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Thor: The Dark World

12 Years A Slave

November 14, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (**) PG-13

When I reviewed the original Thor some two and a half years ago, I’m pretty sure I made mention that I’ve always found that Marvel comics character to be the most uninteresting one in the Marvel universe. I’m sure some will disagree with me and that’s fine; you know who you are and where you stand on things like this. Besides, debating the merits of a comic book character is an unenviable task for anyone, least of all someone whose interest in comic books is marginal at best. It’s just that, even as a kid, I found it hard to wrestle up much interest in a super hero whose only power appeared to be the magical hammer bestowed upon him by his Norse God father.  The intervening years and three recent cinematic appearances of Thor haven’t done much to change any of that, if the truth were told. I was reminded of this while watching the character’s latest adventure Thor: The Dark World, which would aptly be described as mediocre at best.

The original Thor film was no great achievement, but I did enjoy the character’s appearance in The Avengers, possibly due to the fact that his screen time was limited.

Hemsworth & Hopkins in Thor: The Dark World

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back now and he’s once again the whole show here. The action picks up immediately after the events of The Avengers, with Thor’s father, Orin (Anthony Hopkins, once again) sentencing his son and Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, once again) to imprisonment with no parole. Thor, when he isn’t busy spilling blood in the name of peace, spends a lot of time longing for his squeeze from the first film, the scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, again). Jane has moved on and is now in the dating world, illustrated in an amusing scene where Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) makes a welcome appearance.

Jane, in spite of being upset that Thor never returned to earth like he said he would—men, you can’t trust ‘em—has also thrown herself into her work in the scientific field and has discovered a substance known as Aether. Turns out that the substance is sought by an old foe of Thor’s home planet, Asgard, known as Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith will stop at nothing to get his hands on the stuff and so Thor enlists his imprisoned brother to help him in his efforts to stop Malekith. This leads to a big, generic battle in London, which takes up most of the film’s final act. Along the way, there are also a couple of surprise deaths that I didn’t see coming and you probably won’t either, which serve to keep the film from being a total disappointment.

The best thing I can say about Thor: The Dark World is that it does have a nice sense of humor. There are some great chuckles scattered about, the best one revolving around Loki’s ability to change his identity. The rest of the film is pretty much what you would expect. Regardless, if you do see the film, stay all the way until the end for a pretty important scene. You’ll probably kick yourself if you don’t, and hear about it later.

12 Years a Slave (*** ½) R

I’ve often said that some of my most pleasurable movie-going experiences have come from films that have taken me into a world I knew nothing about before climbing on board for a particular cinematic journey. Director Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave is one of those films to be sure. I was certainly aware of the indignities that were afflicted upon African Americans during the darker chapters in our nation’s history. Still, I can’t say that I spent much time thinking what it might have been like for the multitudes of African Americans who hailed from the American North, had their freedom, and saw their lives changed in an instant when they were kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Having witnessed what McQueen has accomplished with his film, I’m pretty sure that isn’t going to be the case going forward for me.

The film is based on the true-life tale of Solomon Northup and adapted from Northup’s memoirs by director McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley.

The brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northrup

As the film opens, we are introduced to Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his comfortable family life as an accomplished musician in 1841 New York. Northup’s idyllic existence is shattered in an instant when he is approached by two men to accept an invitation to employ his musical skills in a traveling circus and finds himself, instead, shackled and bound upon regaining consciousness. The scene where Northup awakens to find himself in chains is, like so many other sequences in the film, a powerhouse moment. It’s rooted in a reality that most of us could only imagine. Seeing it unfold onscreen is an experience that’s more than a little uncomfortable, as a film like this should be.

And so it goes with 12 Years a Slave that as the narrative of Northup’s story unfolds, director McQueen refuses to soften things in terms of the brutality that Northup had to endure on the journey to regaining his freedom.

He first finds himself at the mercy of an enterprising slave trader (Paul Giamatti) who in turn sells Northup to a Baptist minister (Benedict Cumberbatch) with a sense of compassion. Northup does as well as he can under the circumstances until a particularly brutal foreman (Paul Dano) takes it upon himself to remind the slaves who the boss is, leading to Northup and the foreman butting heads. Northup is then sold to yet another owner (Michael Fassbender) whose methods of ownership prove to be Northup’s biggest challenge yet.

I’m sure a good number of you reading this know the ultimate outcome of Northup’s story but that doesn’t make the film any less credible or potent. We feel this man’s pain on every step of his journey and that’s only one of the reasons why the film is so affecting. When Northup finally does reach his destination, we weep with him at the irretrievable years he’s lost.  

It’s a powerful moment that brings to mind some of the final scenes from Schindler’s List, a film that 12 Years a Slave has been compared to. I would say that comparison is accurate in more ways than one.

Thor: The Dark World is playing at the Carmike in Hickory and other area theaters. 12 Years A Slave opens at the Carmike in Hickory on Friday, November 15.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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