By Arturo R. García
World-building is at the heart of Thor: The Dark World, both in front and behind the camera: with the character’s first film and inclusion in The Avengers out of the way, director Alan Parker and the film’s five credited screenwriters show viewers more of the workings of Asgardian culture, and the connection between Asgard and the rest of the Nine Realms enables the filmmakers to provide a world-jumping final battle between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston).
Which makes it particularly sad when this expansive view of the Thunder God’s world can’t find any time at all for one of his series’ more stalwart characters, Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun the Grim. Again.
SPOILERS under the cut
The movie begins with Thor closing out an Asgardian mission to quell the violence in Vanaheim, Hogun’s home. (The parallels between Asgardian and American foreign policy will be left for the viewers to ponder.)
But the problem is, unless you’re a longtime reader of Thor’s comic-book adventures, that fact won’t mean anything to you. And it’s not even Hogun who gets to relay that information in the film; it’s Thor who gives him personal leave to, presumably, be a part of the rebuilding process. And … that’s just about the last time we see him. Hogun? More like Ho-Gone, in 60 Seconds. The character is barely more visible on screen than he is in the film’s promotional posters.
(Yes, Hogun appears briefly during the final battle scene, but are you really going to count him gazing at a British fighter jet as doing something? Maybe we should thank Marvel for not including a scene in which a white British pilot emerges and teaches Hogun’s people all about modern marvels like Strictly Come Dancing.)
While reviewers have speculated that the film was reshuffled so as to give Loki (Tom Hiddleston) more screentime — thus giving Tumblr enough material to be as solvent as Social Security — the shelving of Hogun signals that his place in the Warriors Three has been taken, at least for now, by the Lady Sif.
Not that Jaimie Alexander is done many favors by this; the bulk of her increased screentime is devoted to having Sif throw jealous looks at Thor’s girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and carry out an awkward attempt at a clearly unrequited flirtation with Thor. Overall, The Dark World passes the Bechdel test by the most half-assed of methods in recent memory. Not only does Sif not get the chance to vocalize her emotions, but Frigga doesn’t even get to share her feelings about the Jane/Thor pairing, even if we can presume that she disagreed with Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
But even if Alexander’s not to blame for her characterization, it’s not a good look for the creative team to elevate a white woman character seemingly at the expense of a character of color, and one with a long-established relationship with Fandral (Zachary Levi) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). In the first Thor movie, we got to see the Three and Sif together, giving us at least one memorable image. Here, we get no acknowledgement of that friendship. Hogun’s not even involved in the post-credits scene involving The Collector.
Maybe Asano wasn’t available for the Dark World shoot, but Hogun’s absence exacerbates one consistent problem with the Avengers film series thus far: there’s very little visible diversity, and even less equity. The only major POC characters appear to be Heimdall (Idris Elba), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon set to appear in the next Captain America movie. No Latinos, no Asian-Americans, no South Asians — let alone women of color. And it’s anybody’s guess how many of the actors or characters of color in X-Men: Days of Future Past will be around after that film clears the decks for Mutants in the movies, so that can’t be counted as a step forward yet. Let’s not forget, this is the company that would rather give (white) fans a talking tree and raccoon than a Black Panther film.
The Dark World doesn’t make any strides toward fixing this problem. Heimdall does get a nice scene attacking a Dark Elf ship on his own, but otherwise, his biggest contribution is putting his job on the line for the sake of the Big Plan. Again. Meanwhile, the Kursed (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) gives his life for Malekith’s cause, and the two villains appeared to share a genuine friendship that went unexplored, because Loki, amirite?
All of which is especially sad, because this really is a good movie. Hemsworth’s Thor now deserves to be mentioned alongside Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Christian Bale’s Batman as one of the great superhero portrayals of the genre’s cinematic renaissance. And the creative team was at least thoughtful enough to bear in mind that, even if he is somewhat conflicted and undeniably clever, Loki is still one horned fedora away from being a Nice Guy of Asgard.*
But, to paraphrase the folks on The Bite podcast, critiquing the sh-t we enjoy is as important as critiquing the sh-t we hate. And this needs to be pointed out: why is it we can seemingly get nine realms’ worth of adventure in this film series, yet finding a storyline, or even a standout scene, for Hogun is impossible?
* After-credits comment:
In my own personal head-canon, it shouldn’t be very long before Loki realizes that his big scheme — assuming Odin’s identity and usurping the throne — is … well, see the picture above to get the proportions of his folly.
Because, sure, it’s good to be the King and such, but Asgard is coming off being nearly leveled by Malekith’s army, meaning that Loki now has to deal with the reconstruction process. And in a city this big, for a culture this technologically-advanced, that has to mean one thing — enough paperwork to require cutting down the World Tree. Not only do the palace and the shield generator need to be rebuilt, but, presumably, so do the roads, the shops, the statue of Thor’s grandfather, etc. The families left bereaved by the attack will need to be shown compassion, if not outright compensated for their loss. Surely this wouldn’t be the life for which he’s clamored for so long. So if people want a Loki movie so badly, why not start with an Asgardian version of Yes, Minister?