If you've read any other reviews of Marvel Studios films (or superhero flicks in general) that I've written for Bleeding Cool you'll know that I love these things. And I wasn't disappointed by Thor: The Dark World. There's a wealth of Asgardian action, some affecting character beats, and a whole boatload of well-handled humour.
The look of the film is luscious. The effects are quite brilliant. There are one or sequences that set the bar pretty high for anyone who might be, for example, making a Star Wars movie in the next year or two.
This is, in my book, a better movie than the first Thor film. And I liked that a lot.
There are about a half-dozen negatives though. None of them break the film in my book. They're just annoying. But I thought for a change of pace I'd enumerate a few of them now, rather than just bang on about how much I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World for 800 words.
The primary adversary in this film is Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston's a fine character actor with enough thespian grunt and sci-fi fanperson goodwill to completely own this movie. He doesn't. Fully half his dialogue is subtitled artlang. When he does talk he doesn't say enough. His motivation is a bit simplistic. He really isn't given half enough to do.
His posse of Dark Elves are generic hammer-fodder that make the Chitauri look like the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross. And immeasurably evil elves from a Dark Matter universe shouldn't have laser guns that go 'pew pew.' In fairness, their mini black-hole hand grenades have vaulted to the top of my personal Top 10 Sci Fi Weapons chart.
There's a subplot involving Kat Denning — who I think we can all agree is always entirely welcome in any film — and Stellan Skarsgård that isn't entirely unnecessary. It does eventually plug back in to the main action. But it really needed to either be bigger, or taken out altogether. As it stands, it's distracting without being sufficiently illuminating.
The MacGuffin is maybe a bit too 'generic MacGuffin.' And I'm not going to go near the 'science' of this movie but let's just say 'I have some questions.'
And of course any movie involving a member of The Avengers will throw up the obvious question 'why didn't he call the team?' Drew Pearce sidestepped that problem deftly with Iron Man 3. The five-strong writing team for Thor: The Dark World seem to be just hoping we don't notice.
There are two post-credits stings in this movie. One is perfectly fine, and helps set up any Thor 3 or Avengers 2 movies. The other throws forward to another hotly-anticipated Marvel Studios property. And it looks awful. I'm not sure why. Sometimes these things are shot in a hurry, or by crews cobbled together from two different movies. I don't know what the excuse is, but it looks like a clip from 1980s Battlestar Galactica. I have a lot of goodwill for the movie they're teasing, and for Marvel in general. So let's hope it's just a blip.
…and finally the new Fandral looks just enough like the old Fandral to keep you wondering whether it's a new actor or just the old actor with a brand new hairdo. Well it seemed that way to me, because I mostly recognise people by their haircuts. By no means disastrous, but kind of distracting.
So, now I've got all that out of my system, let me tell you why you should go and see Thor: The Dark World without delay.
Asgard looks amazing. Branagh's gleaming cosmic church organ has been sprinkled with a layer of soot and grease by Game Of Thrones director Alan Taylor, and it helps make the place feel real. Well, as real as a transdimensional realm of Norse Gods can.
Chris Hemsworth is limitlessly charismatic. As Thor he is tough and funny and — for the benefit of people who like that kind of thing — treats the audience to a gratuitously exploitative bath-time scene that leaves you in no doubt that he has been working out.
Taylor conjures some amazingly beautiful scenes. There's a beautifully realised Viking funeral that will bring a lump to your throat. There is kinetic air combat that really does throw down the gauntlet for Star Wars VII. And fans of Portal will love the tricks played with interdimensional physics in this film.
And — the reason I suspect that Ecclestone's star is somewhat dimmed in this film — Tom Hiddleston is coruscatingly brilliant as Loki. He's funny, capable, charming and limitlessly evil. I don't want to see a standalone Loki flick. But I do want to see him in as many Marvel properties as is practically possible. He steals the film out from its titular star's (and its primary villain's) noses.
Thor: The Dark World is two solid hours of great entertainment. Alan Taylor has, if he has done anything wrong, tried to pack too many ideas into the running time for them all to flourish. But the ones that do will make you hug yourself with glee. Like, say, Loki this movie is flawed and sometimes annoying but in the final analysis utterly wonderful.