I am genuinely sorry to hear that Kenneth Branagh will not be returning for the sequel to "Thor" that Marvel Studios is now set to release in the summer of 2013.

I don't think anyone's more surprised by that than I am.  Branagh always made me nervous as a choice for the film, but in the end, I think the decision to hire him paid off in a movie that had its own personality, that didn't feel like "just another cookie-cutter blockbuster."  At least, not to me.  I think the film's got a great sense of fun, but more than that, it took an absurd world seriously in just the right way, and as a result, they not only successfully introduced one of the Avengers, they also earned themselves a franchise, albeit one that comes with many questions attached.

HitFix has learned that Marvel has set a July 26, 2013 date for "Thor 2," or whatever they eventually call it, and according to Michael Fleming, the director's job is now wide open.  Considering "Iron Man 3" is set for a May 3, 2013 release, it sounds like they'll be double-stacking the summer the way they are with "Thor" and "Captain America" this year.  We've already started hearing rumbles about the direction they're going with the next Iron Man adventure, treating it more like a stand-alone James Bond adventure, unconnected to any larger narrative except in the most cursory of ways.  I think it's important after they've made "The Avengers" to still keep the larger Marvel Universe alive, but to also feel free to stop worry so much about the connective tissue and start focusing more on making every issue of every comic as good as it can be.

Chris Hemsworth is starting to find his schedule a little bit crowded. Yesterday, Sony picked up a new action pitch called "Shadow Runner" based on the true-life exploits of a special-ops team tasked with impossible jobs.  You know… missions… that seem impossible… now, if only there was a title for something like that.  He's also set for "Snow White and the Huntsman," which should start shooting the moment he's done with "The Avengers."

My first big question about a second Thor film is will they be able to get Natalie Portman back?  Jane Foster is a big part of the mythology established by the first film, and while I think their love story was rushed in places and more obligatory than earned, there was some real heat between Portman and Hemsworth onscreen.  Portman credibly sold the notion of a girl who realizes just how awesome it would be to have a boyfriend who also happens to be a Thunder God, and she managed to convey it with a couple of extra-randy smiles.  If they do get her back, I think it would be fun to see how they could build on that chemistry, and I hope Oscar-winner Portman doesn't get too snooty or too expensive to play superheroes again.

I'm also curious to see if Loki appears in the next film at all.  That will depend, of course, on the outcome of "The Avengers," where we're going to see the God Of Mischief hard at work.  Early rumors have The Enchantress as the villain of the next film, and I hope Marvel starts to build out deeper rogue's galleries for all of their heroes. It's important for the overall longevity of these films.

As Marvel starts looking for a new director, I hope they at least have a conversation with Matthew Vaughn, who was attached to "Thor" at one point in its development.  After his work this summer on "X-Men: First Class," where he had to basically sprint through the entire process, I'd love to see what he could do with a little more time and with a character we know he already loves.

Whoever ends up doing it, this is just the start of the Marvel news.  Word is, we'll be hearing more about the short film series they're considering soon, and HitFix has also learned that Marvel may soon be announcing other new features in the coming weeks, most likely before Comic-Con.  What those films are and what announcements they'll be making remains to be seen, but it is an exciting time for the company, and for fans of the world they've been building.