Thor: The Dark World - Directed by Alan Taylor, written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat, starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, and Tom Hiddleston - Rated PG-13
This gets a Kurgan simply because if the Kurgan showed up in the middle of a scene, no one would bat an eye.
Thor is certainly the strangest character in the mainstream Marvel universe (or at least he is for someone like me, who is not well read when it comes to comic books). He is equal parts Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and, well, superhero. Because of this, Thor's standalone films can be quite different from the other Avengers' more Earth-related adventures. This is a good thing because in a film like Iron Man 3, you wonder just what all the other Avengers are up to as the world comes to the brink of annihilation. In Thor: The Dark World, Earth factors in very rarely, so it's conceivable that the other Avengers wouldn't even be aware anything was happening until it was too late.
The new Thor movie is entertaining for many more reasons than simply its setting. The first film was surprisingly, and appropriately, comedic as it was essentially a fish out of water story. This film retains that comedic spirit while not relying on the same gags from the first film. To be fair, there are still some easy jokes made with Thor's scenes on Earth, but the majority of the humor is earned through character moments, especially those between Thor and his brother-turned-nemesis Loki.
Loki steals the show as one of those villains you love to hate. During his first appearance in the first Thor movie, Loki didn't seem all that amusing or menacing. Somehow that changed with his role as the main baddie in The Avengers. He still seemed a little bland as far as super villains go, but credit Tom Hiddleston for breathing some real life into the character. His constant smirk and witty banter make him an honestly likable character, despite his goals of world domination and whatnot. Apparently his role was initially smaller, and Hiddleston was brought in later for some additional scenes. That turned out to the correct move as he is one of most enjoyable parts of the film.
The focus on Loki doesn't mean that the titular character is any less fun. Chris Hemsworh picks up right where he left off as Thor. He's a bit more somber in this film, since his love interest is stuck on Earth, so there are fewer fun scenes with him this time around. The performance is fine; it's just that the character required a quieter performance, which is why Loki picked up the comedic slack.
As for the rest of the cast, all the returning players perform admirably. It was nice to see Idris Elba, as Heimdall, get a few more scenes this time around, although he is still the most underutilized aspect of the franchise. The new faces are few, but serve the film well. Chris O'Dowd produced a few laughs in his few scenes. And Christopher Eccleston is decent as the villain, though that was more of a prosthetic performance.
Of course all of these characters are involved in a plot, but that doesn't really matter in the Marvel universe, does it? Some strange being is threatening to use some vaguely described powerful substance to destroy the world for even vaguer reasons. That isn't meant as too much of a dig against the film (or entire Marvel universe for that matter), but let's face it, these plots are mediocre at best. It's a good thing the characters are so great because the stories for these movies just keep getting more and more nonsensical and boring. Not to mention the fact that shadow of the next Avengers looms over everything as if to say, "This is all well and good, but just wait until you see me!" It dramatically lowers the stakes of all the standalone films because you know the real threat and all the coolest stuff is being saved for the group effort.
Thor manages to rise above all of that, though. The movie works on its own and is just as entertaining as the first. As action movies go, Thor should keep you happy. The beginning was a little on the weak side, with a lot of exposition and bland battles, but it picks up in the middle and has a thrilling climax. Director Alan Taylor (of HBO's Game of Thrones fame) turned out to be the perfect fit for the franchise, providing a straightforward action movie devoid of all the random Dutch angles (which I actually liked, despite their randomness) of Kenneth Branagh's previous entry. Although it would certainly be interesting to see what Taylor would have done if he had been allowed to be as graphic with this film as he is with Thrones.
Thor: The Dark World is yet another solid movie in the Marvel franchise. It doesn't take any risks with the storytelling or anything, but it doesn't really need to. Thor satisfies the craving for that specific character (and a few of his friends and enemies) that will keep you sated until Thor teams up with the rest of the gang again. It is a bit troubling that the film feels less important now that the Avengers are around, but the movie is just fun and outlandish enough to make you forget about those other guys for a little while.