In 2011, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) expanded to the cosmos for the first time as audiences were taken to a faraway world known as Asgard in Thor. Thor was the fourth film of the surprisingly turbulent first phase of Marvel Studio's vaunted Infinity Saga.
Turbulent may be a harsh word to some fans, but Thor was the first film since the original Iron Man not to experience any major production or cast issues. Yes, there were some shifts in direction during pre-production but that isn't uncommon in Hollywood. Both Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk faced some big issues behind the scenes that led to the re-casting of two of the universe's major players. Thor's production was relatively smooth in comparison to the two films to precede it.
The prospects of a Thor film can be traced back to 1990, with Sam Raimi originally interested in producing the movie. Raimi, of course, would go on to later direct the Tobey Maguire led Spider-Man films while a potential Thor film was abandoned until the late '90s. Raimi will finally make his much anticipated MCU debut is 2022 as he helms Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
By the early 2000s, the success of X-Men not only whet moviegoers appetite for superhero movies but reenergized the market for a Thor film. Interestingly, Marvel intended to make Thor as a television show that would air on UPN, ironically starring X-Men's Tyler Mane. For whatever reason though, plans for a television series were scrapped and Marvel resumed searching for a studio to finance the project as a film.
The MCU's fortune forever changed when, in 2006, Paramount Purchased the rights to a Thor movie, with Marvel Studios producing the film. After the success of Iron Man, Marvel quickly moved to announce that Thor would take place in the MCU and would be set up in Iron Man 2.
While the film didn't experience the same level of off-screen drama as some of the other MCU films from phase one, the studio did have a difficult time nailing down a director. Originally, Matthew Vaughn was slated to direct, even going as far as rewriting part of the original script. By 2008 though, Vaughn moved on and a search began to fill his shoes.
Marvel Studios set its eyes on Guillermo del Toro, who was a huge fan of Loki from the comics. Despite this interest, the Oscar-winning director had a much different vision for the film than the studio and he ultimately passed to direct The Hobbit. D.J. Caruso, director of such films as Disturbia and Two for the Money, was approached but passed over by the studio. Finally, Irish actor and director Kenneth Branagh agreed to a deal to direct the film.
Branagh's prescience on the film brought certain credibility that few directors could achieve. He is a well-regarded stage and screen actor, best know for his film adaptations of several William Shakespeare plays. He was the first man ever to be nominated for Academy Awards in five different categories, most notably for 1989's Henry V for which he was nominated for Best Actor and Director. And of course, he is also know for playing the wonder Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter.
It is clear throughout the film that Branagh's experience adapting Shakespeare's work influenced his direction of Thor. Shakespearean plays often focus on the ideological quest for power, typically against the backdrop of some royal skirmish. The overarching conflict dominating Thor involved the conflict between Thor and Loki over the throne of Asgard.
Similarly, Thor's journey mirrors that of young King Henry. As a prince, Henry was a bit reckless whose temperament could get the best of him. There were serious questions if Henry could be a true king. Thor faces a similar question, often letting his ego lead to reckless acts that prevent him from truly realizing his true potential.
Thor follows the titular character as he is set to ascend the throne of Asgard, an ancient society that rules the nine realms. Asgard has long defended the various realms from would-be conquerers, including Earth when invaded by the Frost Giants several centuries ago. King Odin managed to defeat the Frost Giants, forcing them to yield the Casket of Ancient Winters, the source of their power. and enter into an uneasy cease-fire.
On the day Thor is to become king, Frost Giants sneak into Asgard in hopes of retrieving the casket. Though defeated, Thor views this as an act of war. Disobeying his father's wishes, Thor travels to Jotunheim with his brother Loki, Lady Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun to confront the Frost Giant king, Laufey. A battle ensues that results in the Asgardian warriors getting backed into a corner until Odin arrives with his army to ease tension.
Believing Thor's arrogance was getting out of control, Odin stripped him of his power and cast him out of Asgard to New Mexico. Thor's hammer is sent along with him, protected by an enchantment that allows only those who are worthy to yield it.
While on Earth, Thor is discovered by Dr. Jane Foster, her colleague Erik Selvig, and Intern Darcey Lewis while studying the wormhole that brought him to Earth. Her research attracted the attention fo SHIELD and Agent Phil Coulson who took over her lab and research materials. SHIELD also finds Thor's hammer and begin excavating its location.
Upon learning of his hammer's location, Thor agrees to help Jane retrieve her research if she will take him to the site. After fighting his way through SHIELD agents, Thor finds his hammer but is unable to lift it. Distraught, Thor falls to the ground in anguish. Thor is captured and held captive by SHIELD.
Meanwhile, Loki travels back to Jotunheim to speak with Laufey, revealing he is the one that let the Frost Giants into Asgard. Loki doesn't believe his brother is fit to be a king, and he desperately wants the power for himself. Loki also discovers that he is Laufey's son, who was taken in by Odin after the war. Loki allies with Laufey to allow him into Asgard, retrieve the casket, and kill Odin.
Upon returning to Asgard, Loki confronts Odin about his past. Grief-stricken, Odin falls into a coma, allowing Loki to assume the throne in his absence. While in captivity, Loki pays a visit to Thor to reveal that their father had passed and their mother has forbidden his return.
Selvig convinces Coulson to free him but has the two of them followed. Realizing he is now deemed unworthy of his hammer, Thor resigns himself to being a better man on Earth. He spends the evening bonding with Selvig and Foster, the latter with whom he forms a romantic connection with.
Back on Asgard, Sif and the Warriors Three are unhappy with Loki as ruler and travel to Earth to convince Thor to return home. While jubilant to see his friends, Thor declines to return to honor his parent's wishes. They reveal that Odin is not dead and that Loki has ascended to the throne, angering Thor.
Loki, well aware of their plans, sends a destroyer to kill them. The warriors are unable to stop the destroyer, but Thor sacrifices himself to protect his friends, new and old alike. Through this sacrifice, Thor becomes worthy again. His powers are restored, including his ability to wield his hammer again. They defeat the destroyer and return to Asgard.
In Asgard, Loki has allowed Laufey in the city and directs him towards Odin's sleeping chamber. As Laufey is about to kill Odin, Loki betrays their alliance by murdering Laufey. Loki's true plan is revealed: he wants to destroy Jotunheim to prove to Odin he is a worthy king.
As Thor arrives, he battles Loki to stop him from destroying Jotunheim. To do so, Thor destroys the Bifrost bridge, the only known entrance an exit from Asgard. Odin awakens from his coma and arrives in time to confront Loki, who appears to commit suicide.
Thor makes amends with Odin, admitting he isn't ready for the throne. Unable to journey to Earth, Thor hopes to one day return to Jane. On Earth, Jane, Selvig, and Darcey continue their research, searching for a way to open the portal up to Asgard.
Throughout the entirety of the Infinity Saga, the MCU struggled to develop truly compelling villains. With a few notable exceptions, there are just not many MCU villains that stand out. Loki is one of these exceptions.
For the first time, the MCU scored a major victory with its portrayal of Loki, played by the charmingly smug Tom Hiddleston. Loki's depiction was clearly influenced by the famed Shakespearean villain Iago from Othello, another character-driven to chaos by a sense of malice and jealousy. Much like Iago, Loki is known to spin lies and double-cross those he is working with.
Hiddleston's stage experience is evident in his portrayal. He brings a gravitas that few actors would be able to. There was a duality in the tragic sadness of his performance as Hiddleston strikes the perfect balance of hurt caused by the absence of his father's love with the mischievous will to cause chaos. More importantly, he matches the energy brought by star Chris Hemsworth, who brings humor, charm, and pathos in his portrayal of the God of Thunder
These two must be mentioned together. The relationship between the two brothers is a story arc that is interwoven throughout the entirety of the MCU as they go from jealous brothers to bitter enemies, and finally to mutual respect of one another.
While all of the original Avengers lineup seemingly had one or two key relationships that defined their franchises, few have had the lasting impact on the MCU as Loki and Thor's brotherhood. Loki becomes the main antagonist of one of the Avenger films and returns for the following two Thor films as an uneasy ally who helps Thor save the day. It
So what is the lasting imprint their roller-coaster relationship will leave on the overall MCU? Quite honestly, Loki's action put Thor on the path that concluded with End Game: his journey from would-be King to willingly give up the throne to determine his path. While the Infinity Saga was in no way planned out years in advance, Thor's journey to realizing he wasn't ready to be king was an important step in his Infinity Saga arc that found him leaving New Asgard to seek his path.
As is with almost all MCU films, there is some sort of love interest that captures the eye of our strapping hero. Here, Thor's affection is directed towards the adorkable (an amalgamation of dork and adorable for our older reader...thanks Mom!) Doctor Jane Foster, played by the uber-talented Natalie Portman.
While Hemsworth and Portman do have chemistry, the MCU has never really been able to make Foster feel as if she is capable of handling her own in a tough situation. She is the quintessential damsel in distress throughout both her appearances in the MCU. In Thor, her character just isn't given a ton to do though Portman does the most with what little character development she is truly given.
With the recent announcement that Portman is retuning in Thor: Love and Thunder to pick up the hammer herself, it will be interesting to see how she fares in a more physical role as she assumes a hero mantle.
We Have to Talk About Shakespeare
Finally, we have to talk about the mechanics of the film: the writing, direction, and visuals. At the time, critics gave the film a more favorable view though fans were not as high on the God of Thunder's debut.
As stated, this film was greatly influenced by the work of Shakespeare. This provides a unique aesthetic for Thor that truly differentiates from other phase one films and is very reminiscent to that of Black Panther, one of the more successful MCU films. It is a grand and royal adventure that puts a spotlight on the difficulties of not only ruling but the inherent conflict within families that arise from it.
Amazingly, all three Thor films manage to espouse a different tone from the ones that came before it. Thor is a grand, Shakespearean adventure, Thor: The Dark World is, well, very dark, and Thor: Ragnarok dives headfirst into the quirky world of humor. While Thor: Ragnarok is certainly the best of the three, rewatching Thor reminded me of how underrated the film is. It reimagines the hero origin story while establishing the turbulent family dynamics that will come to dominate the Thor film arc throughout the Infinity Saga.
With all that said, the writing and visuals are fine here. There is nothing that stands out in these areas that make it feel special, especially in comparison to Thor: Ragnarok. While the tone stands out, not much else truly feels unique. That doesn't mean the writing is bad. Rather, it is just on brand for what fans come to expect from your run of the mill MCU film.
Should You Rewind?
Thor is a a slighty underrated film, one that feels unique in comparison to the rest of the phase one films. It establishes themes and arcs that will be told throughout the entire series and impacts the larger story as a whole.
No, it is not a top tier MCU film. Hell, it isn't even the best Thor film. The writing is fine and, despite a unique tone, the film is fairly paint by numbers in terms of story. Still, the acting of Hiddleston and Hemsworth provide a solid foundation that make Thor a fun a watch.
This is a film that plays such an important part in the Infinity Saga and the emotional journey that Thor goes through. Based on this alone, make sure not to skip over this one when doing your MCU rewatch.