Books offer quality, well-told stories. Music is a treat for your ears. Movies are, first and foremost, a visual medium. This continues a series focusing on that element of filmmaking: the art of cinematography. The following is a collection of my favorite shots from Thor: The Dark World. [contains spoilers]
The big screen success of Thor remains a surprise to me. A pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. How could a couple of movies directed by guys from the worlds of Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh/Thor) and television (Alan Taylor/The Dark World), starring Captain Kirk’s dad wearing bright red drapes while tossing around words like Bifrost, Jötunheim, and Mjolnir, reach the heights that were established by Robert Downey Jr.’s immensely entertaining Iron Man?
The answer, it turns out, was simply a matter of expert casting - Chris Hemsworth now owns the role of Thor, and Tom Hiddleston might be as favored by the fans as RDJ is - and a solid sense of humor. Every time the end credits roll on a Thor flick, a single word flashes in my mind:
Unfortunately, Thor: The Dark World continued Marvel’s poor efforts on the visual front. In the past, I was able to dismiss this observation with a “meh, what else would you expect from a popcorn flick about superheroes?” But then that stance was rendered null and void with a lone teaser from the DC camp. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel raised the cinematography bar higher than any entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had ever come close to touching.
Amidst all of The Dark World’s photographical mediocrity, however, a few gems could be found.
I like how this first shot is composed. It seems like a simple ‘point the camera at that guy over there and hit record,’ but even so it is a really effective reveal. The dust settling creates an especially nice fade from black.
The birds-eye-view seen on the right is an efficient way of establishing the setting and providing a sense of scale regarding this ship that the villain is riding into battle. Malekith’s vehicle of evil is plainly massive and imposing.
Eyes look incredible. They have appeared as the central focus of gifs in every single article in this ‘Cinematography of’ series. Space also looks incredible. Naturally, some attention, however brief and insubstantial, must be drawn to Heimdall’s space-eyes.
I failed to capture all of it in a gif that could be posted here, but I found this sequence to be a great bit of transition work. Thor travels by way of Bifrost, which we see seamlessly take the form of the Rainbow Bridge before the camera continues to pan up and reveal Asgard. From this perspective, the realm is nearly symmetrical, a feature that always looks nice. Also, mountains. Mountains are awesome, and their inclusion improves every photograph. Don’t like your yearbook picture? Edit some mountains into the background. Majesty.
I don’t know if it was in any way deliberate (or if I’m reading too far into it), but Thor seems to be positioned beneath Odin/Loki repeatedly throughout the scene sampled on the right. It could merely be a direct effect of Odin/Loki being physically above the hero in this scene, but I can also see it being a metaphorical ‘above’ as well. Loki is playing another one of his mind games, and at this point in the story he is very much beating Thor at said game. Secondarily, I also like the care taken to position Hemsworth and the camera so that the actor’s head would come to a rest in a circle on the far wall.
Here we have a second obligatory outer space shot. This one features fine use of light in the background to define the shape of the shot’s subject.
The adjacent clip is something I appreciate superficially, not so much technically. Jane Foster’s look of wonder at what she is witnessing, contrasted by Thor’s stoicism, was shared by me throughout that entire scene. The ritual following the Queen’s death was a sight to behold. “Awe-inspiring” is how I would describe the act of physically raising new stars into the night sky. And just look at that use of blue and orange.
As one might expect, I saw The Dark World in theaters last November. This image of Heimdall in his office is the one that stuck with me in the months between theatrical and home releases. Pardon the aside, but does that place have a name? Bifrost seems to be synonymous with the Rainbow Bridge, that much has been made clear, but I feel like a structure that fantastic should have a proper name. Something dignifying, like the Eiffel Tower, or the Batcave.
This final shot, in which Heimdall activates a bit of Asgard’s defenses, is appropriately dramatic. The camera movement and lighting cues complement an exquisite set design. However, I can’t help but be bothered by how the upper portion isn’t centered in frame like the floor and Heimdall are.
Was it fair to look at a run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster just one week after highlighting Emmanuel Lubezki’s Academy Award-winning cinematography in Gravity? Probably not... you have my apologies, Kramer Morgenthau. But I will concede that you made The Dark World about as visually stimulating as its screenplay enabled. Luckily, there are something like twelve new MCU films coming out in the next couple months, so I have no doubt that Thor: The Dark World and its so-so looks will be pushed firmly to the back of everyone’s mind before long.