Thor was always an interesting choice for an Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. I mean, on one hand, it makes sense… in the comics, Thor has always been a cornerstone of the Avengers. At the same time, the character himself has always been a B-list to C-list hero; popular to a segment but never in the same realm as the big teams or characters. His own series was all over the place, going from epic story lines to incredible silliness. It was o
Of course, in the comics, his “weakness” was pretty ridiculous and thankfully was retconned, but there are little bits that connect to it in the movie. Originally, he was banished to Earth in the form of Donald Blake, a medical student, and turned into Thor when he grabbed his hammer. If he was apart from it for more than 60 seconds, he turned back into a human (and every comic basically had at least one time where he had the hammer taken away from him). Also, lots of silly, silly, silly stories.
Marvel had already toyed with the idea of introducing some of the Avengers through other character’s films (Black Widow in Iron Man 2), and Thor, as a character, had trouble getting anything through production. He’d been pitched as a TV series for UPN, and movies at 20th Century Fox, Sony, and Paramount (who would ultimately distribute this movie) before being finally made by Marvel Studios. It’d been through multiple writers, directors (fun fact, Marvel was trying to get Guillermo del Toro to do it and… wow, that would have been a different movie) before they finally got Kenneth Branagh.
It was a different choice that sort of fits Thor as a character and mythos, given that Branah is known for a lot of different film adaptations of Shakespeare and a great deal of what we would see in the movie deals with the royal family of Asgard and tragic conflicts between people who are terrible at communication. In a lot of ways, Thor represented what would become “the formula” for a lot of Marvel movies going forward… taking a character who had a a particular flavor (and a lot of varied history) and creating something new to build the universe around… one whom a lot of fans knew the name of but knew very little about.
As a movie, this one is always a bit divisive for fans of the MCU. Most recognize that it’s one of the weaker films in the series, despite a cast that’s probably the strongest overall (featuring two Academy Award winners, a well-known cast of supporting characters, and a well-respected director). In fact, the best acting seems to come from the two relatively unknown actors in the film (at least unknown to US audiences, which were still the primary market for these films when it was released): Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. Hemsworth has known mostly for dying in the first few minutes of the Star Trek reboot and being on an Australian Soap Opera, and Hiddleson had mostly done British television.
In starting up the movie, the strangest thing to realize with it is just how dark the movie is at the start… a theme that keeps popping up with it. I’m not sure if this is the influence of the director or just an effect of the story, but the movie is almost impossible to see when it starts up. I get it, they’re trying to establish that these people are doing astrophysics work in ways that have basically nothing at all to do with actual astrophysics or astronomy… but there are ways to do that and still illuminate your actors.
In previous movies, the introductions had usually been fairly bright and establishing the tone of the movie quickly. Iron Man was out in the desert and basically complemented the look and attitude of Tony Stark. The Incredible Hulk had dimmer surroundings that were dirty and gritty, which fit the overall tone of the film. Iron Man 2 was all about spectacle and bombast, which played up to the rest of it.
Based on the introduction, you may think that this was going to be an incredibly dark and subtle movie, but really it’s all just setting up for the second act of the movie. After they blow into Thor as they try to drive off from the very thing they’ve been looking for, we cut back to Asgard, which is stunningly bright and stylized.
The CGI effects of Asgard have actually aged pretty well. A lot of it feels a bit shiny and clean, almost polished and a bit fake… but somehow that fits what the Asgardians seem to be. Ancient, vain, and apparently very aware of how the rest of the galaxy sees them. They look at Midgard/Earth as a quaint little place where you go to play god.
We get pretty stark contrast of places within the movie: Asgard is bright and opulent, Jotunheim is dark and desolate, and Earth is New Mexico. The effects and lighting in Asgard are good, and outside of that opening scene, Earth works as well. Unfortunately, the reason that Earth is well lit seems to be because all of the dark that was at the start moved right to the Frost Giant planet. In what will become a sort of running problem with the action in this movie, it’s mostly obscured with darkness and poor lighting. I don’t think it’s the effects… when we see the Frost Giants and other effects they look just fine.
This is the sort of movie where I’m tempted to listen to the commentary track for the director and see how much of it was driven by Branagh. A lot of the visual stuff in the movie that seems more director choice, with a lot of spinning effect shots, weird angles, and things that we don’t see as much of later.
In fact, Thor is the movie where we start to see the MCU movies break out of the more genre tropes that had drive the previous stuff. Iron Man 2 was particularly notorious for that… slow motion shots, explosions behind characters in slow motion, slow motion montages. With Thor, we get fighting action with some spins (in bad lighting), but most of the action is fast and closer as it happens, and while this is still an action movie, the focus is more on the characters themselves than the fighting.
Characters is where Thor continues the trend of Marvel filling in secondary characters: Darcy and Erik on the mad scientist and mad political scientist front, the SHIELD stuff giving us a bit more with Coulson, Idris Elba as Heimdall, and even the little bit we get of Syf and the Warriors three.
It’s harder to qualify the villain of the movie, though. Is it Loki or is it Laufey? Laufey is uninspiring in it… he doesn’t do anything really other than show up, and I never got the sense he was as dangerous as the Asgardians seemed to treat him. The MCU really struggled for a long time on making it so that the villains were actually as dangerous as the characters seemed to treat them. To be honest, we haven’t seen one at yet… unless we’re talking about Loki.
Villain isn’t really the right word for Loki in this movie, mostly because he spends most of the movie as the antagonist, but is also one you can certainly sympathize with. I mean, Odin is just the worst father, he sits in the shadow of his brother (and, despite going about it wrong, his assessment of Thor was pretty spot on), and basically everything he’s known in his life was a lie.
Hiddleson manages to do so much with some very clunky dialog in the movie, and there’s a real nuance in his interactions with Thor, and especially the scenes he had with Odin. The pain and confusion of it, in how he was going after something that he felt he could never actually get. It held until the end, when I feel he was being completely truthful in claiming everything he was doing was in order to impress Odin. At the same time, I have to think Loki was smart enough to know that it wasn’t going to work, but still can’t break out of his nature.
With Hemsworth, I have to think he was first cast for looking the part that they needed more than anything else. I think that he’s a fine actor – I actually really like him, but this movie was clearly not playing to the strengths we see in other movies. Namely, the fact that he seemingly has some uncanny comedic timing and the charisma that he shows with his castmates.
We do get to see some of that in this movie, especially with the initial reveal of Thor doing his full over the top when he’s about to get crowned king. That little wink, the sly smile, and the eye-rolling love from the people who know him. Unfortunately, we’re not going to see much of that for awhile, because he’s going to go right to angry and kind of idiotic Thor.
That’s probably one of the fundamental problems in the movie overall, and probably the weakness of the plot. As an origin story, it’s not terrible… though it’s less an origin story for Thor and more for the Thor we’re actually going to like. The acts of the movie feel very disjointed, especially in the end, and it’s hard to see Thor making such a sharp and complete personality change by the end of the movie.
I mean, sure, he’s had his power stripped away and he’s been humbled; his brother lied to him (and it’s just so sweet how trusting he is of Loki despite overwhelming evidence that he shouldn’t believe a word he says), and he thinks that his actions somehow killed his father. And that should be devastating for Thor… but it really doesn’t hit him until he goes to try and lift Mjolnir and can’t. We see him break in that moment, and it’s believable.
What isn’t, though, is what the movie pushes on to us after that, in that it’s his sudden attraction and affection to Jane Foster that makes him worthy and changes him completely. If this was a friendship and early hints of something more, I could see the sacrifice being far bigger. The romance aspect is what really doesn’t end up working, mostly because it mostly comes out of nowhere.
I’ve watched this movie several times, and have said that it was kind of mind-boggling how Natalie Portman’s acting in the movie felt so off and below what she is capable of. In watching through this time and taking notes… she’s actually pretty good for a lot of the movie. It’s that romance part which doesn’t work.
Jane Foster the scientist is great, driven, and directs action well. She gets railroaded by SHIELD, and quickly goes about trying to fix it. Even her initial interaction with Thor was all about trying to find more information on the Einstein–Rosen bridge, driving out to the camp was trying to get some of her stuff back, and she was incredibly excited when she got the book back that would allow her to continue her work.
In that moment, was saw the little cinder of connection and spark, but by the next morning it’s something way more than that. As we move into our final battle, it slides a bit to hard into love-struck and gives us a the cheesiest line in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, seriously, that “oh my god” may be why I think her acting was uneven in it. It’s the worst type of cheese, bad enough to make George Lucas scoff, and the lingering shot on the camera just wrecks it.
Once Thor goes down and makes his sacrifice, which was noble to save everyone, is where it started to crack. I get the emotion of the situation and watching him “die,” but the whole romance angle they rush in at the end feels inauthentic and undermines the emotional hit. I think I would have much rather seen them leave it at the same spark we saw when they were talking around the campfire and wait for later movies to build upon it.
Or, if there wasn’t a later movie, just leave it there unsaid and let us fill it in. Not ever story has to have a romance, even when there is history in the comics to set it up. They had to know what the contract situation was for Portman in the movie… Hemsworth was tied up for several movies and she was tied up for one. The plans for Avengers were already happening and she wasn’t in it, and it reduced the thing they told us to important to a recurring dialog item in the Avengers films.
How Marvel handled female characters was very uneven at the start; how they portrayed Betty Ross in the Incredible Hulk was just bad. Pepper Potts was uneven in Iron Man 2. While the introduction of Black Widow was great in the same movie, but also somewhat small (and used as much for T&A as she was a character). Here, a good Jane Foster falls off in the same way that Pepper did.
The secondary characters, though, give us so much. Darcy is a fun and unique, and we get the touch of comedy that this movie desperately needs. That’s one of the big problems with this film overall… it often just takes itself too seriously. It gets fixed by the time Ragnarok comes around, and all of the Avengers movies leverage Hemsworth’s comedy, but it’s great that Darcy gave us that here.
Syf and the Warriors Three show a lot of promise, but are fairly underused. Something interesting that I hadn’t noticed in the past is that Hogun called out Loki as a trailer almost immediately after Thor was banished. Maybe they should have listened right away. A whole lot of the plot of this movie relies on the characters being dumb or just ignoring what Loki is doing.
While Iron Man 2 did a lot to set up SHIELD as an entity, Thor is where they become the agency that will anchor future Marvel films and shows. Most of us probably had no idea who Clark Gregg was before these movies, but he is fantastic as basically anything he does.
Thor storming the SHIELD base is probably the best fight in the whole movie, if only because it’s a bit more subdued (or as subdued as crazy fighting like that can be). At least here, when we get the emotional rain, it makes sense… because we have the god of thunder and Mjolnir around. I am sort of curious if the desert would really get that muddy, that fast, but it still made for some sloppy and fun fighting.
Of course, the important part of this whole setup is the introduction of another one of our future Avengers friends, Clint Barton A.K.A. Hawkeye, who almost touched a gun but instead opted for… a compound bow? Doesn’t he normally use a recurve bow? Sorry, everything I know about bows I learned from Dungeons & Dragons and a few years of boy scouts that I barely remember.
I hadn’t really noticed it before, but they established Clint’s initial personally very strongly in the few minutes he was in the movie. That small bit of snarkiness to him, the confidence of what he’s doing despite the madness of it… though we really don’t get to see his archery skills here. Did he ever mention having seen Thor before when they finally met in the Avengers? I don’t think he did…
Of course, after that, we get some of the great scenes of poor, trusting Thor and Loki being Loki, and some really great interaction between the two of them. Unfortunately, this is one of the last times where we get it. After that, Loki goes to an almost mustache-twirling place as king after that.
Much like Stane in the first Iron Man, I had to wonder what Loki thought he was going to be able to do. He may have gotten away with the initial thing, but once he started to use the relics, hide himself from Heimdall, and conspire with the frost giants, things were going to fall apart. After he attacked Thor on Earth, knowing that Syf and the Warriors Three he had to know time was up. Did he betray Laufey because he knew Thor was going to show up or was it always his plan. No matter what, the moment he froze Heimdall it was over.
The end of the fight is… anticlimactic, or maybe just kind of boring. We get to see Thor still being gullible and introducing a trick that will be one of the little running jokes that actually works. But it all feels like fighting for the sake of fighting… Loki knows he can’t really win, so he’s just looking to blow up a planet.
Honestly, that’s really the biggest complaint I have about Thor. I like the movie, but more often the plot just feel like it sort of happens, and the characters are moving to fit it. The “growth” of Thor is sudden and stark, the motivations of Loki are all over the place and murky, and the romance happens because the movie needed romance. Even at the end you’re left wondering… if Mjolnir can break the rainbow bridge and Bifrost, why can’t it shatter the ice stuff around Odin’s spear?
I mean, these are comic book movies, and a lot of it should be taken tongue-and-cheek… but even with fantastical fights and crazy situations, you’d like to have some decent reason for it all to go down. Iron Man is a great example of this being done right (even if Stane’s motivations are iffy)… you can at least track what Tony is doing. Not so in Thor, which is mostly about Thor being a jerk and then not being a jerk, Jane and co doing a lot of not-science, or Loki just being Loki.
Maybe that’s why the ending feels a bit unsatisfying… it just sort of ends because Thor Smash. Odin is still around, Thor is still a prince, Loki is “dead” (spoilers, he’s not, as the stinger will reveal when it introduces the McGuffin for the next two movies), and he wants to return to Jane because romance.
Maybe it doesn’t matter, though, because despite a lot of the flaws Thor is still a fairly fun movie. It builds up a character that isn’t well known, gives us some more Thor, and gives us a Villain / Not Villain that will be around with us for some time. It was fun to watch but a lot of it doesn’t work as a whole. Individual parts do, but when you look at the Phase I movies, this one sits right in the middle of the pack. It’s better than the Hulk and maybe better than Iron Man 2, but everything else is vastly better than it. I’m going to call it a three out of five, which seems to fit it well, and look forward to reviewing my favorite of the Phase I movies next.
Bonus Review of the “The Consultant”
Man, I miss the One Shots. This is a fairly simple one, compared to the ones that come after it, and is half made up of Coulson and Sitwell sitting in a diner out in New Mexico and recycled scenes from the Incredible Hulk. This is one of two references to that movie that exist in the MCU (the other is a quote in The Avengers).
A few small takeaways… apparently Ross was working for SHIELD, which still makes no sense compared to everything we see about them, SHIELD has Blonsky in custody, and the World Security Council has always been extremely stupid. There’s not much else to it, this was sort of testing the waters, and is the weakest of the One Shots that we get.
Since there are going to be a lot of these reviews, and it’s nice to see how all of the movies stack up against one another, we’re going to add a little summary section for the Marvel Cinematic movies. When we’re all done, I’ll have an article that goes over my rankings of all the movies (which won’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of the movie in stars, etc, more of how it ranks within the total collection).
- Iron Man (2008) – 5 out of 5
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 2 out of 5
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – 3 out of 5
- Thor (2011) – 3 out of 5
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
- The Avengers (2012)
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Thor: The Dark World (2013)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Guardian’s of the Galaxy (2014)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
- Ant-Man (2015)
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- Black Panther (2018)
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
- Captain Marvel (2019)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)