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Thor: The Dark(er) World (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 10, 2013 11:23am | Post a Comment

If you'll recall, the first Thor film stirred up controversy by casting Idris Elba, a black man, as the character of Heimdall, the door man to Asgard -- not because the first black Asgardian is a door man, but only because Norse Gods are Aryan and thus presumed to be white. (I doubt it would've been the white power advocates objecting had Jarvis been made a black man, rather than A.I., in The Avengers and Iron Man.) The sequel, The Dark World, defiantly expands his role, having a lot more people, gods and various mythical beings enter Asgard, thereby keeping Helmdall busier than if he worked for a hotel in a 30s screwball comedy. The filmmakers also give the racist complainers even more whatfor by casting a lot of the Asgardian warriors as black (and one Japanese). See all those black dudes punching something or other in the background, or kneeling to the greatest of all Asgardians, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth, a white man), after he proves his mettle in battle? I can imagine the decision made at the meeting: "this will really fuck with those white power assholes!" This is post-racial Hollywood, so I guess it doesn't matter that the servant is still black, just like Rochester, and the master who, like Mr. Benny, makes all the major decisions, is still blue-eyed and white. Perhaps simply applying black faces onto white mythology isn't the best approach to solving problems in representation.

The Dark World does actually bring up an interesting problem about representation in fantasy on film (sigh, DCP). One of the main evil dark elves, Akrim (the second in command), is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a black man. Keeping with the film's racial sensitivity, he's the first major character to sacrifice himself for the cause. He doesn't exactly die, but instead transforms into a giant mutant elf, Kurse, with the actor subsequently completely covered in prosthetics and, I suspect, often rendered digitally (at least, in the battles). My question is does he still count as black representation? Too bad for the actual actor, but the answer seems to be 'yes,' since (1) in the fictional narrative of a novel, simply assigning a character as black (like Rue in Hunger Games) is enough to make them black, (2) a black character in a cartoon is an example of black representation (Green Lantern in Justice League), so why not this digital creation who clearly starts off as a black man? and, relatedly, (3) if the digital creation Gollum continues to be white, because of who he was as Sméagol, a white hobbit, the same rationale applies to the black elf becoming a mutant. (Not that any of this was probably thought about during pre-production.) 

As for the story, it was created with about as much attention as the solution to racial politics. Take a crucial plot point involving Jane (the human girlfriend to the white god; played by Natalie Portman, a white woman) who for some reason is brought into an alternate dimension where she accidentally discovers the aether, a magical force that was once used by the dark elves in an attempt to destroy all the universes ... or, as King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, white man) puts it, turn them dark.  (Should I point out the parallel with what's being done to Asgard on a metafictional level? I guess I just did.) The aether parasitically invades Jane (with effects borrowed from 1984's Dreamscape) who is then taken to Asgard for some mystical medical attention. I note that this aetheric possession is enough to re-activate the dark elves from their millennia-long slumber, target who has the aether in her body, and bring them all the interdimensional way to Asgard, into the next room over from where Jane is hiding. Yet, the main dark elf, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, unsurprisingly another white man), is fooled by the (white) queen of Asgard, Frigga (Rene Russo), into thinking an image of Jane without the aether is the real thing with the aether. The rest of the film only gets more nonsensical. The film goes through the motions until the dark elves have less success at darkening the multiverse than the filmmakers have with Asgard. Lots of shit blows up until Thor reasserts the status quo, or the status quo reasserts Thor. Maybe a 9 out of 10 for irony lovers, but a 2 for the ideo-morally and/or narratively concerned.

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Poster by Doaly.
Movies mentioned available on blu-ray: Iron ManDreamscapeThor & The Avengers.

Relevant Tags

Blackness (5), Racism (10), Thor: The Dark World (1), Ideology (7)