First off, and I cannot state this any more strongly:
I will NEVER pay to see a Marvel Studios film in 3-D again.
Marvel's use of this technology has consistently been sub-par and mercenary. It's simply a gimmick to inflate the box office numbers, and I've had enough. Especially in a year with a film like Gravity showing us how this tech can be used creatively and intrinsically to immerse the audience in the world of the film, Marvel's consistently half-assed presentations simply make me angry.
Is the film bad? No, not at all. It's diverting and provides entertainment. Yet, as with Iron Man 3, I just felt like the whole escapade was simply a matter of going through the motions.
Let's start with the good. I've come to the conclusion that Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are going to be the only couple Marvel ever gives us who actually seem to have a honest physical attraction or relationship. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts seem like a mommy and her petulant child, and, while I loved it in the context of the film, The Steve Rogers/Peggy Carter relationship was SO chaste. Portman and Hemsworth have moments of true sexual chemistry, something sorely lacking in the rest of the franchise.
The cast continues to be game and engaged with their roles. Hemsworth, however, seems a bit trapped by the limitations of the thunder god (Rush showed what he's capable of as a leading man in a way these films can't even remotely come near). Portman, as opposed to the Star Wars prequels, where she just stopped trying, is engaged. Of course, Tom Hiddleston steals the show to the delight of women everywhere who like pale, thin, non-threatening British men.
The film also looks good, with Game of Thrones vet Alan Taylor building some grunge into the Nine Realms, which, in retrospect, seemed lacking in Kenneth Branagh's original film. He coaxes some good moments out of his cast. The pacing and action are handled well. Like I said, it's not a bad movie, and the fact it's not be attributed to Taylor and his cast.
Because the script is awful, for the most part. Christopher Eccelston, a truly gifted actor, is utterly and completely wasted as Malekith, the leader of the dark elves, who are on the hunt for the Aether, which is a really, really uninspiring and ill-defined maguffin. Somehow, the Aether can return the nine realms to the time of darkness, when the dark elves ruled. It's also fluid/gaseous, and is able to worm it's way into Portman's Jane Foster. It could kill her...I guess. The whole function and nature of this stuff is frustratingly ill-defined, and Malekith's hunt for it really lacks much in the way of drive.
(Of course, it's also part of a larger crossover-universe thing, but I'll get to that.)
Which shouldn't be construed as saying nothing happens. Plenty happens, but it all seems really perfunctory. Without getting too spoilery, in the final moments of the film it becomes very, very clear that this entire move was an excuse to move a few pieces around the "Marvel Movie Universe" board, rather than a fleshed-out narrative on it's own.
Which is really frustrating, because it plays right into the biggest pitfalls of this shared narrative universe. The idea of a shared universe is exciting, but this film, much like Iron Man 2 with The Avengers, felt like it was a tossed off story simply there to set up Thor 3. Because it's REALLY obvious where the third film will head, at this point, and everything important that happened in this film probably could been part of the first act of that film.
Then there's the during/after credits tags...one, I'm sure it's no surprise, is designed to lead us to Guardians of the Galaxy, which I am excited about. However, the teaser, which Alan Taylor wants us to know he had nothing to do with, is kind of alarming. I want to believe in James Gunn, but it looks cheap. Like Sci-Fi original cheap. It also gives us the sense that the Aether is tied directly to a BIG piece of Marvel Universe Mythology.
To that I say, "fuck you Marvel." You spend a whole movie with this stuff, and make it confusing and less than inspiring. Then you try to make it important...for the next movie.
In short, this movie didn't need to exist. It's a placeholder, like The Matrix Reloaded, just there to put plotlines and elements in play for other movies. Which would be fine if it was wildly entertaining, but it isn't, it's passably diverting.
So, yeah. I didn't hate it. I didn't get up angry or feeling gypped, like with Man of Steel or Star Trek into Darkness. It happened, and I went home. Being a completist, I'll buy the Blu-Ray. Maybe I'm being too harsh, it's not offensive or insulting. It's just by-the-numbers franchise filmmaking, but after enduring the rampant ego of Iron Man 3, I really wanted this to be better.