Thor is the most problematic of the Avengers because he isn’t from Earth and he brings magic into the mix. We can call it advanced science, or try to as they do in this sequel, but it really isn’t, nor should it have to be. But it does make him and his stories something, well, different.
The first Thor was honestly not brilliant. It was good. It had fun. It rewatched better than it originally screened, but it wasn’t quite on key with the rest of Phase 1. This time, however, we know more, we like the characters, the script was better, and Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods), has found a wonderful balance between overbearing Paladin and self-deprecation. In fact, he has become more human, if you will.
As a whole, the returning cast were each given their moments and allowed to expand their characters. Often, this included humor, some of which was brilliant. It was also necessary. By design, the plots of Thor are Wagnerian; universe shaking. Without humor, the stories would sink of their own gravitas.
Eccleston (Revengers Tragedy, Doctor Who), of the new characters, was the real surprise in this film for me. He created a wonderful over-the-top, but somehow believable villain. Even knowing he was in it, I didn’t realize who he was until the credits rolled. Nothing about his character was obviously recognizable, though it was obvious in retrospect.
The story itself is nicely designed to build on what we already knew. Some of the choices, particularly near the end are a little hand-wavy, but given the level of action and drive, you blink, accept, and move on. It is just meant to be fun, there is no need to overly dissect the choices and nothing stands out as horribly wrong. In fact, enough stands out as right and thoughtful that the few glossed elements really don’t distract.
This is the film that really kicks off the Phase 2 storyline. Iron Man 3 bridged nicely from The Avengers, but the plot and tag were less directional. The story in The Dark World gets the ball rolling and contains two tags. The first is a major, integral aspect leading up to Guardians of the Galaxy next summer (and ultimately Avengers 2), the second is important, but more of a gift. You’d also never know it was Taylor’s first foray onto the big screen after years of highly rated television (Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Sex & and the City), The movie is guided with a very sure hand.
Side note: For those that keep getting up before the credits have finished, c’mon, this is the 8th film with important tags; learn already! Three quarters of the audience left before even the first tag ran in my theater. I just don’t get it.
One final comment: you can can skip the 3D in my opinion. While I saw it in 2D, it was obvious 3D wasn’t integral to the plot, as it was in Gravity. In fact, I think that is a good thing–the story carried the movie. I felt no lack for its absence. Had they offered an IMAX 2D, I probably would have gone to it, but only a 3D option was available, and I wasn’t interested in the price differential nor did I see it as a requirement for enjoying the film. I expect you would not as well.