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Badger & Vole Review • THOR: The Dark World

(SHOWCASE #10, 11/15/2013)
VOLE: Hi, and welcome to this week's edition of our prose podcast, “Badger & Vole Review.” Today we’re talking about this week’s Number One top-grossing movie, THOR: The Dark World.
BADGER:  But first, before we begin, I need to issue a retraction and an apology. In last week’s review of Ender’s Game I incorrectly cited Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 Starship Troopers as an example of a truly lousy movie adaptation of a great SF novel. I’ve since learned from The Atlantic that I was wrong, and that this movie was in fact a brilliant satire and “a ruthlessly funny and keenly self-aware sendup of right-wing militarism.”
Huh. Imagine that. And here I thought the movie was just Verhoeven’s way of taking a great big dump all over Heinlein’s classic novel. Silly me.
VOLE: Thank goodness we have The Atlantic to show us how wrong you were about this.
BADGER: Indeed. And now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about Thor: The Dark World.
First things first: I understand now why they didn’t call this one Thor 2. It’s more like Thor 3, or at least Thor 2.5. If you haven’t seen both Thor and The Avengers, this one will make no sense.
VOLE: I don’t know about “no sense,” but those who haven’t seen the previous movies certainly won’t get the subtle subplots and—No, I can’t even type that with a straight face!
BADGER: Then again, people who haven’t seen those movies are not really the target market for this one, are they?
VOLE: No, they’re definitely not the target audience. But with the first movie available on instant view from Netflix, I can’t imagine there being too many people in our readership who have not seen the original.
BADGER: The good news is, assuming you’ve stayed current in the Marvel cinematic universe, this one is great fun. The characters you’ve come to know and love are back. The shout-outs, cameos, and inside jokes are a hoot. There’s a brief prologue, with a voice-over narration by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to infodump the additional background material you need to know in order to make sense of this story, and then—BAM! It’s off and running, and never slows down again.
I was really happy to see them bring a lot of minor characters out of the background this time. Heimdall (Idris Elba), Fandral (Zachary Levi), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) actually get important things to do for a change. Darcy (Kat Dennings) gets all the best lines. Frigga (Rene Russo) gets a great kick-ass fight scene, and Stellan Skarsgård is just a scream as Dr. Erik Selvig in full-on gonzo mad scientist mode.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals the show, of course.
VOLE: It was great the see all the supporting characters get to do something other than act as mere props for Thor. One thing I really liked was the background story featuring Frigga and her wayward adopted son, Loki. A lot was packed into just a few moments of screen time. And, of course, that was even more [SPOILER DELETED! IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT WAS, SEE THE MOVIE!] But, yeah, a lot of characters got their brief moment in the sun.
BADGER: Which is good, because the primary villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), is buried under so much makeup his face is unrecognizable and nearly immobile. Chris Hemsworth (Thor, as if you didn’t know) does his usual job of standing there and striking heroic poses, and not much else. Natalie Portman is... well, Natalie Portman. Luckily she spends most of this movie being the MacGuffin everyone else is chasing after, so she doesn't need to do or say much.
VOLE: Eccleston was so unrecognizable that no one in our group recognized him—and we’re all big fans of Doctor Who. As for Natalie Portman, well, she does a good job of being passive eye candy, and when she has to speak, she does fine. She doesn’t have nearly as much fun as Darcy, nor is she as interesting as Sif (who does a great job of being dangerous eye candy!), but Natalie handles her role well enough. I mean, how tough can it be to play the Norse equivalent of the One Ring?
BADGER: So what’s not to like about this movie? Very little, honestly. Malekith’s right-hand Evil Space Elf is named “Kurse,” which is a name so stupid it gave me pause every time I saw it in the subtitles. (The Evil Space Elves speak only Evil Space Elvish amongst themselves, and thus their dialog is subtitled, which is the only way you find out that the character’s name is spelled “Kurse” and that the mysterious space goo that’s infected Portman is called “aether,” and not as everyone in the movie pronounces it, “ether.”)
(And it’s not “venom,” either. I kept waiting for it to transform Portman into something interesting, as it did to Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 3.)
VOLE: If you’re saying there was something interesting in Spider-Man 3, you may no longer be qualified to review movies based on comic books. Then again, the Badger & Vole movie reviews wouldn’t be as interesting if there wasn’t a Badger, so I’ll just chalk the Spider-Man 3 bit up to your advanced age and let it go.
BADGER: Advanced age? I’m only two years older than you!
VOLE: Q. E. D.
BADGER: Let’s get back to Thor. For another minor point, the rest of the Evil Space Elves all wear masks and helmets that alternately made me think of either Cybermen or evil Teletubbies, depending on the camera angle and whether or not they were marching in unison. Again, that wasn’t a serious flaw so much as a petty distraction.
VOLE: Evil Teletubbies? I hadn’t made that connection, but it’s so obvious now that you’ve pointed it out! I’m going to have nightmares now and I blame you...and whoever the prop guy was who created the Evil Space Elven Teletubbie masks. The horror! The horror!
BADGER: My biggest complaint about this movie, though, came at the end. After all the plots within plots have been resolved, after all the tertiary and secondary menaces have been disposed of, Thor winds up where you knew he was headed all along, in a big knock-down drag-out worlds-in-the-balance fight with the boss monster...
And it’s another flippin’ amorphous cloud thingie! What is it with movie makers and amorphous cloud thingies? It didn’t work in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, it didn’t work in Green Lantern, and it didn’t work in Man of Steel. Maybe it’s therapeutic for the writers to relive their last bout of DT’s on-screen, and maybe it’s fun for the actors to pantomime struggling against a shapeless thing to be CGI’d in later, but for me, it’s about as interesting as watching a mime explore the interior of an invisible glass box.
VOLE: Much as I rail against amorphous cloud monsters as the big villain, at least the amorphous cloud monster in Thor is supposedly being controlled by Eccleston. I guess that makes it more of a remote-control amorphous cloud monster. So, yeah, not a lot better.
BADGER: And I agree. So, what’s your bottom line?
VOLE: If you liked the first movie, you’ll like this one. Get a big tub of popcorn, disengage your brain, and enjoy the spectacle of it all.
BADGER: Roger that.
VOLE: And that about wraps it up for this week. Join us next week, when we’ll be reviewing—
BADGER: I dunno. It’s too early to review The Hobbit. Maybe The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?
VOLE: Not a chance.



Badger was once an award-winning SF novelist, until his involvement with a legendary multimillion-dollar Hollywood bomb destroyed his writing career. Vole was once a million-copy-selling comic-book writer, and he still thinks the “lion” version of Voltron is pretty darn cool.

Today, they’re just two old guys who like to watch movies, eat popcorn, and kvetch. Oh boy, do they kvetch. And despite his mild-mannered appearance, Vole will always be known around here as the man who wrote the brilliantly funny but hopelessly unpublishable comic-book script, “Bruce Wayne’s and Lex Luthor’s Ex-Girlfriends Meet and Compare Notes,” which introduced the now legendary “Crotchless Batgirl Costume.”