There's a very short scene amid the chaos of the London-set climax of the movie Thor: The Dark World - as with most if not ALL Marvel movies a Big-Gigantic-Holy-S***-Things-Are-Getting-MESSED-UP last like ten-fifteen-half-hour - where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has to get somewhere fast. Normally, he could use his trusty hammer to get him to fly around (why he can't get around up in the sky without the hammer is just one of those Norse-God-Marvel things I guess), and so he has to get on a subway to take him across part of Greenwich to stop Christopher Eccleston's bad alien from domination.
He gets on this subway, and asks a woman if this is the right subway. We haven't seen this woman before, and won't after, and she awkwardly says this is the way to go to wherever it is (does it matter really where, point is, it's A to B correct). Thor gets on, and for a moment she stands next to this guy, in a get-up that is literally out of this world, and comes *this close* to just feeling up his abs. But she shows restraint. Sometimes it's difficult when a tall intergalactic Demi-God is right there.
It's one of those wonderfully absurd moments that can be found throughout the recent Marvel movies, particularly those of the Avengers Assemble(TM) set, where it's acknowledged that, hey, this is a fantasy, this is very comic-book-y, and just because people now know for sure that aliens exist (thanks other adopted king, Loki) it doesn't mean it makes it any less freaking odd when such a character gets on. People even take notice just before Thor and the big baddie, Malekeith (sic), do their destructo-holy-crap-ness all over merry ol' London that, 'Hey, it's Thor!'
I wish at times there was a big more of that, however then one might be into overkill. On the other hand, it might help distract from some of the problems with this particular film, where it's clear, or at least likely, where certain uncredited writers (::cough:: Joss Whedon ::cough::) stepped up on 'punch-ups' to make certain scenes funnier - or anything between Thor and his brother Loki - and where it just kinda falls flat.
It's not exactly any one particular fault, though perhaps it could be on Alan Taylor, the director, and certainly not an incapable one by any means (among his MANY TV credits Game of Thrones was likely the one that got him the gig, just as Kenneth Branaugh with his medieval Shakespeare epics did for him). The first half if just all set up - there is a substance called "Ether", which is this big black inky-misty-thing (prime example of a MacGuffin), and it's this thing that has been trapped away for a very long time, along with villain Malekeith (Eccleston), who has used it before to try and bring darkness to the space-realms. But when sneaky little Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) goes investigating for ways to try and connect with Thor again, who is back on Asgard with imprisoned Loki, she somehow stumbles upon two things: 1) weird space portals not unlike the Portal video-game (look it up, it's worth it), and 2) the Ether, which something overcomes her.
A chain of events happen, and pretty soon Eccleston's black-eyed, pale-skinned baddie, looking not too unlike any given Star Trek villain (seriously, is he a Klingon, or a Romulan, or a BORG or one of those? I may lose geek cred for this guy being just a complete unknown as a character, perhaps Thor fans can explain in the comments), is out for revenge against Asgard, particularly Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins, going capably between soft-spoken a-hole and loud one with some degree of skill), and Thor has to restore balance and so on. This is the first half, and while it's never quite boring, a lot of it just seems/feels like going through the motions.
None of the actors are exactly bad either... okay, Kat Dennings is lame. And not funny. And Stellan Sarsgaard, the great actor from Breaking the Waves once upon a time, is reduced to running around naked at Stonehenge (but hey, why not as the perennial Mad Scientist that previously had Loki in his head in the Avengers?) But otherwise it feels all pretty rote, and also a shame to see Eccleston, an extremely talented and engaging actors with a wide range - from Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later to a wonderful one-season stint as the Doctor on Doctor Who - has a character without much personality, nothing in the way of humor or interesting dialog, just a cypher of typical comic-book rage, with half or more of the dialog in an alien tongue anyway. The talent is all here, but the script doesn't always reach up to rise to their potential so much as keep the gears of the basic story moving.
So why does the film work? Simple: Chris Hemsworth IS always engaging as Thor, even when he has to say some pretty basic, boiler-plate comic-book hero dialog, and especially because of Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Putting the two of them together helps a lot as well, which is what happens in the second half of the film where we get to see the 'Can You Trust Him?' type of storyline.
Loki is arguably the most fascinating recurring villain now in the Avengers series, perhaps by proxy of it being that he was the main bad-guy in Avengers (not counting the aliens and the other invaders and their ilk), and it's probably largely because of Hiddleston himself, yes, as an actor who just indulges and has a great time playing such a fiendish personality, someone who has a lot of real conflicts and real paigns with his family (without spoiling too much, someone close to the Royal Asgard Kingdom gets knocked off, and Loki probably takes it harder than anyone else, albeit locked in his prison cell). He could even teeter on being an anti-hero in this film if he wasn't, per the sort of now Whedon-type tradition, such a snarky bastard. You know you can't quite trust him as the audience, as well as the characters, and the fun is waiting to see where the other shoe will drop... and then the other and the other.
Thor: The Dark World carries a lot of high-flying, shiny special effects, and they're fun to look at until a certain point where it just becomes clear, at least at certain points, such as when one of the alien intruder ships busts through the palace on Asgard, that it's all TOO CGI-like, at least, in parts, for me. Would it have hurt, just once, to show a model crashing through a made-for-scale set? But this is mostly just a quibble.
If there is an over-arching, nagging problem with this, even when the director and filmmakers are doing their best to deliver on some exciting action - and even in the "dull" first half there is some moments of kick-ass fighting that is staged competently - it's all fairly predictable by this point, non? The crazy professor will get out to help, in part, to Save the Day - Jane Foster, though tortured by the 'thing' inside her, will be cured - the comic relief will still be the plucky comic relief (whether or not the quips are funny I leave up to you).
The real wild cards come with characters like Loki and perhaps certain objects. The Tesseract, the 'Big Thing' from The Avengers, is mentioned a few times and not without reason as there are, apparently, other Sacred Stones that need to be kept for safe keeping. And indeed one of the "Stingers", one of the scenes that takes place as the end credits are going, shows this process starting to take hold (and with a certain Oscar winning actor in a weird wig to boot). Nothing is ever badly shot.
No exchange Hemsworth, who always sticks to being charming, tough, assertive, and a hero we can get behind (albeit now he's lacking a bit of the more intriguing conflict of the first film, perhaps it was wise to move him along from the less-thinking creature he once was, leave the brutishness more to Odin this time around). And many lines are funny and winning; at one point Chris O'Dowd of the IT Crowd (!) shows up as a 'date' Foster has, and this is an example of an amusing bit that doesn't over-stay its welcome.
So it's worth seeing, but aside from things I've mentioned with Loki - and the twists here, really, are not as mind-blowing and polarizing as in Iron Man 3 from last summer - nothing exactly will *stick* with me from this film. It has some inventive action scenes, some cool ideas, and that's about it. And while it improves on some aspects of the first film, with some of its character dynamics (ironically Loki, while a strong presence in 2011's Thor, wasn't really the *best* thing, per-say, about that film), it's not as consistent as Branaugh's film either, which kept a steady pace as a solid B Hollywood blockbuster.
The Dark World hints at and occasionally shows some marvelous things, no pun intended, but then falls back on its haunches like another TV-episode-of-the-week. Which, in essence, this sort of is as part of Marvel's "Phase 2", which goes along to Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, and back to Avengers 2.