2017 was an unparalleled year for the superhero genre. From Logan to Wonder Woman, from LEGO Batman to Thor: Ragnarok, the nerd community had endless reasons to get out to the theaters. Too bad none of these wonderful films were the most important of the year.
In fact, the most important superhero movie of 2017 wasn't even made in 2017. The film I'm talking about was actually released four years prior, in the fall of 2013, and it's called Thor: The Dark World... Let me explain.
See, many people look at the forgettable Thor sequel as the one of the worst films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our own ComicBook.com staff voted it as the very worst of the franchise just last week. Boasting the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of the MCU (66%), and earning a mere $206 million throughout its entire domestic box office run (15th of 19 MCU films), most are quick to write off The Dark World. Hell, even one of the film's stars, Christopher Eccleston, recently told The Guardian that his experience on the film was like "a gun in your mouth.
For all intents and purposes, Thor: The Dark World remains the biggest stain on Marvel Studios' otherwise spotless record. But now, four years later, it's easy to see how the failure of Dark World altered the future of multiple superhero franchises, and helped shape 2017 into the massive success it was.
See, without Thor: The Dark World, we most likely wouldn't have had the spectacular versions of Thor: Ragnarok or Wonder Woman that ended up releasing.
Not only was Thor: Rangarok a sequel to The Dark World, but it marked an almost complete rebranding of the character. For years, Thor was looked at as the more serious, less exciting franchise in the MCU. After just two movies, fans were already bored of the series, and so was star Chris Hemsworth.
As we've come to see today, through Ragnarok, Ghostbusters, and Vacation, Hemsworth is hilarious. He's got fantastic comedic timing, and it's nearly impossible for him not to put a smile one your face. Why wasn't Marvel utilizing that talent?
Like the fans, Hemsworth began to feel like the films were getting stale. These thoughts came to a head for the actor when he heard writer/director Kevin Smith talk about how boring the Thor movies were.
"Hearing someone like Smith, who represents the fanboy world, was such a kick in the ass to change gears," Hemsworth told Vanity Fair last year. "We sort of had nothing to lose. People didn't expect what we did with it this time around."
This "kick in the ass" is what Hemsworth and Marvel Studios used to change the tone of the franchise. Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) was hired to take the series in a drastic new direction, and we were treated to a completely new experience. Ragnarok was a brightly colored comedic thrill ride, and a total departure from the Thor that fans thought they knew. Not only did fans enjoy the new style, but the film was a massive success, both with critics (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and at the box office ($821M worldwide).
Not only did The Dark World falter after it was eventually released into theaters, but the film suffered some problems landing a director in the initial stages of development. This is where Wonder Woman comes into play.
Initially, when Marvel began working on Dark World, the studio had its eye set on director Patty Jenkins, intent on having her helm the sequel. However, Jenkins had a different story in mind for the film, and Marvel didn't want to budge on the adventure that was already in place. The studio still wanted Jenkins to take the film and tell their story.
This is the point where Patty Jenkins made a decision that affected her future as a filmmaker, but also the big-screen future of the most iconic heroine in all of comics.
Last summer, Jenkins spoke with IndieWire about her Thor departure, and said that she could've stayed on and just made the movie Marvel wanted. She didn't, though, because she felt a responsibility to the other women making movies across the industry.
“If I do it, and it’s what I think it’s gonna be, I can’t help the fact that it will represent women directors everywhere, and then that’s going to be bad for everybody," Jenkins explained. "As heartbreaking as it was, I was also like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do something I don’t believe in, in that big of a scale. I knew that that was going to set [not only] me back, but also women directors back."
The key there is that she didn't want to do something she didn't believe in. So Patty Jenkins waited until a superhero movie came along that she did believe in. One where she was able to tell the story she wanted to tell.
That movie was Wonder Woman, and it was a true phenomenon.
Wonder Woman proved that female-driven films had a place not only in the superhero genre, but as summer tentpoles for major studios. The Warner Bros. adventure was the third highest domestic box office earner of 2017, hauling in over $412M in the states, and it still boasts a 92% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The empowering Gal Gadot vehicle not only dominated the competition, but also crushed its predecessors, earning more money and praise than both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.
Both Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarok were groundbreaking in their own ways, overcoming the traditions of an entire genre to give fans something they'd been craving for years.37comments
Neither one of them would have happened without the beautiful failure that is Thor: The Dark World.
Hemsworth's Thor can be seen in Avengers: Infinity War, which is currently playing in theaters around the world. Meanwhile, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are gearing up for pre-production the Wonder Woman sequel, which is set to hit theaters on November 1, 2019.