I went to see Thor: The Dark World this week and, no surprise, I enjoyed it. It was just as fun and engaging as its predecessor, even if I missed Branagh’s distinctive direction.
But there was something interesting about this film’s use of conflict that seemed worthy of more comment.
It’s been widely noted that the film’s main villain, Malekith, didn’t have a lot of screen time. At first glance this seems an odd choice for an action movie, especially when they’d cast the ever-menacing Christopher Eccleston in the role. There’s talk of more Eccleston footage that wound up on the cutting room floor. Maybe that’s the case, maybe it’s just what people want to hear.
But while I wouldn’t have minded more Malekith, I thought this decision actually played to the film’s strengths, and highlighted where its real conflicts lie.
Internal vs external conflicts
Most of the conflict in a film like this is external to the characters. They aren’t grappling with their doubts and inner demons, though there’s usually a nod to that. The main things they’re grappling with are each other, in big knock-down fights or exchanges of pointed dialogue.
But there are levels of external. There are the threats and conflicts that rise against the group of protagonists, and these are those between them. The Dark World is mostly about the latter. It’s about the politics of Asgard, family feuds between gods, and to a lesser extent the conflicting ways that human society responds to the unfamiliar.
The battery and the machine
So if the film’s main theme and story isn’t about dark elves, where does Malekith fit in? Was he just a bolt-on to provide action set pieces?
Of course not. His presence applies the pressure needed to bring out those other conflicts. He’s the rising water that leaves people hunting for rescue, the sinking balloon from which someone must be thrown for the good of the rest.
The machinery of the story might be bickering Asgardians, but Malekith and his minions are the battery that powers that machine. And in that role, they get just the right amount of screen time.
If you’ve seen the film what did you think? Not enough Eccleston, or just enough? Was it all just about Tom Hiddleston? What were your highlights?