'Thor: The Dark World': Explaining the ending (and what happens after the ending) -- SPOILERS

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So you’ve just seen Thor: The Dark World. Unless you’re extremely well-versed with comic book lore, you are probably a little bit confused. Marvel Studios has spent the last half-decade training you to stay through the credits. The post-credits scene of Iron Man featured Samuel L. Jackson and the first utterance of the word “Avengers.” The teaser trend continued through Marvel’s Phase One. Then Avengers changed the game: In addition to a playful post-credits shawarma scene, there was a mid-credits scene, with a franchise-imploding first peek at cosmic supervillain Thanos.

Now comes Thor: The Dark World, which might actually one-up Avengers for pure closing-sequence WTFery and post-credits kablammo. Let’s throw up a SPOILER WARNING and explain what we all saw, shall we? To make things easier, we’ll take this in stages: The Ending; The Mid-Credits Spinoff Tease; and the Post-Credits Sequel Tease.

The Ending
Dark World continues a thread taken from the very beginning of Thor 1: Thor’s presumptive ascendance to the throne of Asgard. When the sequel begins, a ready-to-retire Odin pretty much hands Thor the keys to the kingdom. He’s brought peace to the Nine Realms. He’s got a lovesick warrior woman who vibes Future Queen flashing him bedroom eyes. But Thor isn’t ready to settle down in Asgard. This is partially because he’s in love with renegade astrophysicist Jane Foster, and perhaps more generally because Thor is a man of action unprepared for court life. (Remember how well Ned Stark handled political life?)

The “final” scene of Dark World sees Thor abdicate the throne. He tells Odin that he’s not really fit to be King. In fact, he admits that he was never the right brother: The apparently-(but-c’mon-)deceased Loki was a better fit. Thor says some more nice words about Loki, and Odin says some nice words about Thor, and it’s a very nice moment between an emotionally distant father and his shaven-grizzly-bear son.

Then Thor walks out, and Odin transforms into Loki.

This twist was telegraphed earlier, when one of Odin’s guardsman returned from the Dark World and said “I found a body.” Then Odin looked at the guardsman and said “Loki.” The guardsman — a character we had never met before — made a face. Obviously, we don’t have footage of the face he made, but it looked a bit like this:

So Loki now sits astride the throne of Asgard. Certain questions come to mind:

Did he kill Odin? Unlikely, since it’s an unwritten rule of Hollywood that you never kill Anthony Hopkins offscreen. More likely Odin is imprisoned someplace elaborate, and the next Thor sequel will constitute a search for Odin.

Does this mean Asgard is doomed? Weirdly, no. Hiddleston’s Loki has always had clear-cut motivation. He wants to rule. Ideally, he wanted to rule Asgard — although in Avengers, he was ready to settle for boring ol’ Earth. Now, he’s achieved his oldest dream, although admittedly only by wearing another man’s body. Asgard will probably be okay, unless Loki develops some Caligula-worthy appetites while he’s ruler. More likely, the Realms around Asgard need to worry: Now that Loki’s ruling one kingdom, presumably he’ll want to add a few more to his collection. Temporary Theory: The Thor III plot finds Loki militarizing Asgard and plotting an attack on Earth.

Was Thor really the star of Thor: The Dark World? If you ignore the Dark Elf prologue, Loki is the first character to appear onscreen and the last character to appear onscreen. Over the course of the film, the protean trickster shifts motivations so frequently that everyone generally agrees to stop trusting him — and even so, he manages to pull off the quietest coup in the history of the cosmos. He’s like Danny Ocean mixed with Gollum. Temporary Theory: The next Thor movie will almost certainly have “Loki” in the subtitle. Let’s call it Thor: Rise of Loki.

The Mid-Credits Spinoff Tease
But now let’s get to the kookbat bananagrams scene, the one that almost certainly left the vast majority of moviegoers scratching their heads until they dented their scalp. Volstagg (the fat one) and Sif (the lady one) appeared in a room filled with exotic creatures that vaguely resembled Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. It feels several genres removed from the Tolkien-ish fantasy of Asgard. Seeing Sif and Volstagg interacting with a bright pink space-woman is sort of like seeing Jaime Lannister chat with Worf.

They have a quick conversation. The pink woman asks the Asgardians why they aren’t keeping “it” in their own vaults. Says Sif: “The Tesseract is already on Asgard. It would not be wise to keep two Infinity Stones so close together.” At this point, the pink lady introduces her master: Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector.

It’s Benicio Del Toro.

Dressed like David Bowie on an elephant-hunting expedition.

Genre-wise, we’ve advanced rapidly from episode of Star Trek” to “cover of a Michael Moorcock book.”

The Collector agrees to hold on to the object for the Asgardians. They hand him a tiny container — containing the Aether, the Big Bad Terrible Power Thing which was at the center of all the problems in Thor: The Dark World. The Collector agrees to hold onto it for them. I don’t know how to describe his accent, so I’ll just say it’s “noticeable.” As they walk away, the Collector stage-whispers: “One down. Five to go.”

Certain questions come to mind:

WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?  Don’t panic, friends! This is a teaser for next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the far-flung space adventure starring a cast of misfit galactic types who become embroiled in all kinds of cosmic shenanigans.

Who is the Collector? Short answer: He’s basically an eccentric rich guy who collects things, and some of those things are alive. Long answer: He’s a ridiculously powerful being who spends his time collecting curiosities from around the galaxy. You got a quick peek at his menagerie in the post-credits scene, which included some creatures that looked humanoid and some creatures that decidedly did not. In the original comic books, the Collector was one of several hugely powerful galactic beings known as the Elders of the Universe, characters introduced throughout the ’60s and ’70s who were all extremely powerful personifications of semi-existential notions. (Not coincidentally, this was roughly the same time period when several Marvel writers discovered LSD.)

What is an Infinity Stone? Fanboys know that this is a tip of the hat to Thanos — the Big Bad Purple Guy introduced in the Avengers mid-credits scene. In the comics, Thanos gathers together the six Infinity Gems, powerful objects which together form the Infinity Gauntlet, which gives you the power of a God. Basically, remember how Sauron needed all ten rings of power? Thanos only needs six Infinity Stones.

Here’s where things get tricky. In the comic, each of Infinity Gems had their own defined set of powers. The Time Gem let you manipulate time; the Space Gem let you move anywhere in space; the Mind Gem gave you telepathy; the Soul Gem let you sing like James Brown.

But in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Infinity Stones appear to function differently. Sif mentioned the “Tesseract,” which you’ll remember was the Big Bad Terrible Power Thing at the center of Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers: The Second Through Sixth Avengers. If we’re to understand this mid-credits scene, the Tesseract was actually just one of six Big Bad Terrible Power Things in the Marvel cosmos. The Aether is another one. There are four more out there.

So is the Collector trying to bring all the Infinity Stones together? Yes. And so, probably, is Thanos. Unless they are working together. Either way, this is fairly significant departure from the comics: The Collector briefly held an Infinity Gem in the comics, but he didn’t know what it was, and Thanos ultimately snagged it from him.

What does this mean for the future of the Marvel mega-franchise? We already knew that Guardians of the Galaxy would feature Thanos and Infinity-related concepts. The question is, just how many movies will it take to bring all the Infinity Stones together? Besides Guardians, Marvel doesn’t have any cosmic films slated for the next three years: Captain America 2 and Avengers 2 both appear to be earthbound, and late 2015’s Ant-Man wouldn’t appear to be a spacefaring property.

Assuming the Marvel gravy train keeps on rolling — and given Thor: The Dark World‘s large global grosses, there’s no reason to doubt it will — Phase 3 seems likely develop the saga of the Infinity Stones. Following the current schedule, Thor 3 could hit in early 2016; there’s also the possibility of Dr. Strange and Inhumans films, which could theoretically advance the Infinity Thread. I should note that, technically, any Marvel film which features a Big Bad Terrible Power Thing could theoretically advance the Infinity Thread.

What this means in the long-term is a bit hazy. Clearly, Marvel is going to take its time building up Thanos as the franchise Big Bad. The question is: Will he be the villain in Avengers 3? Or — getting even more ambitious — will Marvel devote Avengers 3 to another colorful Big Bad, and then unite all the divergent strands of their mult-franchise empire into one mega spinoff crossover? Let’s call it The Infinity Gauntlet. Or hell, let’s assume the gravy train becomes a fleet of gravy zeppelins: Infinity Gauntlet: Part One–Rise of Thanos comes Summer 2019, and Infinity Gauntlet: Part Two–Fall of Earth comes Christmas 2019.

So what’s the difference between the Aether and the Tesseract? The Tesseract can control minds, open portals to other dimensions, and blow people up good. The Aether can, er, bring the darkness from before our reality into our reality in a cloud of red stuff, and also it’s so powerful, you guys.

So why are the Asgardians giving a ridiculously powerful cosmic object to a guy who looks like the post-apocalyptic version of the eccentric millionaire who kidnaps people and hunts them for sport on his private island? You’re overthinking this.

But isn’t Loki in charge of Asgard now? Why would he willingly give up inconceivable cosmic power? Are we to understand that Loki — the guy who almost destroyed Earth — took a look at the Tesseract and the Aether and say, “Y’know, I only really need one of these bad boys”? Maybe he’s working with the Collector! Look, we’ll find out in Guardians of the Galaxy.

But you can’t keep on using “We’ll find out in the next movie” as an excuse! It’s like the whole Marvel franchise is writing checks that some theoretical sequel-spinoff in the far future will need to cash! Dammit, these movies are paying for an Iron Fist TV show! Can’t we just focus on the positives?

The Post-Credits Sequel Tease
The sequence that plays out after the end credits is a bit of a comedown, insofar as it doesn’t feature any Oscar winners dressed like Tilda Swinton at a Viking masquerade. But the post-credits scene does feature a fairly radical departure for the Marvel franchise. It’s not just a randomly tossed-off moment: Hell, it’s the nominal payoff for the film’s whole emotional arc.

We find Jane, all alone at the breakfast table, still waiting for Thor. Lightning outside announces his arrival. She runs outside, and they kiss, with the London skyline in the background, because London has a very generous tax incentive for film productions is for lovers. It’s a cool moment — Hemsworth and Portman make a weirdly good couple, in the two scenes per Thor movie when the plot slows down and they’re given a chance to have chemistry. But it’s weird to see this shuttled to the post-credits moment. You have to wonder if this was originally the “end” of the movie, and then the filmmakers decided that the Loki revelation was a bigger “wow” moment.

(Also, then the film cuts to a remote corner of London, where a horrific beast from the Ice Planet is chasing after some birds. So that thing is marauding through London now.)

So what does Thor’s arrival on Earth mean for Thor III? It’s strongly implied that the hero is going to shift his attention away from Asgard to his adopted planet. In the comic books, Thor spent several eras exclusively living on Earth. (Usually he lived in Manhattan, because most Marvel writers lived in New York and also because comic books don’t require tax incentives.) Will Avengers 2 and the theoretical Thor sequel find him adjusting to life on our planet? Perhaps the next film will see him dealing with Asgardian-based threats on Midgard: People like Bloodaxe or the Absorbing Man. Unfortunately, that means we’ll probably never get to see Movie Thor face off against Ego the Living Planet, even though the role would surely garner Daniel Day-Lewis his fourth Oscar.

Fellow filmgoers, what did you think of Thor‘s ending and all that followed? Thor fans, are you intrigue by the prospect of seeing Loki on the throne of Asgard? And what would you want to see in a third Thor movie? And for the rest of you: What did you think of that Guardians tease? Poll below!


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