THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD by the Numbers

     November 10, 2013


It’s easy enough to make a live-action movie about a billionaire, a scientist, or a soldier.  But to realize The Avengers, Marvel first needed to bring a god to the silver screen.  Thor has been a Marvel Comics mainstay for over five decades, but in 2011’s Thor, Marvel needed to prove that the fantasy mythology that worked in the comics would translate.  Thor proved a crucial stepping stone to the cultural dominance of The Avengers in 2012.  Now Thor is a standalone draw, with sequel Thor: The Dark World the proud owner of an $86 million opening weekend.

Hit the jump for Thor by the Numbers, a numbers-based feature that tracks how Marvel turned the comics god into a viable screen superhero.


Year: 2011
Runtime: 115 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Worldwide Gross: $449 million

Thor: The Dark World

Year: 2013
Runtime: 112 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Worldwide Gross: TBD

  • 4892 – Marvel comic issues in which Thor has appeared.  The character, based on the god of the same name from Norse mythology, first appeared in 1962.
  • thor_comic_con_2010_poster1991 – Year when Sam Raimi and Stan Lee pitched a Thor movie to Fox.  Raimi recalls, “It was thrilling to be with Stan Lee and hysterical the way that we had to explain who Thor was to executives, walking out of there going, ‘We didn’t get it!’  They think it’s gonna be some Hercules movie or something!”  The property was dormant for the next decade until Sony picked up the rights in 2004 and entered negotiations with David S. Goyer to write and direct.   Goyer moved on, and Paramount bought the rights from Sony in 2006 to make Thor a Marvel Studios production.  Marvel signed Matthew Vaughn to direct in 2007, but no movie came before his holding deal expired in 2008.  Marvel flirted with Guillermo del Toro, but ultimately landed on Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor for a Summer 2011 release.
  • 20 – Pounds Chris Hemsworth gained to play Thor.  Hemsworth says he had never bulked up before landing the role, “It wasn’t until Thor that I started lifting weights.”  Hemsworth won the part after a lengthy search: Charlie Hunnam, Tom Hiddleston, Alexander Skarsgard, Joel Kinnaman, and brother Liam Hemsworth all reportedly tested for the role.
  • 3 – Dimensions.  Thor was the first Marvel movie to be released in 3D.  Branagh and the studio opted for a post-production conversion rather than shooting in 3D.  Marvel executive Kevin Feige promised they would pay careful attention to the extra dimension every step of the way: “In being able to think in 3D from the start—and having every bit of our special effects rendered in true 3D—we have the opportunity to do it right.”
  • 4 – Months to build the Medina set and the streets of Asgard for the sequel.  It is the largest set ever built for a Marvel movie.  Production designer Charles Wood noted, “The Medina set is the most historic part of the film.  We’re saying it is nestled into the mountains of Asgard and has been around there for hundreds, if not thousands of years.”
  • thor-the-dark-world-21500 – Total costumes designed for the production.  There were 15 versions of Thor’s costume with 25 sets of armor and 30 capes.  There were also 30 different hammers on set.  Mjolnir is 10% bigger in Thor.
  • 9 – Realms in the Thor universe.  We have seen Asgard (home of Thor and the Asgardians), Midgard (Earth), Svartalfeheim (the titular “Dark World” and home of the Dark Elves), Jotunheim (home of the Frost Giants), and Vanaheim (home of the Asgardian sister race the Vanir).  That leaves Muspelheim (home of the Fire Demons), Alfheim (home of the Light Elves), Nilfleheim (home of the Frost Trolls), and Helheim (realm of the dead).
  • 7 – Minutes for which the Nine Realms align in The Dark World.  This rare occurrence, known as the Convergence, leaves the realms vulnerable to an attack by an evil being hellbent on destruction.  Like, say, Malekith the Dark Elf, who has been waiting in suspended animation since he was defeated by Odin’s father during the last Convergenece thousands of years ago.
  • 1 – Man who knows how to get out of Asgard without the Bifrost.  Given Loki’s actions in Thor and The Avengers, Marvel had to find a reason to spring the popular character out of a high-security jail cell to play a prominent part in the sequel story.  When Odin shuts down Thor’s access to the Bifrost, Thor needs Loki’s help to find an alternate portal to Svartalfeheim.

Thor built a strong foundation through a couple great pieces of casting.  Thor is such a tricky role to cast for live-action, but Hemsworth somehow has both the build and supernatural  charisma of a god.  Thor is the obvious heartthrob, yet Tom Hiddleston as Loki would likely win a poll of Sexiest Thor character.  Marvel feels the pressure to put Loki in any Thor or Avengers movie and spin the character off into a standalone Loki movie—that’s a great problem for a movie studio.

thor-2-the-dark-world-posterThe supporting roles are hit-or-miss.  Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba are overqualified for stately patriarch and stoic guardian, respectively.  On the other hand, the attempt to bring Jane Foster into the action—her profession changes from a nurse in the comics to a scientist in the movies—feels like a failed experiment at this point.  Jane is a fine damsel in distress, but not a compelling love interest.  No matter.   Alan Taylor has the tools to make an entertaining Thor movie as long as he has Hemsworth and Hiddleston.

By that measure, Taylor’s first feature is also his first success in a promising transition from television.  [Edit: It’s Taylor’s first feature in over a decade, and his first with a budget this size, but not his first feature.]  There’s plenty of exposition to lay down for a plot that might as well be nonsense.  You see, Thor must stop Malekith the Dark Elf before he can unleash the Aether as the nine realms align during the Convergence.  Still, the story chugs along in the first half, and Taylor and Co. find neat ways to present the material.  I couldn’t describe the true power of the Aether, but the smoky evil is a competent MacGuffin.  Taylor throws in a fun caper scene to show how Sif and the Warriors Three smuggle Thor, Loki, and Jane out of Asgard.  A funeral scene is genuinely touching, even beautiful, as it takes the viewer through the Asgardian memorial customs without dialogue.

The Dark World‘s greatest invention is the portals between realms.  The sequel takes the opportunity to explore the realms after Thor spent most of its time on Earth.  There is a battle on Vanaheim, a battle on Asgard, a battle in Svartalfeheim, all leading to the final battle back on Midgard.  Except that the portals allow the battle transfer between realms, which allows for a really inventive set piece.  The effect feels like they removed the walls between comic book panels.  (It reminded me of the chase through the subconscious in Being John Malkovich.)  Any superhero movie can destroy a CG city these days—I’ll always prefer the kind of inventive climax The Dark World offers.

I have seen a few critics say this is the worst of the Marvel Studios movies.  Not for me.  Diving headfirst into the multiverse, Thor: The Dark World found a fresh way to expand on the appeal of the first movie.

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