Thor: The Dark World, in some ways, is actually a continuation of the origin story that was begun in the first film. After all, in the comics Thor was primarily an earthbound superhero/god despite his Asgardian heritage, whereas in the movies so far he has only come to Earth for limited periods and for specific reasons. The sequel finds the movie Thor coming to more closely resemble the comic book Thor.
Now, I should just get this out of the way and say that this movie isn’t nearly as good as the first one. It’s somewhere between Iron Man 2 and 3 in terms of quality and fun. In fact, I’d be satisfied if the rest of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can also manage to just not be bad (though I admit I do have high hopes for Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Marvel Studio’s Phase One, which began with Iron Man in 2008 and culminated with The Avengers in 2012, was a remarkable achievement and a high point in superhero films for both casual comic book fans and devoted geeks alike. It’s just really, really hard to pull off something that good and I don’t expect such from Phase 2 or 3.
Having said that, The Dark World is still a good time filled with predictably good action sequences, cool effects and, best of all, that delightful Marvel sense of humor. But it’s just not as focused or emotionally affecting as its predecessor. In fact, the first half is kind of boring in stretches. After a nice Fellowship of the Ring-esque prologue which establishes who our villain will be, we jump from realm to realm as Thor and his entourage (Sif, Volstagg et al.) attempt to re-establish peace and order in the Nine Realms of Norse mythology (perhaps in a calculated attempt to address some hardcore fans’ disappointment over the first film only showing three realms).
At the same time the movie shows us what’s been going on with Jane Foster back on Earth, explores the possible hints of romance between Thor and Sif, and follows up on Loki as big daddy Odin doles out a fitting punishment for the incorrigible god of mischief. It’s not that there’s too much going on here so much as The Dark World isn’t quite able to make the pieces of its first half cohere into a seamless whole the way Avengers was able to do with its even more numerous elements.
It’s only when the eagerly-anticipated team-up between Thor and Loki finally arrives that the movie hits its stride and we realize just how much the success of these Thor movies depends on the chemistry and banter between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. However, even here the character motivation, primarily Loki’s, that this team-up hinges on feels a bit forced and artificial. But by this point, if you can stop expecting greatness out of the movie and just let it be the lightweight diversion it wants to be, the second half becomes a fun and acceptable stop in the long-haul flight towards Avengers 2.
Oh, and just FYI: this one has two end-credit scenes so make sure you stick around until the very end.