Just mention of the word “Marvel” elicits muted shrieks from comic-fan film goers. Co-producing films since 1998’s Blade, they finally broke out on their own with Iron Man, and continue to flesh out The Avengers universe. For most, the fact that Marvel is in charge of bringing their superheroes to the silver screen is an undisputed necessity. Yet many fail to realize the obvious fact that creating a graphic novel and making a film are two completely separate mediums. That doesn’t mean Marvel hasn’t offered up some true gems but the more recent — aka those involving The Avengers — have become increasingly formulaic and indistinguishable. Thor: The Dark World not only feels like a complete rehash of the first Thor, but also not much different than any of his co-Avengers’ films.

Thor: The Dark World opens much as the first film did, with a long and lengthy history lesson from Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on his father Bor’s defeat of Malekith and his Dark Elves. Malektith (Christopher Eccleston) wanted to use a force called the Aether to return the universe to a state of pre-creation. Defeated, he retreated into suspended animation unbeknownst to Bor and the rest of the nine realms. Once Odin finishes his speech, it cuts to the present — after the events of The Avengers — with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) having moved to London on the advice of co-scientist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who has since disappeared. Still, Jane continues with her research and happens upon an abandoned warehouse where a bunch of kids have discovered odd anomalies, including items somehow disappearing and reappearing out of thin air. Unfortunately, Jane accidentally falls into one of these “holes” just as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is talking to Heimdall (Idris Elba) about her. The all-seeing, all-knowing Heimdall suddenly can’t see her and Thor becomes worried. It sets in motion their eventual reunion — Thor hasn’t returned to her since the end of the first film — which is all the more painful for Jane as she watched him save New York on TV, yet he failed to come by and see her. What she has discovered, coincidentally, is an aligning of the nine realms which is what the sleeping Malekith has been waiting for to set his plan for universal destruction in motion once again.

If this all reads a bit dry, it’s not much better on the screen and this is a main issue with the film. There’s too much exposition to set up despite being a sequel and Thor having a starring role in The Avengers, not to mention that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was the villain in pretty much both films. Loki still returns, only this time he’s banished to the dungeons, a decision made only because his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) wanted Odin to keep him alive. So, of course, the question remains whether Loki will see the error of his way or continue along his path of betrayal and destruction.

The film is entertaining enough but it never seems to move forward in any significant way. The relationship between Thor and Jane only feels slightly developed because they were already forced together in the first film. At least they have some history. And while Jane’s attraction to Thor is quite obvious, his longing for her is never convincing. Nor is an explanation even attempted. Her being a human throws a wrench into what’s expected of Thor. It’s a classic hero trope.

Thor and Marvel fans alike will find a lot to like in the film, but it’s beginning to feel like Thor and Jane could just as easily be replaced by Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and with a little tweaking to the setting, it would be another Iron Man film. The problem, it may seem, is that Marvel has too much control over its properties. Aside from Joss Whedon — who, with The Avengers, is suddenly the only creative thinker given any leeway — no writer or director seems to have much longevity with Marvel. Even Jon Favreau, who more or less kick started this whole thing in the first place, jumped ship. While his decision could’ve been purely innocent and due to his wanting a new challenge, Alan Taylor has taken over Thor: The Dark World instead of Kenneth Branagh who helmed the first. Even Captain America director Joe Johnston is off the second film in that series.

The fact that each of these individual series exist in service to another eventual Avengers film makes them all the more bloated and drab. A little more individuality with each character and film can go a long way to establishing these heroes as separate individuals with different desires, personalities and stories. Instead, they’re all just men near burdened with powers and expectations, wanting women they can’t have.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5