There was probably less pressure on Marvel when it delivered Thor: The Dark world than any of it's other flicks up to that time. The burden of convincingly introducing a character steeped firmly in magic and Norse mythology had already been achieved. Kenneth Brannagh may have stepped aside after helming the original for Game of Thrones alumni Alan Taylor, Thor wasn't as quirky or familiar as Tony stark and not quite so precious. While It certainly performed at the box office and improved on the returns of it's predecessor, subsequent viewings are not quite so flattering.
The set up is simple enough; big bad has an opportunity to kill everything, turning light to darkness. This is a superhero movie after all. We didn't come here for metahuman intrigue, especially when your main character has a hammer forged in a dying star. Somehow Thor: The Dark World only succeeds in moving along the combined Marvel Cinematic Universe's subplot of bringing the infinity gems together. While a really good sequel should move things along, come it's credit roll the baddie has been bested and there's nothing left that SHIELD's Clean Up crew can't deal with and thus reset.
The film opens in much the same way as the first installment. Odin wraps exposition up as a tale of yore. Asgard's finest go up against a new enemy, the Dark Elves, led by antagonist Malekith because he's using the Aether ( or red infinity gem ) to turn the universe into galactic sludge...or something. It's bad anyway. Then we slam on the narrative hand break so we can join Thor and his friends battle against a faceless army that look like a mix between Game of Thrones and Call of duty. It's an odd pairing to see the clashing of swords and shields while other enemies fire roughed up bazookas and laser guns. Things explode, mud spatters into people's faces as the fight and someone still has a crossbow apparently. It's more an intimated idea of a battle than anything coherent to get behind, even when Thor and his Warriors (good band name) quip and chortle against the odds. If they aren't worried, why would we be? From this point we need to get Thor back to Midgard (Earth) , return him to the arms of love interest, Jane Foster, bring the bad guy out of deep-space-hibernation, almost have him turn the lights out on existence and then vanquish him. Roll post-credit sequence!
For all intents and purposes that's pretty much what happens. It's not that "2hor" is awful, it's just more of a narrative checklist or worse an MCU place-holder. While audiences are used to "filler" episodes of their favorite TV series, movie scenes should inform and propel the story or characters. "2hor" falls foul to taking it's audience for granted so it can get to the highlights it feels are more important. The culmination of The Dark World should be Thor's epiphany that his narcissistic goal to be king in the original doesn't actually suit his altruism. Instead his concluding summation to Odin seems more like obligation than the conclusion of a character arc.
Thankfully the combined charisma and acting chops of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Hopkins bring a real gravitas the Asgardian family dynamic. Loki's faux nonchelance at his father's dressing down comes across as nuanced petulance for his actions at the end of Avengers. He'd prefer forgiveness, but has to save face. Similarly his interaction with his mother, Frigga, is loaded with the distance that Loki creates between them. It's a masterclass in subtlety.
However, the real coup in Thor: The Dark World is when Thor springs Loki from jail to confront Malekith. The brotherly taunts, quibbles and in-fighting is the best part of this flick. If only this story was about the Odinsons. It still could have worked with Jane in-tow and resolve any questions from Avengers and even have Jane mirror Thor's fish-out-of-water antics from the first installment.
2* - Midsummer Night's run
Others in the series:
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Iron Man 3
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War