Thor: The Dark World is a fun superhero movie. It’s certainly not the best Marvel movie to date, but it zips along at an enjoyable pace, with a good sense of humor, plenty of laughs, and a few genuine shock-worthy moments. It’s firmly in the Joss Whedon school of action, where no fight or chase scene can pass without quips a-plenty. Although some of those jokes fall flat, a lot of them work well, making the dance from action scene to action scene fun instead of just “oh look, another explosion.”
And, of course, Loki steals the show.
But then we come to the movie’s female characters. In some ways, Thor: The Dark World is a refreshing change from other superhero movies. It has four named, speaking female characters, all with distinct personalities. Genius physicist (and love interest) Jane works with her snarky intern Darcy on earth, while Thor is assisted in Asgard by stern (if stiffly acted and briefly appearing) warrior woman Sif, and his mother, Frigga, gets some pretty badass scenes as a regal queen, convincing trickster, and dab hand with a blade. The film also passes the Bechdel test at multiple points, as Jane has exchanges with all the other female characters about science and safety. It’s not deep musing about saving the world or complex sibling relationships, but it’s better than most superhero movies, and it deserves some credit for that.
Unfortunately, although Thor: The Dark World has a great cast of female characters, it fails miserably at utilizing them. Frigga gets some great scenes, but Sif barely appears, and Jane’s plotline quickly diminishes her scientific genius status and makes her a damsel in distress instead. It’s no wonder most viewers prefer her intern Darcy — while Darcy is making jokes and being awesome, Jane generally gets to make love-heart-eyes at Thor and lie around in a faint.
The potential for a great Jane plotline is there. At the start of the movie, Jane and Darcy are in London, investigating some anomalies that make the laws of physics fall apart. While Darcy has fun playing with portals, Jane goes off by herself to uncover more, and finds herself sucked in another hidden realm and faced with a rather mysterious, rather ancient and rather evil object.
And then it all falls apart. Jane rather sensibly does not touch the mysterious object, but its dark power possesses her anyway, and she faints. Thor comes to rescue her and whisks her away to Asgard to try and help her. Considering that Jane is now in the place of her dreams, we get a few amusing science fangirl exchanges, but very little exploration of her awe or sense of discovery while in Asgard. In fact, she spends most of the time hiding, in a faint, or sitting around waiting for other people to get things done. Admittedly, she’s a brainiac, not a trained fighter like most of the people around her, but she doesn’t get much chance to use that brain at moments when it matters, or even to speak much at all.
The dark-possessing-energy also explodes when anyone touches Jane in a threatening way, but if you think that means Jane will get to utilize that strength or play a part in any action scenes as something other than a damsel, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Jane’s possession means that she is literally reduced to an object in the plot, something to be protected, something to be carted around, and something that really doesn’t need to speak for itself.
To be fair, the movie’s big final battle, where physics is going haywire, requires both Thor’s strength and Jane’s brain. It’s something, but it’s not really enough to undo all the damsel-ing that Jane is reduced to in the bulk of the film.
Ultimately (and not unexpectedly), Thor: The Dark World is about Thor and Loki, and it’s an enjoyable (if fairly typical) superhero movie as a result. And hey, there are multiple female characters walking around, which is more than might be expected. But is it a feminist movie? No. Not by a long shot. And the missed potential is pretty sad to see.