It's not often that I'm left absolutely stumped by a name when a director is announced, especially on a giant tentpole project like "Thor 2," but that's how I felt when I read the report that Brian Kirk is in early negotiations to make a deal for the sequel to Marvel's first big superhero movie this summer.  It all clicked when I read that he was one of the directors for the first season of HBO's "Game Of Thrones," though.  HitFix contacted Marvel Studios reps who would not confirm the hire at this point, saying instead that they are "actively looking."   And while I don't know Kirk, I can guess why he's in the mix.

After all, fantasy has always been one of the more commercially difficult genres to get right, and it can be all about trying to find a tone that works, which is never easy.    George R.R. Martin's epic series of novels seemed to me to be a whole series of challenges for anyone looking to adapt them, and the show has proven to be a culmination of a whole bunch of those smart choices.  If you're Marvel and you're looking for someone who can handle a piece that is set on Earth and in Asgard and that has to somehow ground these fantastic elements, then why not reach out to someone who was part of a show that pulled it off in an admirable way?

The "big idea" behind hiring Kenneth Branagh in the first place was to treat the fantasy material like a Shakesperean historical play, ignoring the fact that this is all about gods with magic powers and emphasizing the family dynamics and the character struggles.  Branagh did quite well with the superhero action, though, and he actually turned out to be a stronger overall choice than I initially expected.  As a result, he's left whoever steps in for this second film in a good position, because there is a template already in place, and for a director used to working in the world of television, that's a situation they're probably very familiar with.

Our own Alan Sepinwall seems to be more taken with the work of Alan Taylor on the series, but it looks like Brian Kirk is the one who's getting the tap here to move up to the big leagues, and it's going to be interesting to see if this is the direction Marvel heads with their sequels in general.  They're taking a real risk with Shane Black on "Iron Man 3," but that's an exciting risk with Black bringing an established voice into an established series, creating what could be a really interesting friction.  With this move on "Thor 2," though, it looks like Marvel isn't really looking to bring in a strong established personality, but instead, someone who can just keep the series on track with what's already been done.

In the meantime, Thor will return next summer for "The Avengers," under the guiding eye of Joss Whedon.

"The Avengers" will be in theaters May 4, 2012.