Once upon a time on ‘Thor: The Dark World’…

According to Celtic myths, Samhain, the first of November, marks the end of summer — when ghosts, spirits and fairies can haunt our world. People honored the dead by dressing up in costume, going door-to-door for food — a tradition memorialized in the modern Halloween festivities.

So perhaps it’s fitting that “Thor: The Dark World” was released in Samhain (the Irish word for November) — days after U.S. daylights savings time. The dead return to our world as the day grows shorter and darker.

The second of Marvel’s post-Avenger’s films (the first was this summer’s “Iron Man 3”), “Thor: The Dark World” chronicles the Convergence — a once in a blue moon phenomenon when nine planets overlap and objects can be seamlessly transported from one place to another.

Normally, that would be a magical wonder — one that astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) explains with science. But the legend of Thor’s made out of the stuff from myths and fairy tales.

No, not Disney’s “Tarzan” (although Jane and Thor did have a few Tarzan moments when he fell out of the sky in the first Thor movie).

This fairy tale is made of grimmer stuff — the kind where fairies stole you away like the Pied Piper.

The dark fairies in this story are from the Unseelie Court, led by dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith created a liquid weapon called Aether, which is supposed to bring darkness to the world.

While Asgardians stopped Malekith’s evil plot years ago, the Convergence would be the perfect opportunity for the dark elves to try again: unleashing darkness on all nine worlds, including Earth.

That’s the backdrop to this movie, and Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay’s layered like Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On one level, they’re dealing with the aftermath of “The Avenger’s” and the alien invasion of New York City; prisoner-of-war Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is brought back to his home planet in chains. His hammer-wielding older brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), fights to fix Loki’s mess.

On another level, the writers are threading the plot of the mediocre 2011 “Thor” film — which plays out like a typical Shakespearean rom-com. Jane, her snarky sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings) and their mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) return, studying anomalies in Earth’s gravity. Jane feels slighted by her crush Thor, who never contacted her after he abruptly left.

Luckily, the dark elves play matchmaker, and their nefarious plot reunite Jane and Thor.

“Thor: The Dark World” offers a much more dynamic plot-line than its predecessor. Unlike the first Thor movie, which divided its time evenly between the wild magical woods of Asgard and the rigid mundane cities of Earth, time spent in Earth’s brief.

But that doesn’t mean this fairy tale’s “once upon a time” gets a “happily ever after.” After all, the Marvel sagas continue with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in spring 2014 and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” in the summer of 2015.

Unfortunately for us, movie-goers, suffering through each superhero blockbuster until the release of Joss Whedon’s next highly anticipated (and highly lucrative) Avengers movie, most of the characters in this film, including our titular hammer-wielding muscleman, are as flat as the comic book paper they came from.

“If we shadows have offended/ Think but this, and all is mended.” — Puck from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The only exception is Loki (and Tom Hiddleston — who won best male newcomer and best villain for his reprising role). The honest trickster god captured our hearts in “Thor” and “The Avengers” and promises to be as mischievous as the prankster Puck.

Just remember (because Shakespeare taught us well): it’s all fun and games until somebody dies.

“Thor: The Dark World” is directed by Alan Taylor of “Game of Thrones” fame; the screenplay was written by Christopher Markus, Christopher Yost and Stephen McFeely, based on Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s story and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber’s Marvel comic books.


Falling in love with ‘Ender’s Game’

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” — Andrew “Ender” Wiggins from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Perhaps that’s what Gavin Hood was hoping for from voracious Ender’s Game consumers when he wrote and directed his film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s beloved fast-paced military sci-fi children’s novel.

He must have hoped Ender’s Game fans would have the same empathy, understanding and forgiveness as their boy hero, Andrew “Ender” Wiggins. Hood hoped they would understand his extensive creative liberties in the film — how he had to cram a 324-page book into an 114-minute Hollywood blockbuster, translating it for mass audiences (We can’t all be Peter Jackson, right?).

It’s a formidable task — complicated by the controversial and psychological themes of Card’s novel. And, as one can expect, the film doesn’t measure up.

Hood’s adaption opens with a familiar voice over (like the ones we’ve recently seen in Pacific Rim or After Earth or in half a dozen other sub-par post-apocalyptic sci-fi thrillers). This time, bug-like aliens called Formics attacked Earth half a century ago, killing 50 million people. In response, humans created the International Fleet, recruiting and training the world’s next child-Napoleans and Alexander the Greats.

These precocious and gifted children were destined to be the next commanders, tacticians and strategists: the future leaders in the impending alien space war. And I.F. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks 12-year-old Ender Wiggins’ (Asa Butterfield) humanity’s last hope.

Because the alien threat’s growing, Ender’s space training (which consists of games of laser freeze tag against opposing teams in no-gravity fly zones) is accelerated.

“The Colonel is changing the rules,” says one boy when Ender’s team is forced to face two opposing teams at the same time.

“We’re running out of time,” says Colonel Graff, as he studies maps and simulations.

But as fast as Ender’s training is going, Hood has even less time to make Card’s points, causing the film to feel rushed, chaotic and ultimately unsatisfying.

While Colonel Graff and Major Anderson’s (Viola Davis) training regimen for Ender includes keeping him isolated from the other children, Ender makes quick friends with Bean (Aramis Knight), another small and intelligent boy; Alai (Suraj Partha), a Muslim boy who vomited during their first flight to space; and Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), an older girl who teaches Ender the ropes. Meanwhile Graff’s paternal one-on-one sessions with Ender (probably to give Harrison Ford more screen time) belies the scenes when he cruelly elevates the boy, separating him from the other children.

These contradictory messages make the film confusing. And while those who understand Ender still love him, it’s hard to connect with a hero who’s seen bullied one minute and violently kicking another boy in the next.

It’s not Asa Butterfield’s fault that we cannot connect with him. He was charming as Hugo in Martin Scorsese’s film.

But Ender’s Game omits scenes crucial to understanding the boy’s character development. The end result is a botched though-provoking masterpiece.

The book portrays Ender as a pragmatic teacher, who understood it’s safer to be feared than loved. He treats his protegee Bean as Colonel Graff treated him.

But Ender also understood that his soldiers each had value; that he could delegate leadership and trust Bean, Alai and Petra to come through.

Card drew criticism because his hero was so young and perceptive that adults found it hard to believe. But it’s a lesson Hood should learn and remember because the movie-going public is intelligent.

Instead, Hood’s encumbered by making the film comprehensive for those not familiar with the text, stringing the movie together with catchy soundbites like, “Let the courage of Mazer Rackham [the renowned commander who defeated the Formics the first time] be your inspiration.” (Sound familiar, folks? “May the odds be ever in your favor,” is the catchphrase from Hunger Games, another popular book-turned-movie franchise.)

He also creates digestible expository ones like this: “The purpose of this war is to prevent all future wars.”

The phrase may ring true, but the film doesn’t delve deeper than the soundbite. And George Orwell said it better and more succinctly when he penned, “War is peace.”

It’s not Asa Butterfield, Viola Davis or Harrison Ford’s fault that they’re acting out caricatures of Card’s creation. Like Ender, they are chess pieces in Hood’s game. But unlike Card’s Ender Wiggins, Hood doesn’t know how to utilize his talent.

Hood’s from the Hollywood mindset: the one that doesn’t understand that people are smart and have attention spans longer than 114 minutes.

But as much as I want to hate Hood’s creation, I can’t. I can’t because I understand where Hood might be coming from — the pressures of mass marketing, time constraints and the complicated nature of his subject matter. And when I truly understand where Hood’s product is coming from, I love and appreciate Ender’s Game that much more.

“Ender’s Game” was written by Orson Scott Card in 1985, winning both the Nebula and Hugo Award for best novel. Card also wrote “Ender’s Shadow,” “Speaker for the Dead,” “Xenocide,” “Children of the Mind,” and many more following the events in “Ender’s Game.”

The film adaptation of “Ender’s Game” was directed by Gavin Hood and written by Hood and Orson Scott Card.