We won't know if Thor: The Dark World is a spectacular installment in Marvel's Phase Two lineup until the superhero sequel hits theaters - but one thing we do know, is that Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor will probably be making Thor 2 his only stop in the Marvel movie universe for the forseeable future. Taylor is taking over directorial duties on the sequel from Thor director Kenneth Branagh - who himself was one of Marvel's burned-out directors from the Phase One lineup, alongside Captain America helmer Joe Johnston and Iron Man director Jon Favreau.
Phase Two has introduced an unlikely lineup of replacements for the solo character sequels: Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) divided fans with his vision of Iron Man 3; Taylor excited fans by bringing a gritty Game of Thrones clout to Thor's world; and Community / Arrested Development directors Anthony and Joe Russo pretty much shocked everyone with their action-packed Captain America 2 trailer. But while there has been potential for more creative freedom in Phase Two - thanks to the box office success Marvel has enjoyed - it seems that some of the problems with Marvel moviemaking policy during Phase One are still rearing their head in Phase Two.
For background on the discussion: During Marvel Phase One we asked the question of whether serving the needs of a shared universe ultimately forced solo films to suffer by not allowing them enough room to breath and function on their own. After The Avengers hit theaters, suffice to say that most fans felt the sacrifices of solo film storytelling were worth the epic adventure of a team-up film; however, with that billion-dollar Avengers box office came a solidified blueprint for Marvel's billion-dollar brand.
Whereas DC has focused on darker, grittier, "realistic" character-centric stories, Marvel has conversely relied on fantasy action/adventure lightness to sell their superhero films. And even though Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has promised that the films in the Phase Two lineup will be taking more risks and blending in more genre tropes (sci-fi, political thrillers, buddy cop action-comedy, etc...), it seems - at least hearing it from Alan Taylor - that there are still some strict borders on what filmmakers can and can not do with Marvel movies.
Speaking at the London junket for Thor: The Dark World, Taylor said the following in response to a question about early praise for the sequel's improved comedy:
ALAN TAYLOR: Um, yeah, I’m, I’m so grateful to hear that that’s what’s coming back from the audience as they start to see the film for the first time. I think I went into it, and I thought my first task was to darken the world and deepen it and dirty it up a little bit. Um, I sort of felt like that was my mandate going in. And then as we started the process, I realized, “Oops. Um, if we’re gonna darken it, if we’re gonna deepen it...we’d better make darn sure that it’s balanced on the other side.” Because the, you know, the key to the Marvel universe and the Marvel language that I was being assaulted by while I was making this movie -‘cause “Avengers” came out while we were starting it, and “Iron Man 3” came out while we were finishing it - was you are screwed if you don’t also keep it funny and light on its feet at the same time. So it’s, it’s called “The Dark World,” and there’s certainly dark currents in it, um, but, yeah, the humor was critical.
On the one hand it is great to hear that things won't be TOO serious in Thor's next adventure, because for all the punchlines it may have missed (see: Kat Denning's character, Darcy) the first Thor does have its fair share of iconic laughs (see below) and one would hope that the writers of the sequel learned from some of the criticisms about the first film, and subsequently improved upon the humor.
However, reading between the lines and getting past the obvious point: Taylor's words hint at the frustration and chaos that go with trying to create a movie in the midst of string-theory universe that is constantly in flux in terms of storylines and character developments. We know that Thor 2 was hit with script revisions and even reshoots to add more Loki - and when we talked to him 1-on-1, Taylor (even with better media training than his Phase One counterparts) seemed to indicate that this was a one-time experiment for him.
As he said when I asked if he would be willing to jump back into the Marvel movie sandbox:
You mean start all over again? No. It was fun and quite an adventure, but… almost 2 years – too long away from family. But I’d be willing to – and eager to take on another big adventure just not go back and redo the same one. But you didn’t really mean remake Thor 2, did you? [Laughs]. One of the things that’s exciting and keeps us on the edge of our seats about Marvel is that they never announce what they’re going to do until the last minute. Will there be a Thor 3? I certainly hope so. They’ll probably wait until this one comes out before they let the world know. Thor will be back in Avengers 2, and I think he certainly deserves a Thor 3, but that’s up to the gods are Marvel to decide.
My experience with Marvel is that they are literally making it up as they go. They have a grand vision that we’ve been witnessing in Phase I, Phase II and Phase III, but literally, in the details, they make it up as they go – and I saw that up-close and personal when we were doing [Thor 2], when major elements were being worked out, really, in the making of the movie.
We certainly know from talking from the Thor 2 cast and Marvel Studios Head Kevin Feige that the future of the Marvel Movie Universe is indeed uncertain - there might not even be a Thor 3 for years to come (never?) if you and your friends don't turn out to $upport Thor 2. And even with new details seeming to reveal a definite storyline leading up to Avengers 3, even that roadmap could be altered at a moment's notice, if creative (or more importantly, economic) factors dictate that it should.
All of this summates to a very difficult balancing act for any director to maintain. Superhero films that are more disconnected or standalone have tended to be the most enjoyable (Iron Man, The Dark Knight Trilogy) - but as Iron Man 3 demonstrated, Marvel now faces a more pressing challenge in that "standalone" is a hard thing to achieve when fans of your universe notice things like the total evaporation of S.H.I.E.L.D. presence in the movies - even while the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. B-team is running around on our TV screens every week. That creates the sort of continuity questions that need answers, and the sort of headaches that creators like Taylor must endure while trying to carve out their own vision.
But until fans actually see Thor: The Dark World, there's no way to know if Alan Taylor's seeming departure is a great loss or not. Of course, if he is a godsend (see what I did there?) for the franchise, and it ends scoring big box office numbers, there's always that dump truck full of money that could lure even the most scorned director back to a troublesome franchise....
Thor: The Dark World will be in theaters on October 30th (UK) and November 8th (US).