating around the building until she’s sucked into another dimension herself by a windstorm that develops. Now in the realm containing the Dark Elves’ Aether, she comes in contact with the red-colored “substance” which ends up taking over her body and getting inside her, and when she’s sent back through the invisible vortex to London where Darcy has been waiting for her for five hours, she begins to exhibit strange behaviors.
Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard), meanwhile, has become a raving loon since his encounter with Loki and his magic influence in New York during The Avengers (there’s a few references to the events of that film in this) and ends up on worldwide news when he strips down naked and runs through Stonehenge like a psychopathic madman, eyes widened by some kind of mental mania. He spends his days in a retirement home, hair unkempt and wearing outrageous outfits (later, he runs around in tidy whitties without any pants) babbling to the old people about what he “discovered” now; we get another cool cameo by Stan “The Man” Lee, of Marvel fame, in this scene as one of the old men at the home. Against his father’s wishes, Thor goes to Earth to seek out Jane (it’s never explained how the Rainbow Bridge is repaired after he destroyed it in the first film, which would have theoretically made contact with other realms impossible) and stumbles upon her in London, where he gets a first-hand look at the “new powers” within her from her contact with the other realm and the Aether. He takes her to Asgard to be examined by their medical staff only to be verbally lashed and put down by Odin himself, telling Thor she has no business being on their world so much as a “goat belongs at a banquet.” But that’s not the worst of it – Asgard’s “doctors” can’t figure out what this power and source is inside Jane, only that it has its own violent defense mechanism towards anyone attempting anything remotely aggressive against the girl. Thor keeps Jane on Asgard until they can figure out what they’re dealing with, which is explained to them in short order before they know it.
Loki (Hiddleston), in the midst of it all, has been transferred to a maximum security brig on Asgard for his crimes against Earth, still up to his mischievous plotting and still making obscure, random threats against his own adoptive family members. I have always said that Loki is way too dangerous to be kept alive – whether by SHIELD agents on Earth or by Asgardians – but everyone always has to find out the hard way in all these films; he is, after all, the God of Mischief. Once behind the futuristic, Star Trek-like brig security screen, Loki is left to rot for eternity for his crimes – until a rebellion by some other prisoners in the Asgardian “jail” leads to the escape of a hideous Dark Elves creature that breaks other aliens in the Asgardian collection out of their “cells.” While not immediately broken out of his cell by the creature leading the breakout, Loki is eventually confronted by Thor after the rampaging monster and the other escapees overrun Asgard’s security warriors and make off. Why does he go to Loki? It seems his half-brother knows some secrets about wizardry and the Dark Elves and their legacy that no one else does, and so Thor is again forced to trust the always-unstable Loki. This time, however, Loki is warned by everyone in Thor’s close warrior team that if he even thinks about betraying his brother again, they will kill him.
With Loki out of his cell and now supposedly helping Thor and Jane, the plot unwinds to expose a storyline that has Asgard defenseless against a newly-uprising Dark Elves attack…what woke them from their slumber (the ones that were left since the last battle with Asgard, that is)? The power of the Aether inside Jane, that’s been “calling” to them. The final frames of the film get a little over-the-top in execution and border on silly when Jane devises a method which allows everyone to “jump” from world to world, realm to realm, while the planets are in alignment – but nonetheless they’re exciting, as we witness Thor and Jane return to Earth to battle Malekith and the Dark Elves who have arrived to begin their project of throwing the universe into total darkness…beginning with Earth. Back on Asgard, a Star Wars-esque battle erupts between attacking Elves and the Asgardians, the shield around the Asgard kingdom eventually falling and leaving it open to attack and infiltration by the alien creatures. The Elves prove too strong and overwhelming for even the best of the Asgardian warriors and weaponry, but Thor attempts to stop the battle at the source – and the final fight sequence begins in London. Thor sees his hands full, even for a powerful “god” such as himself, what with battling the strong Malekith and his monstrous sidekick that broke out of the Asgard prison and who’s now seething to fight Thor. The sequence in which Thor engages this creature was the typical comic film adaptation sequel material – the creature proves way too strong and overpowering even for our hero to handle, smashing Thor this way and that and sending him flying through solid mountains like they’re warm butter. The monster even ends up smashing his iconic hammer far away from Thor’s reaches when the hero attempts to swing it at him, reminding me a little of Batman’s outmatched situation with Bane in Dark Knight Rises. I would have liked to have seen Thor eventually gain the upper hand in this fight and beat the creature himself after honing all his strength and power, but instead Loki comes in to save the day, ramming a dagger into the monster from behind (key things transpire here which I won’t give away, as well as on Asgard earlier in the film with Rene Russo’s character); it’s suggested that Loki, once out of his Asgard prisoner cuffs, would again betray Thor and double-cross him to help in the Elves’ taking over of the universe but apparently this isn’t the case.
Most annoying to me, after awhile, in this end sequence of the film was the way in which Jane Foster's "gravity field manipulating" device opens these portals to other realms when the planet alignment is taking place, sending Thor, the creatures and aliens he's battling, cars, other people and other objects flying from one realm to another; the whole thing got a bit much after awhile and sometimes I couldn't even tell what I was looking at or where they were. Once you see the film, you'll know what I'm referring to.
There’s also an underlying theme of some jealousy on the part of Jaimie Alexander’s character, who has a massive crush on Thor, and the Earth mortal he really loves, Jane; the trailers for the film suggested there were going to be “problems” between these two once Jane arrives on Asgard, but this is never really fleshed out. Further, the film concludes with what we think is Odin on the throne in the Asgard kingdom palace but who quickly transforms into Loki – making us wonder what is next with the God of Mischief and what he has done with Odin. As I always said, Loki is way too dangerous and misleading to be kept alive; I’m just personally getting a little tired of the whole Loki angle already…I hope he has nothing to do with the next Avengers or the third Thor film, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. As always, if you see this theatrically, don’t leave until halfway through the credits because there’s a scene that gives us a glimpse into where the next film might be going (or what may connect to the next Avengers project; hard to say). The sequence depicts Thor’s team members Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Sif (Alexander) arriving at some alien “collection laboratory” where they turn in the now-collected Aether so it’s kept safe…but the alien in charge that takes the Aether from them seems to have “other plans” for it once the two Asgardians leave. Look for a cameo appearance by a certain actor in this scene, too.
Thor: The Dark World was good and somewhat exciting in many places but I think the original was slightly better; it will definitely be a buy when the Blu-ray is released, though, and of course we can all discuss it in that thread when the time comes…but let me know if you’ve seen this yet and what you thought about it!
[img]http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/files/2013/11/Thor-The-Dark-World-Movie-2013-Review-Official-Trailer-Release-Date-1.jpg[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
First, I’d like to say from the onset that something felt totally cheap and “corner cut” with this Blu-ray release; I picked up the one-disc, 2D Blu-ray only version from Target and it came devoid of a slip case of any kind or special packaging which really let me down. The disc was housed in the typical Blu-ray case so prevalent when the format first launched – you know, the kinda cheap, flimsy, empty packaging containing just the disc and little else. I really feel like Disney dropped the ball here, and you get an overall sense as you watch the feature itself that ever since they took over the Marvel Studios operations, they have just “dumbed down” these comic adaptation releases – case in point: Warner puts out an awesome digibook package for Man of Steel, which was a pretty good film, complete with a stunning holographic overlay cover and intriguing booklet within, while Disney puts out one of the most highly anticipated blockbusters this side of Titanic, The Avengers, and gives it a rather cheap, thin slipcase? Where was the special love for this massively awaited film? I understand that Warner has the “dibs” on digibook-style releases, but come on…
Physical packaging disappointments aside, Thor: The Dark World didn’t really blow my skirt up in the audio and video departments – especially the audio presentation, which I’ll get to – and now I’m beginning to wonder if I just need an injection of new, updated gear in my system. While definitely clean and sharp in most places, the Blu-ray transfer of the Thor sequel, in Alan Taylor’s 2.40:1 widescreen scope, shared much of the same “somewhat soft and hazy” visuals as the original did on Blu. The prerequisite shots of Asgard and its stunning exterior elements looked as generally fantastic as they did on the first film’s disc from Paramount, but something was missing here that I can’t quite put my finger on…there was something that really kept this release from dipping into “extreme eye candy” territory.
Facial close ups of Anthony Hopkins, in particular, and the way in which he exhibits a much older looking Odin, were replete with eye-popping detail here, yet a good majority of the running time still showed images that were rather soft and DVD-like in my opinion; on the other hand, the transfer was incredibly clean without any signs of compression noise, grain, mosquito interference or twitching, remaining stable from beginning to end. There were moments of way too much black crush in certain sequences, including those depicting Thor and Loki attempting to fly the Dark Elves’ spacecraft, which made it difficult to see what was going on in the shadows at certain moments.
But beyond that somewhat nit-picking element, I didn’t sit there last night and view Thor: The Dark World exclaiming to my wife ”Wow! This is incredibly eye-popping! Look at that presentation! Look! Look how those visuals jump off the screen at cha! Do you see that?” Okay, maybe I’m going a bit overboard here…but in general, I got the feeling as if Disney “cheapened” this production somehow even though, of course, I can’t “prove” that.
[img]http://static2.businessinsider.com/image/5280237469bedd8328a2996d/the-13-best-and-worst-things-about-thor-the-dark-world.jpg[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
The audio was the bigger problem. Indeed, from the very beginning on my system, this 7.1 MA track (collapsed to 5.1 playback for my review) came off as being mastered extremely low with dialogue being difficult to catch until my master volume was cranked way up – even the trailers preceding the feature, in Dolby Digital, were ridiculously low without much wallop at all…utterly surprising, given that almost every Blu-ray I have viewed comes equipped with a bunch of trailers in lossy Dolby Digital that are incredibly loud and wall-shaking, so much so they make the feature presentation sound like a joke. Honestly. Here, both the trailers and the feature seemed to have a mastering issue that rendered them way too ineffective for any kind of involvement until a high master volume was reached.
I am beginning to suspect – and I will look into confirming this – that my AVR’s processor may be in need of a firmware update of some kind, and that perhaps it isn’t resolving some of these tracks at their correct bitrates and such. In the meantime, Thor: The Dark World’s English DTS-HD Master Audio track didn’t impress me in the least, save for the LFE section which packed quite a wallop surprisingly, coming across on my system as an extremely low volume, rather un-dynamic mix. Again, I got the overwhelming feeling something was “done” here by Disney to “cheapen” this production algorithm; it’s just difficult to explain, but when you’ve had some experience listening to these tracks over the years like I have, you begin to get a sense of certain elements that may be out of place. Of course, the problem may lie in my AVR’s processor, and I will continue looking into that (attempting to communicate with the infamous-for-its-bad-customer-service Onkyo).
The bass on this track was amazing in certain places – even though I had to crank my master volume way beyond what I normally listen at in order to get involved in this mix due to the aforementioned low mastering level observation, the LFE during certain key sequences shook and pounded our walls and didn’t actually cause my sub to bottom out like a handful of other Blu-ray and DVD tracks do at high volumes. Surround activity, even with my system “downmixing” the 7.1 track to 5.1, could have been a bit more aggressive, I thought, what with all the spacecrafts from Asgard and the Dark Elves whizzing about, but there were moments of startling surround movement from front to back, accompanying directional sequences.
The main issue with this mix was the sheer low mastering level – this really bothered me. While I have been noting this trend getting worse and worse ever since the release of Captain America on Blu-ray (which I accused of carrying yet another “weak,” soft DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix; confirmed last night when I pulled it off the shelf to watch after Thor: The Dark World) and steadily going up to more recent releases like World War Z, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, in this particular case the mastering level seemed even lower. I had to crank my master volume beyond a point I’m not really comfortable with just to get really immersed in the audio and get it “rocking;” the whole thing just came off as being “weak” to me, without much presence until a huge goosing of volume was injected into the situation and while that doesn’t necessarily mean an audio track is “bad” in any way – they all can’t be “overcooked” tracks like the DTS mix of War of the Worlds – I found it odd that the mix was so quiet until I really jacked up my volume…again, though, there may be something in the way my AVR is processing these “newer” DTS-HD MA tracks and I am going to have to look into it.
Then, there’s always the “7.1 tracks being dumbed down on a 5.1 system…” theory to consider again, as well, as we have discussed in here in the past…
For whatever reason, Thor: The Dark World wasn’t as engaging to view at home as it was in the theater, though even there I didn’t think it was an “awesome” comic book adaptation. Much of it delves too much into the Star Wars territory because it deals with events not on our world, for a good part of the run time and much of the CGI work involving the Dark Elves gets too much after awhile. Sometimes I felt like I was watching the CGI-coated remake of Clash of the Titans to be honest; Natalie Portman remains eye candy of the sweetest degree and Hemsworth is still awesome in the lead, while Hiddleston remains dedicated to wringing every last drop of entertainment out of his Loki rendition. The notion that these Dark Elves, a mysterious race from nearly before the cosmos were born, were defeated in ancient battle by Odin’s own father and the Asgard army and then somehow are “alerted” to this “Aether” being re-released because Portman’s character stumbled upon it when investigating an anomaly outside London where she was whisked away to the realm containing the powerful weapon, was a bit much but I suppose you just have to go with it. The Dark Elves wish to destroy Asgard and turn the entire universe into pure darkness with this weapon, but first they need to “take” it from Jane’s body – meanwhile, Thor enlists his brother for help after Asgard’s soldiers are pretty much all wiped out during a prison escape led by a Dark Elves monster and then a subsequent attack by the Elves themselves upon Asgard…and as I said, this all gets a bit too sci-fi-ey after awhile. But I can’t blame the team behind Thor: The Dark World because, in all fairness, the film was supposed to take the action and focus to Thor’s world while touching on the possibility of this alien race (the Elves) attacking Earth or using it to their ends.
Some of the bonus material I watched after the feature was interesting – there’s a cool but too brief look at the upcoming Captain America sequel (though the official trailer played during the last Super Bowl was much more exciting in general) plus a documentary called A Brother’s Journey which looks at the relationship between Thor and Loki while delving into the background of the comic a bit.
For those following the “Marvel Phase Progression” from Iron Man to The Incredible Hulk to Thor and to Captain America, watching and buying Thor: The Dark World makes logical sense; in the end, upon close scrutiny, however, it didn’t seem to pack quite the same wallop as some of the other comic adaptations that have come before it.
And nothing, still, has reached the plateau Sam Raimi set with his awesome Spider-Man 2.