The MCU Ranked: ‘Thor’
The ground work for The Avengers is really beginning to take shape with Iron Man, Hulk, War Machine and Black Widow established. Whilst these guys are all quite grounded and technology based there’s a more fantastical side to the franchise waiting to be introduced…
Movie: Thor (2011)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Heroes: Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth)
Villains: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Laufey (Colm Feore)
Support Cast: Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), Frigga (Rene Russo), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), The Warriors Three – Volstagg, Hogan and Fandral (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas)
Cameos: Stan Lee is joined by fellow ‘Thor’ writer J. Michael Straczynski as truck drivers trying to dislodge Mjölnir from the crater. Writer and artist Walt Simonson can be spotted participating in an Asgardian banquet. Samuel L. Jackson pops up as Nick Fury once more and Jeremy Renner makes his first appearance as Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton, future Avenger.
Plot: Thor, the Asgardian God of Thunder, is being groomed to take over the throne from his father, Odin. This is interrupted by the incursion of Frost Giants. Although Odin easily defeats them, Thor brashly leads a counter attack against the Frost Giant realm of Jotunheim. For this trespass Odin banishes Thor to Earth without his powers and hammer Mjölnir. There he meets astrophysicists Jane Foster and Dr. Erik Selvig and begins a journey of redemption.
Review: Kenneth Branagh, best known for his love of Shakespeare adaptations, may feel like an odd choice for a superhero adventure to match the pop culture sensation Iron Man. Having watched and rewatched 2011s Thor it’s clear that he was the man for the job for a number of reasons. Thor introduces a new batch of human characters, links them to the established setting and story about SHIELD AND sets up the complex and heavily populated world of Asgard plus the multiple dimensions that goes with it. You need an experienced director to juggle all of this exposition and make it feel like a smooth narrative, plus Branagh is well versed in managing a large cast without leaving anyone on the sidelines. In addition Marvel has always taken a Shakespearian tone with the adventures of Thor, and Branagh’s filmography proves he can blend the epic drama with a comedic edge needed to make this fun and exciting. Branagh is instrumental is making Phase 1 of the MCU work as well as it did.
In hindsight, Thor (Hemsworth) and Loki (Hiddleston) are the two characters who have developed the most over the course of the series. We get introduced to Thor as a cocky warrior, filled with swagger and assured of his decisions irregardless of what others say. From the outset his brother Loki appears to be something of a foil to his attitude (although those familiar with the character would pick up on clues that he’s not what he initially appears). It’s only later in the film, after Thor has been disgraced, that we also see his noble side. Initially played for comedy, the scene of Thor smashing a coffee mug in a diner shows how he’s beginning to put aside his arrogance to show the respect he has for Jane Foster (Portman). The brash warrior becoming humbled is a classic character arc in fiction, and it plays out well here because Thor always had a degree of nobility and he never completely sheds his cockiness, instead he finds a balance between the two. It makes him feel like a more natural and human character. Aussie soap opera actor Chris Hemsworth is the perfect casting for Thor, not just in physicality but attitude. He’s just so…likeable.
On the flip side we have Loki, slowly revealed to be the villain of the piece and a fan favourite who reappears in another three movies with two more coming up. Hiddleston plays the seemingly cowed lackey to Thor just as well as the charmingly manipulative God of Mischief. Unlike other villains of the MCU to date (Iron Monger, Justin Hammer, Whiplash, Abomination) Loki gets given a generous amount of time to establish motivation. We see Loki learn that he’s been lied to, reinforcing his belief that his brother has been favoured over him and his ambition go from dethroning Thor and taking his place to destroying him entirely. With this relationship and story so well set up it’s little wonder they made Loki the Big Bad for The Avenger’s first team-up.
With so much happening in the movie there are some characters who are only given minimal screen time, including Odin, Heimdall, Frigga, Sif and The Warriors Three. Thor’s supporting cast have always been a popular group of characters, but given how much gets crammed into this film it’s impressive that we get such a good representation of these guys. Even newcomers will leave the film with a clear idea of who they all are and what their personalities are. Our characters on Earth feel a bit more generic by comparison, filling the roles of love interest, wise elder and comedy sidekick, but fortunately the casting makes them work better on screen than on paper.
In addition to the great cast Thor is also a visual treat. The fantasy sci-fi realm of Asgard is incredibly well realised, drawing upon historical and comic influences to create a unique looking world. The New Mexico setting on Earth gives the film a different feel than Iron Man and Hulk’s city based adventures. The mechanical Destroyer fighting the Warriors Three and Sif against the contrasting setting of a desert town feels unique in the landscape of action movies of the time.
This is a very cool adventure film packed with great design and characters, and has aged remarkably well thanks to Branagh’s experienced direction.
Credits Scene: Dr. Selvig finds himself summoned to meet Nick Fury, who wants his expertise in studying a mysterious glowing cube. In Dr. Selvig’s reflection we see that Loki is exercising control over Silvig. Whilst hardly exciting at the time this is a good set-up for future conflicts.
Most Notable Easter Egg: The reveal of Hawkeye is a bit much for an ‘easter egg’, so we’ll go with ‘Dr. Donald Blake’ being the name tag on the shirt Jane gives Thor. This is the alias Thor uses when disguised as a human in the comics.
Coolest Moment: As tempted as I am to put the coffee mug, Thor’s solo attack on the SHIELD command centre in the crater is awesome. We’d seen him and his friends battle a bunch of CGI monsters, but this bare knuckle, stripped down Thor pummelling through a squad of SHIELD agents gives us the first clear idea of his strength.
THE MCU MASTER LIST
As we’ve established, Thor is a fun film which has aged well. It slots into the list below the pioneering Iron Man and above the bleak The Punisher.
Click those numbers if you want to see what we said about the others entries.
1. THOR: RAGNAROK
2. IRON MAN
5. IRON MAN 2
6. THE INCREDIBLE HULK