To a very large extent, Thor: The Dark World works rather well indeed.
Where it's missing the big-theme real-world-ish politics of Iron Man 3, it mixes in old-school, deeper-buried subtext, played out with Kings and Kingdoms, family feuds and armies of suicidal fundamentalists, even nihilists.
Where it's missing a lot of the smart dialogue and brilliant scene construction of The Avengers, we do still get lots of great character work and a surprising, ultimately rather shocking, landslide of gags. There's a sequence towards the end where the jokes are coming so thick and fast it's amazing that there's a full-on action and suspense sequence racing along between them.
I understand the choice to use Malekith, the malevolent Dark Elf, as the film's main antagonist but he's not always particularly interesting in and of himself. Still, Christopher Eccleston brought his typical intensity to the part and Malekith does provide a pitch black background against which Loki can shine.
And shine he does. Again, Hiddleston is probably the man of the match here, even in the face of some great work both in front of and behind the camera, there's nothing like his intelligent readings and consummate performance. Loki gets a lot more screen time in this movie, particularly scenes with his brother, and I think it will all be considered rather welcome.
Alan Taylor's Asgard is more lived in than before, with a real sense of population, history and wear and tear – though, to be fair to Branagh, he was making more of a chamber piece, away from the hoi polloi in an incredible palace, and Taylor even takes us down to the pub. Ironically, London feels a little less real than it might have, though we're not just in a Cool Britannia Theme Park.
I do wonder what has been snipped out of the film as it evolved, though. There are faint vestiges of an aborted love triangle plot line and Malekith's thread seems to have been pared back a shade too much – but rather than trying to second guess what we might have been given, I was more than happy to enjoy what we actually got. Particularly in its third act, this second Thor is nothing if not a grand entertainment.
We'll be bringing you lots more from my interviews with the cast and creatives soon, and you can look forward to a more full review next week, just ahead of the film's release.