To say that Thor is unique in the Marvel Universe would be an understatement. Not only is he a god, but also his storylines often carry a strong resemblance to Shakespearean plays in both the content and structure.
I was reminded of this when I sat down to re-watch Marvel Studios’ Thor: The Dark World.
The movie begins with a classic Shakespearean offering—a prologue. Prologues help to quickly give background to the story about to unfold. For example, here are the first lines of Romeo and Juliet:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
Not only is this beautiful poetry, but it cuts to the heart of the story. Similarly, Thor: The Dark World begins with a prologue. In it, we learn that Odin’s father once battled the Dark Elf Malekith and sealed his dangerous weapon, the Aether, in a stone column. But alas, Malekith and his followers were able to escape before being caught in suspended animation.
Thor display in MARVEL: Universe of Super Heroes
ACT 1 - CONFLICT
As in Shakespeare, the first act sets up the conflict that will eventually come to pass.
At the top of the film, we find Thor restoring balance to the Nine Realms. The Bifrost that connects them has been restored, Loki is imprisoned for his crimes on earth, and things are generally looking good for our ancient god. That is, until the Asgardians discover a convergence is about to bring the Nine Realms into alignment, which will open portals between them. Probably not the best thing with such a tenuous peace across the realms.
Meanwhile on earth, Jane Foster accidentally teleports through one of these portals where she’s infected by the Aether Odin’s father locked away long ago.
Thor appears and takes Foster to Asgard to try and remove the Aether, but when they arrive, Odin warns that there is there no way to save her. Also, he warns, this means the return of Malekith.
ACT 2 - RISING ACTION
The rising action of a tale is a series of events that compels the characters into the climax. In Titus Andronicus, Titus kills Tamora’s son, which leads her to vow to destroy Titus and his family. In Thor: The Dark World it looks something like this:
- Malekith is awakened by the Aether within Jane and travels to Asgard to find her
- Thor’s mother, Frigga, tries to defend Jane from Malekith and is killed
- Desperate to stop the destruction of the woman he loves, Thor defies his father’s command to stay in Asgard and turns to Loki to guide him to a secret portal to Svartalfheim
Loki helmet and Thor original artwork
Each event leads to the next, leaving the characters with fewer and fewer alternatives to succeed, which leads us to . . .
ACT 3 - CLIMAX
Now we’ve come to the center of the storm. The climax is the tipping point. It’s the moment when a character’s fate has changed and there’s no going back. For example, once Hamlet kills Polonius he can no longer claim to be only a victim in the story unfolding around him. He’s chosen an action he can’t take back.
Thor’s choice to defy his father leaves him with only one course of action. He, Loki, and Jane go to Svartalfheim with Malekith in hot pursuit. Once there Loki tricks Malekith into extracting the Aether from Jane, but he’s mortally injured in the process.
Thor costume worn by Chris Hemsworth
While Malekith makes his escape, Thor promises to tell Odin of Loki’s sacrifice, thus clearing his name of the sins of his past.
ACT 4 - FALLING ACTION
Despite the name, the falling action is the part of the story where the protagonist and antagonist face off and a final victor is named. Returning to Hamlet, at the end of the story, Hamlet must face off against Polonius’s son Laertes in a final duel, which will determine the fate of the foes.
While Thor leads Malekith through portals and across the realms, Foster and her crew configure their equipment to transport the dark elf back to Svartalfheim where he is crushed by his own damaged ship. The Nine Realms are now safe and order can be restored.
Replica of an artist studio
ACT 5 - DENOUEMENT
Now we’ve come to the end of the road. The denouement ties together the threads of the story into a satisfying ending. All conflicts have been resolved and the world is once again at peace. In our final Shakespearean analogy, we’ll look at a happy ending from one of his comedies. At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the characters have been through an evening of miscommunication, mistaken identity, and magic but have finally been reunited with the person they love and are ready to marry.
After the final battle, Thor returns to Asgard to face his father and tell him of Loki’s selfless final act. Odin, impressed with Thor once again offers him the throne, but Thor has learned new truths about himself through the process and declines saying, “I’d rather be a good man than a great king.”
Thor: The Dark World draws on the rich history of storytelling weaving together a classic structure with the excitement of modern comics. And just think, they did it all without you even noticing!
See, kids, classics can be fun!
Brrr! Is it cold in here to you? It must be because Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Solider is up next.