Every franchise has its black sheep, and until this week Marvel’s black sheep (at least cinematically) was the Hulk. The jolly green giant’s first movie came back in 2003, and then a sequel/reboot followed in 2008, the same year Iron Man started the Avengers series in earnest. Sure enough, Iron Man out-earned The Incredible Hulk by more than a two-to-one margin, and both Hulk flicks were all but forgotten.

Now we get the second in the Thor series. The first, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was heavy on the mythology but light on pretty much everything else, including quality. Thor: The Dark World, unfortunately, follows suit. And though it does manage to (barely) outshine the original, it’s still worlds away from the excellence we saw in the Iron Man series, Captain America: The First Avenger, and, of course, The Avengers itself—which is easily the best of the bunch so far.

The plot is once again needlessly convoluted and rife with plot points only a comic book could provide. There’s something about a dark time and Thor’s grandfather fighting Dark Elves (not the North Pole kind), and a smoky, mercurial substance called The Aether that was so bad that it was buried deep away so it would never be found. The real kicker, though? It just so happens that the one person who trips on the stuff eons later is none other than Thor’s current girlfriend.

Indeed, lovely Jane (Natalie Portman) becomes infected with the Aether, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) needs to save the day while at the same time preventing the Elven leader Malekith (Christoper Eccleston) from getting his hand on it and becoming all-powerful when the Seven Realms line up. Or something.

Director Alan Taylor, who has recently helmed stellar episodes of Game of Thrones and Mad Men, tries to match the visual effects of The Avengers and the mythology of Thrones but falls short on both. The effects are nice, sure, but there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and there’s frankly too much set up (it takes more than an hour for Thor: The Dark World to get going).

The script, likewise, is also more sluggish than sluggo. I can only assume it’s due to the fact that it was yet another screenplay-by-committee—three writers adapting a story by two other men (including the late Don Payne).

Though Hemsworth and Portman have all the chemistry of oil and water, we can at least be thankful for Tom Hiddleston’s hilarious and sneering portrayal of Thor’s bad, bad brother Loki. He easily steals the movie every time he’s on screen, and if I were a bigwig at Marvel I would immediately greenlight an entire series of Loki flicks. Yesterday.

We’re told, after the credits, that “Thor will return”, but I’d be fine waiting a good long while for that—unless they’re counting his role in the 2015 Avengers sequel. Alas, the best part of Thor: The Dark World may just be the Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer that comes before it.

2.5/5 stars