“This is going to suck.” Some idiots uttered these awful, hurtful, untrue words about 2011’s Thor before it came out. One of those idiots was I, Liam Maguren. Judge me world, for I have sinned.
Out of all the MCU films, this was arguably the biggest nail to hammer. Thor was the first film in this universe to go beyond Earth and into the actual universe, so it needed to prove that the world of Norse Gods could work alongside our puny human world without looking goofy. This responsibility went to Shakespearian actor-director Kenneth Branagh, who had not proven himself as a blockbuster filmmaker, and lead Chris Hemsworth, who had not proven himself a star.
In many ways, the story of Thor is also the story of Branagh and Hemsworth: they all needed to prove themselves worthy.
At the time though, idiot dumb dumbs (*points to my dumb dumb face*) were stubbornly sceptical and wholeheartedly jumped on the report that claimed Anthony Hopkins backhanded Hemsworth’s acting abilities on set. Turns out, that rumour was a horrific, vile lie.
Not that you needed an article to tell you that. Hemsworth commands the screen with his authority, charm, and the abdomen that needs no picture. The image of him shirtless has already resurfaced in your mind in 4K.
The early scene of Thor entering the Asgard throne room does a near-perfect job of establishing his cocky sense of kingly entitlement. It’s all in Hemsworth’s grin, really.
In fact, almost everything that makes Thor great happens at the beginning. We’re treated to a beautifully realised rendition of Asgard, showing off the art department’s hard work from the sleek costuming to a depiction of the rainbow bridge that somehow doesn’t look silly. The battle with the Frost Giants effectively demonstrates how awesome a deity with a propeller hammer could be.
After Thor’s reckless actions against the frost giants, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) takes away his right to the throne, exiles him to Earth, and puts the ban hammer on him. Literally. Odin bans Thor from using the hammer until he’s worthy.
It’s a subtle but effective way to flip the script on origin stories. This isn’t about a superhero growing with power; it’s about growing WITHOUT power.
This is what makes Thor a crowdpleaser. It starts as a tale of the up-himself prick learning to sit down and be humble – the #2 theme audiences love the most – then turns into an underdog story – the #1 theme audiences love the most.
Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) travels the same journey but in reverse – he starts all quiet and modest before turning into quite a sizeable asshole. Detailed with complex tragedy and relationship woes, Loki’s voyage to villainy makes him one of the best baddies the MCU has seen (and desperately needs more of).
Natalie Portman makes for a good scientist as Jane Foster. It’s refreshing to see her and Thor’s romance grow from very simple acts of kindness (as opposed to blunt acts of bravado). Pre-Two Broke Girls Kat Dennings may have little more to do than comedic relief, but she does a fine job getting some quick yuks as an assistant who downplays some otherwise incredible findings. Stellan Skarsgård also gets one of the best laughs trying to out-drink the Norse god.
The other great laughs come from Thor’s fish-out-of-water indifference to everything in Earth Realm, from the classic social faux pas of throwing a mug down as a signal of more coffee to the completely shameless way he enters a pet store and demands “I need a horse!” It’s bloody funny.
I’d also mention how much I liked Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, but I feel the more I write about them, the more upset I’ll get at Thor: Ragnarok for brushing them aside.
We get a feather-wiggling tease of Hawkeye during the scene where Thor tries to get his hammer back from a SHIELD-occupied camp of tent cubes. It’s the best part of that scene, mainly because the brawling feels like it came from ’90s television. As did all the Dutch Angles. Dear god, so many Dutch Angles.
The climax isn’t one for the history books, either. After seeing Thor crush a bunch of Frost Giants and hammer-fly through the mouth of a massive ice jaguar thingy, it’s pretty tame to see him take out the walking iron furnace by using wind.
At that point though, most people were won over. Thor convinced with some difficult-to-pull-off world-building, a hard-to-sell character, some honest-to-goodness humour, and a well-realised antagonist. It goes to show that even if you don’t have the greatest blockbuster-y elements in your blockbuster film, a good story and a likeable lead will pull it through no matter what.
Throwing in a meme-able table flip doesn’t hurt, either.