Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

I got to see Thor: The Dark World in theaters last weekend, and, even now, nearly a week later, I’m still confounded. It was that crazy.

Thor 2 takes up a couple years after The Avengers. Now back in Asgard, Thor and Loki follow distinctly different paths. Loki faces his father’s wrath and is committed to prison, while his brother, along with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, journeys around the Nine Realms, bringing peace to the chaos caused by the destruction of the Bifrost. However, with the Dark Elf Malekith intent on returning the world to the darkness from which he came, Thor chooses to partner with his brother, though he doesn’t trust him. But will they be able to stop an indestructible mass of pure destruction that has taken over Jane Foster’s body before it kills them all?

Plot: As implied by its title, Thor: The Dark World follows a darker path than its predecessor. It begins with a prologue that tells of the Dark Elves, their leader, Malekith, and his plan to destroy the Nine Realms with the power of the Aether [pronounced Eether], a red mass that contains raw power and destruction. He intends to release it at the Convergence, when all Nine Realms line up and the borders between them become blurred. He is stopped by Thor’s grandfather, Bor. But thousands of years later, the worlds are converging again, and Malekith has reawakened. On Earth, Jane Foster has fallen into another dimension and been infected by the Aether, which will destroy her if it’s not removed. Thus, Thor must save both her and the Nine Realms from Malekith’s evil designs. In order to do this, he releases Loki from prison. What happens next? Well, it wouldn’t be very fair of me to tell you, now would it?

I found this story to be compelling and, at times, unexpected. The superhero genre, as a whole, can be somewhat predictable. While this can actually be comforting, as one review put it, I felt like Thor 2 carried enough plot twists to make it fresh as well. In order to save Asgard and the other realms from Malekith, Thor enlists Loki’s help, feeling deep misgivings in the process. Loki’s sarcasm was really brought out in this film, more so than in either of his other appearances. It made for some fantastic one-liners, but I think they took it just a tad too far. It makes a couple of scenes almost cheesy. Humor from other characters, especially Jane’s intern, Darcy, also lightened the film. In a good way, mostly. The climax of the film was dramatic and appropriately dangerous, though it, too, contained some humor. Oh, and a note for those of you who haven’t seen it: There is both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene. I missed the last one.

Characters: Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, Snow White and the Huntsman) returns as Thor, the mighty son of Odin and protector of Earth. Thor is torn by a great range of emotions in this film, though he handles them all in a very manly fashion. To me, it seemed like his dialogue was a little less Shakespearian than it used to be. Whether that was intentional, as a result of the time he’s spent on Earth, or not, I missed it. Not that it’s all gone, of course. He is Asgardian, after all. I just found that to be an interesting element. His performance was brilliant, though.

Loki, of course, was played by Tom Hiddleston (War Horse), the magnificent British actor whose biggest role to date has been as Loki. I believe it was Hiddleston who said that Loki is the fallen prince in Thor, the charming psychopath in The Avengers, and the anti-hero in Thor 2. That helped put some of my impressions into words, since I left the theater going, “Loki continues only to confound!” As I mentioned earlier, his sarcasm was a bit over the top, but his acting was absolutely incredible!

Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl, Black Swan) plays Jane Foster, Thor’s human love interest. While Odin advises Thor to forget her, Thor cannot. He rescues her when she is infected by the Aether and takes her to Asgard. Jane, though a scientist, is, in many ways, an innocent girl taken out of her element in this film. I thought she was shown to be a little more capable in Thor, but her actions are understandable in this film. Her devotion to science is clear, as is her love for Thor. I thought she could have been portrayed as a little less doe-eyed, but she was nonetheless an integral part of the story.

Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston. He captured the Dark Elf’s focus on destroying all light excellently and is a terrifying villain. As a side note, the other Dark Elves wear masks that make them seem faceless and horrifying. All in all, the villainy was exceptional. Rene Russo portrayed Thor and Loki’s mother, Frigga. I was pleased to see her gain a bigger, and incredibly poignant, role in this movie. I thought she was one of the best supporting characters in the whole story. Her stern and weary husband, Odin, was played by Anthony Hopkins, who captured a certain dislikable quality about the character. Jaimie Alexander acts as Sif, Zachary Levi as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, and Tadanobu Asano as Hogun. I was disappointed to see these four on screen for less time than I was expecting, though they play an important role.

Kat Dennings was even more snarky than she was in Thor as Darcy Lewis, Jane’s intern. I actually found her kind of annoying at first, but as she settled down I relaxed. She has her own intern in the loveable and quiet Ian (Jonathan Howard), who I thought was an awesome addition. Stellan Skarsgard was wonderful as Erik Selvig. I hadn’t really thought about how his experience under the power of Loki’s staff would have affected him, but the actor demonstrated his slight touch of insanity in remarkable, if both hilarious and disturbing, fashion.

Themes: At first glance, themes are somewhat difficult to pull out of this film. However, the threads of courage and sacrifice were both well-developed. Thor’s moral strength really came through this time around, as did Loki’s conflicted motives. Ultimately, I think courage was the strongest theme and was demonstrated by several characters.

Other Thoughts: Early in the film, a possible love triangle is developed between Thor, Jane, and Sif. I was disappointed to see it abruptly dropped. While it added an interesting element at first, I think it would have been better to just leave it out if they weren’t going to bring it to a head. I really loved the way Thor 2 incorporated Loki and Frigga’s tricks. It was done in an important and entertaining manner. Now, this movie is much more violent than Thor. Though I wasn’t overly fazed like I am with certain violence, there were still moments when I cringed. Thor snaps someone’s neck; someone else is stabbed rather violently with a sword. The language was moderate, limited to a few instances of the d-word and s—t, though I found the profanity to add little to the story. There are several dramatic emotional swings that had me crying at a couple of points.

All in all, I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World. Though, as I mentioned, I did leave a little overwhelmed. It’s not as straightforward as Thor. Perhaps it will make you think a little more. But if you like other Marvel movies, you will probably enjoy their latest installment.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lessons Learned From the Deleted Scenes in Thor

I watched Marvel’s Thor last night for only the second time. In case I haven’t made this clear yet, I LOVE Marvel movies. And I think a lot of writing tips can be gleaned from them. Most of them are well-crafted stories with brilliant characters and believable plots. Despite their larger-than-life scale, they resonate as real. After watching the movie last night, I viewed the Deleted Scenes. I’ve seen most of them before, probably off of Youtube or Pinterest. But I’ve never seen them all together like that, right on the heels of viewing the movie. Note: This post is rather full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie but are planning to, I would step away right now.

By seeing the deleted scenes from Thor, I learned some very valuable lessons about editing.

1. Just because a scene is funny doesn’t mean it adds to your story. Interactions between the Warriors Three, Lady Sif, and others, are hilarious. But after watching the movie, I realized that, had they kept the scenes they cut, it would have bogged the film down. This movie isn’t about Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. It’s about Thor. I adore humor and think it adds a very necessary element to a story. But unless you’re making a comedy, be careful that you don’t allow the funny parts to overwhelm the story goal.

2. Supporting characters should feel real, but you don’t have to delve deeply into their lives. Again, I take from the scenes involving Thor’s Asgardian friends. In the movie, it is obvious that Fandral is a charmer (and I just found out that Josh Dallas doesn’t play him in Thor 2 – *wails*), Volstagg is a prodigious eater, Hogun is a grim warrior, and Sif is a strong soldier, yet also a feminine lady, of Asgard. Many of the deleted scenes are extended looks at these four, but, in the end, they weren’t necessary. Their loyalty to Thor is the most important part of their scenes and that was captured in the movie. I know that I have a weakness for going too deeply into my supporting characters’ lives. In the last few chapters of Raiders’ Rise that I have written, I’ve introduced some new characters that I really like. However, I didn’t plan them in my outline, and I’m afraid that I’m starting to dwell overly long on them. So, that will be one of the hurdles I have to face in editing. Too many characters to focus on will just distract your readers.

3. Don’t add scenes just to show off your world to your readers. There is a very short deleted scene near the climax of Thor in which Erik Selvig is punctured by shrapnel from the Destroyer’s mayhem. Thor then finds a healing stone one of his friends must have brought from Asgard and uses it to heal the wound. While depicting a neat item, it does nothing positive for the story. If anything, it slows it down and feels contrived. Thus, I’m glad they removed it. Fantasy and sci-fi writers, especially, struggle with this, I think. We create such fascinating worlds, and it feels like a travesty not to share every aspect of those worlds with our readers. But they’re far less interested in the world than the story. So, carefully evaluate your scenes to make sure that you’re adding to the story, not just showing off.

4. Readers must understand your villain. My biggest problem with Thor is that Loki’s motives are not clear for most of the movie. I do think that Loki is one of the most incredible villains Marvel has ever created, at least on screen. I can’t speak for the comics. But his tragic fall from glory is somewhat unexplained here. After Odin falls into the Odin-sleep, Loki assumes the throne. But he seems to go abruptly from sad, confused, and slightly jealous to insanely power-hungry. Perhaps that was what the filmmakers wanted, but it’s the most aggravating part of the movie for me. At the end of the film, we finally understand why Loki acted as he did. But while suspense and mystery are handy tools, I think they were misused in this case. The one deleted scene that I truly think would of have bettered the story is an extended scene from when Loki and his mother, Frigga, are sitting by Odin while he sleeps and discussing the future. This scene was trimmed down quite a bit in the film, but in the original take, Frigga has Odin’s scepter brought to Loki as he leaves the chambers. He does this amazingly bewildered, quirky eyebrow-thing that shows the confusion that Loki still feels. Frigga, not Loki, decides that he will take his father’s place on the throne. And she says something that would have shed light on all of Loki’s actions thereafter – “Make your father proud.”

If they had kept that scene, Loki would have made so much more sense in the movie. He would still be a villain, but we would understand his motivation better. This reminds me that my villain is just as important as my heroine, and, even in a case such as Raiders’ Rise, when the villain’s viewpoint is never directly shown, I still have to demonstrate why he does what he does. Otherwise, my heroine’s achievements mean very little. Your villain must be just as real to your readers as your protagonist is; make sure you include that all-important scene that makes things click for us.

Feel free to tell me what you think about Thor and my conclusions. I’d love to hear your thoughts!