Relationships in #Thor: The Dark World @CUnderkoffler @twhiddleston @chrishemsworth #MCU

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I was recently talking about the MCU on Facebook (surprised?), and Thor: The Dark World (“TTDW”) came up. My general position was painful to admit: TTDW was a bottom tier MCU film. Thor is my favorite MCU character, but this entry was a bit weak. My general sentiment, however, was that you’ll appreciate all of these movies more if you see them as episodes in a longer story arc. This led to two points being made, one by me and one by a Facebook friend, Chad.

The Thor-Loki Dynamic

Chad stated:

I -really- like the Thor/Loki dynamic in Dark World. It’s set-up in the first movie. You can’t have their relationship in Ragnarok (especially post-Avengers) without it.

I agreed to a large extent, first because Tom Hiddleston’s acting was in my opinion the best overall throughout the MCU, but second because of Chris Hemsworth, who did a great job as Thor. The problem is that this relationship was a secondary plotline. The main storyline brought the film down to the bottom tier of the MCU. That said, Chad’s observation was an important one that was in line with my other comments of my Facebook thread. Secondary plotlines become far more important when you see these movies as episodes in a longer story that’s never (to my knowledge) been done in cinema. Iron Man 2 was my least favorite MCU film, and I’ll still gladly watch it. It’s an episode in a decade-long story that I love. A weak episode (to me), but still part of the story.

I told Chad I’d re-watch the movie and focus on that relationship to see if I could grab anything new about it. On my latest viewing, I learned . . . very little. This isn’t to say I disagree with Chad – I absolutely agree – I just remembered everything about it, so there was nothing new. Although Thor: Ragnarök fully developed Thor’s dimwittedness from mythology, he showed some signs of it in the first two Thor movies, but only with respect to Loki, who was always able to fool him. In addition, their love-hate relationship ultimately favored love, made apparent in the opening act of Infinity War. That act wouldn’t have meant a thing without the context of the prior films, and that made Infinity War a better film than it otherwise would have been.

Frigga’s Death

An even better example of this effect was the death of Frigga. When I first saw TTDW, I thought her death was unnecessary and cheap. It appeared as a means to say, “Let’s have someone die to show that the stakes are high, but not someone important enough that the stakes are actually high.” In hindsight, my perspective was dead wrong. Like all the major MCU characters, Thor went on a path of self-improvement, but he hit a major stumbling block off-camera between Infinity War and Endgame: depression and PTSD. While having never slipped unto unworthiness, Frigga was the last push he needed to get back on track, and their interaction in Endgame wouldn’t have conveyed such meaning if she hadn’t died in TTDW. This is hardly novel in the MCU (or elsewhere in cinema). I’ve discussed this before with respect to Black Widow and Hawkeye. The MCU did a surprisingly good job of immersing me in the emotions of those relationships. TTDW is a good example of how they laid the foundation for one of those key moments.

Why Is It So Bad?

Honestly, I have no idea why I place the TTDW in the bottom tier of MCU movies. It should be great. It has well-defined villains, a well-defined primary antagonist, plenty of action, plenty of humor, plenty of human drama, and perhaps even more is at stake than in Infinity War (but at least as much). I can’t explain why it’s not one of the best; it simply isn’t.

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Multiple Timelines in the #MCU

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I’ve never liked plots with infinite realities. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Parallels, is an exception, but for the most part it’s not only unwieldy, but it also ruins its own efforts. As to being unwieldy, Star Trek generally did things right. They stuck to only two realities: The Prime Universe (where most of the stories take place) and the Mirror Universe (where the Federation is evil). Two realities are really easy to track for the viewer and allow the realities to be true opposites rather than meaningless shades of grey that wouldn’t produce much drama. As to ruining its own efforts, forgetting all its other faults, consider Terminator: Genysis. In that movie, we learn that there are an infinite number of realities in which humans are battling Skynet. We all presume that in some realities the machines win, and in others, the humans win. In the particular reality that we’re shown, (SPOILER ALERT!), the director chose to show us one in which the humans win, but that choice was arbitrary. I’m left thinking, “Yeah, but there are an infinite amount of people suffering in other realities, so this isn’t much of a happy ending, is it?”

This is why I’m (slightly) worried about the multiverse coming to the MCU. According to Dr. Strange, only 1 in 14,000,605 possible outcomes resulted in the defeat of Thanos. This is horrible math, but let’s say that means only 1 of each 14,000,605 universes enjoy that success (which poorly assumes that each outcome has the same chance of occurring). Bad math aside, that means the number of sad endings far exceeds the number happy ones. Just because the Russo brothers arbitrarily chose to show us one of the happy endings doesn’t mean we should walk away thinking everything is great. It isn’t. In the grand scale of things, it’s actually rather bad.

This entire train of thought originated with a tweet of mine, which I retweeted and added to after seeing the latest commercial for Wandavision:

While I expect Dr. Strange to deal with a lot more than two realities, they don’t have to do so going forward. Assuming that each of the teams from Endgame traveled to the same alternate reality, everything that we’ve seen/will see occur with both Loki and Vision could be explained by only two realities. That is, the other Thanos came from the same reality in which Loki escaped using the space stone, and since that Thanos was from 2014, died, and never returned to his reality, his reality’s Vision survived as well. The MCU could therefore focus on just those two realities. That’d be a lot easier to manage, and yet the MCU could still address infinite universes where, as with Parallels, that can actually work. I hope they generally stick to just the two, though of course I’ll watch their movies regardless.

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Black Widow Was the Perfect Choice #MCU

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My favorite movie from the MCU is Captain America: The Winter Soldier because it deals with an issue — security v. liberty — that is both topical and important. In the end, it comes down on the correct side of that debate — liberty — without being naive. As I was watching it yesterday, it evoked a thought about Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a., Black Widow and why she had to be the one to sacrifice herself in Endgame.

Best Friends

As I’ve opined on Facebook and Twitter, I’m not sure if Natasha and Clint Barton’s friendship is the best thing about the MCU, but it’s really close. You couldn’t build that relationship in a single film. It was first introduced in Avengers, and continued in Age of Ultron, Civil War, and Endgame. However, as you know, that wasn’t the only relationship of Natasha’s that was developed throughout the movies. Almost all of the original Avengers had a one-on-one relationship with her developed by the writers.


In Iron Man 2, she was paired with Tony Stark. Being very shallow, Tony probably needed more time than most to let her in, so introducing them to each other very early in the MCU was necessary. Even though Tony was, for lack of a better description, very anti-spy, he eventually found himself on the same side as Natasha in the Avengers’ civil war. So, when I think about there relationship, I can’t help but think it’s strong, or at least as strong as Tony can have. That’s the impression I get.

… And the Rest

From there, the relationships get even stronger, both professional and personal. In Winter Soldier, Black Widow was critical in helping Steve Rogers discover and take down Hyrda, and she also established a relationship with Sam Wilson, who was part of the same mission. Topping it off, Natasha got Steve back into “the game” by insisting he start dating, so it wasn’t merely professional; they were genuine friends. Next, in Age of Ultron, Bruce Banner and she discussed their romantic feelings for one another, which Banner threw away. That would later come back to haunt him in Endgame, where he must have felt some regret over that decision. While not developed, you knew there must be some professional respect between Natasha and Rhodey, and perhaps with Vision and Wanda Maximoff as well, as she and Steve were responsible for training them. Even across so many films, there was only so much time to develop these kinds of relationships, so they appropriately focused on the original Avengers, but those seeds were planted elsewhere.


When the Avengers were standing around mourning her loss, it felt real. Tony’s death affected the fans, but I don’t know that any other character could have evoked such a sense of genuine loss throughout the ensemble of characters. Each of those characters had a direct connection to her. The only one that was forced was her relationship with Thor because they never had a mission together, or even a significant moment. However, the other relationships within the group, as well as the fact that we’ve seen them work as part of the same team throughout those films, amplified the credulity of Thor’s grief, which Chris Hemsworth acted well. It’s a shame she didn’t have a funeral, but they had no place to put it.


I’ve read plenty of resistance to her sacrifice online, but I thought it was perfect for her to be the one. Natasha was in a very real sense the emotional glue that held the team together, which also explains her role as leader of the Avengers at the beginning of Endgame. She (and similarly Clint) had no superpowers but certainly held a very important place on the team. Losing her was emotionally devastating for the others on a personal level, and perhaps because she’s gone, it makes sense that the team has now split (even though that’s really about actor contracts). Then there’s the fact that the character isn’t dead to us. We’ll all be watching her solo movie later this year, so she’s not really gone until the actor doesn’t want to play the character anymore. Maybe she’ll get a funeral in the credits.

Her death meant something internally to the script. It had to be her.

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