If you aren’t into Thor, you might not know that Malekith isn’t necessarily at the top of the thunder god’s rogues gallery. Marvel is looking to change that with Thor: The Dark World and a bit of good timing that has Malekith front and center in its monthly Thor: God of Thunder comic book. In the film, the dark elf is played by Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who and G.I. Joe’s Destro to the geek crowd), but even in the marketing Loki’s getting center stage as the main baddie. Just who is Malekith and how might he figure in to the Thor sequel?
The character made his first appearance in 1984 (Thor #344), introduced by writer-artist Walt Simonson in a matter-of-fact way that explained that Malekith had long been a pain in Odin’s rear but had been away for a while, seemingly defeated. Malekith’s first conflict in the pages of Thor has the villain trying to wrest control of the Casket of Ancient Winters from its protectors to cover the world in ice and pave the way for Ragnarok (the Nordic apocalypse) at the hands of the giant fire demon Surtur. The Casket has been protected for centuries by the Willis family, and once Thor realizes Malekith’s plan, he helps fights alongside the human Roger Willis to prevent Malekith from paving the way for Surtur.
Loki gets involved by first aligning himself with Malekith, when Malekith promises the destruction of Asgard, but when Surtur is ultimately unleashed and the entire universe is at stake, Loki changes allegiances and joins the Asgardians to drive Surtur back. Some of Thor’s familiar cinematic supporting cast -- Sif, the Warriors Three, Odin -- play a role in trying to hold Ragnarok at bay, but many of the players that we’ve seen in the Dark World trailer do not. There’s certainly no Jane Foster or Dr. Selvig in the pages of the source material.
In fact, the trailers don’t show much that match Simonson’s classic story other than some big battle scenes between the heroes of Asgard and Malekith’s army of dark elves. There’s nothing in the trailers that visually hints at Surtur, though there are hushed lines of dialogue that talk about stakes that are much larger than in the first film. Truth be told, Malekith’s introductory story paints him as a bit of flunky to Surtur. He’s ruthless, yes, but even those actions are motivated by his desire to see the universe destroyed (and without a strong character-driven reason to see Ragnarok happen, Malekith is relegated to the lower tier of Thor baddies).
His role in the comics is more situational than character motivated, and if that carries over to the film, then I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Surtur show up in the film’s finale. Malekith simply becomes a means to an end. In an interview with ComicBookMovie.com, Eccleston notes that they are giving Malekith more of a backstory, with stronger motivation, and a name change for the object he’s trying to control, called the Aether in the film. At least some work is being done to let Malekith stand on his own as a villain.
One hint as to how close Thor: The Dark World might follow the “Surtur Saga” is through the casting of actor Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, The IT Crowd). At the time of this writing, O’Dowd’s role in the film is unknown. Some sites have speculated that he’s playing Dr. Donald Blake in a throwaway gag nod to Thor’s original comic book alter ego; some have said he’s merely a cameo, but if the movie follows the structure of the comic, then there’s certainly a part for a regular Joe like O’Dowd. That’d be Roger Willis - the reluctant protector of the Casket of Ancient Winters.
Simonson’s run is considered by many to be the greatest Thor run of all time (and from others, only second to the original work by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), and it makes sense that the screenwriters would look to Simonson for inspiration. You can run into trouble though when you start hoping that a film matches the movie in your own head. I’m openly wondering about the inclusion of Surtur and more, but I don’t want Thor: The Dark World to let me down simply because it ends up not being a direct adaptation of Simonson’s classic work. I’ll go in with a curious mind, but I’m not going to let my expectations get out of control with visions of fire giants and Ragnarok. I’ve got the comics for that stuff.
Thor: The Dark World, starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston, is an Alan Taylor film. It opens November 8, 2013. There are 68 days until release.
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