Published on April 21st, 2015 | by JCDoyle0
MCU Retrospective Review – Thor (2011)
Year of Release: 2011
Film Number: 4
Budget: $150 million
Box Office Takings: $449.3 million
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne
Thor! What Is He Good……..Thor?*
It may not seem like it now but Marvel made a bold move by making Thor.
When it was being produced the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its infancy and a Superhero based on a Norse God was definitely not going to be a sure fire hit. There was a long gestation period for the movie and a number of directors came and went before Kenneth Branagh was announced as head honcho in December 2008. Even though Branagh had a string of hits under his belt at the time he seemed an odd choice in some people’s views. However J Michael Straczynski, writer of the Thor comic, explained why Branagh made the perfect sense:
“Thor, at his best, has always had a classic bent in terms of his history, the way he speaks and the often Shakespearean dramas that surround him. That kind of dialogue and character needs someone who comes from a classically trained background in order for it not to sound forced or artificial. Branagh is the perfect choice.”**
The other bonus was that Branagh is a self-confessed long term fan of the Thor comic: he understood the history of the characters and the stories.
Do we need to do this? Surely we all know the story by now? Well, okay then. It’s a classic tale: God is an arrogant bastard, loses his power, meets girl, learns humility, gets his powers back and kicks some ass along the way. Meanwhile the girl learns there’s more to life than she ever thought possible and nobody even broaches the issue of religion.
The main essence of the narrative is a typical theatrical myth mixed with modern sensibilities. It starts with a legendary battle that sees Odin defeat the Frost Giants and their leader Laufey before helping himself to some spoils of war, the Casket of Ancient Winters and a seemingly Asgardian baby. This lays the groundwork for the movie and the main drive behind the story but it also sets the tone and prepares the audience for the type of movie that they are in for. In those opening moments Branagh makes a very bold statement: this isn’t Iron Man.
As the action moves to the present someone has allowed a number of Frost Giants into Asgard to steal back the Casket of Ancient Winters (I feel like that should be in bold italics). Thor finds out and in his anger he takes the fight, and his friends, back to Jotunheim to teach the Giants a lesson. This is ill conceived and results in Odin stepping in to save the day and shatter the 1000 year peace. This has to happen, Thor has to start out as a bit of a dick otherwise how can he possibly grow as a character? His following banishment is the first step in Thor learning what it really means to be a God.
It’s not until Thor crashes into the desert and the lives of Dr Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Dr Erik Selvig that any links are made with the Marvel Universe. Down in New Mexico S.H.I.E.L.D. have found the hammer of Thor, Mjoinir, and have trussed it up like Elliot’s home in E.T. No-one can budge the hammer, not even Thor and this leads him to the realisation that he might have to live out his life on Midgard. The next step in the growth of Thor.
Of course, everything that has happened on Asgard has been cunningly orchestrated by Loki and Sif isn’t best pleased. Together with the Warriors Three, Sif travels to Midgard to bring home Thor, but look out norse gods, Loki has sent the Destroyer after you! The action is then cranked up in spectacular style (which all looks brilliant and came as a brilliant surprise, Branagh is not known for his big screen action scenes) and Thor’s third lesson is learned: sacrifice. On the brink, when he has given all, Mjoinir is returned to him and if Thor had a hammer he’d hammer in the morning, he’d hammer in the evening….
The Asgardians return home after Thor has a teary goodbye with Jane and Loki’s ultimate scheme is revealed which is very cunning indeed. Fight, fight, a few father/adoption issues and Thor learns his final lesson through a bit more sacrificing: he accepts he still has much to learn and is not ready for the throne of Asgard.
Where the story doesn’t really contain anything new, what with it being a mix of Norse/Greek mythology and Straczynski’s comic run, the highlight of this film lies within the characters.
Despite early reservations by the crew, Hemsworth turns out to be the perfect Thor, in some of the scenes he IS Thor and his confidence within the part makes it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. He looks like a Norse God and manages to express the emotional change that the character goes through. Obviously a good script and an experienced direction help but, for what is in essence a blockbuster action hero, Hemsworth provides an amazing performance.
Natalie Portman’s Dr Foster is changed from a medical doctor to a scientist to fit the story better but this doesn’t matter one jot. Portman is convincing as a scientist forced to confront everything she believes in. Nobody is going to find it easy when suddenly faced with a God but she reacts as you would expect. First she’s doubtful but as the truth begins to dawn she searches for a scientific explanation for what is happening. This is one of the strongest points in the movie. Portman is essentially the audience who has to be convinced that this world of dimensional travel, magic and Frost Giants can exist in the same space as high tech costumes and secret government organisations. This is something that’s been happening in comic books for years and is therefore simply accepted by most readers but it’s a new experience for a lot of movies audiences. Portman is our guide and her baggy clothed, scruffy appearance is the ideal choice for this role.
Unfortunately there is so much to cram into this film already that a number of the best characters barely get any screen time. However, Branagh is used to dealing with ‘bit parts’ and handles them very well. Sif is one example. She comes across as a fully rounded character even though we don’t get to see that much of her. In fact she has such a presence that you want to see more of her and hope she’ll feature more in the sequel. The Warriors Three come across as three separate characters instead of 3 two dimensional cut out’s to fill the space. They each have their own idiosyncrasies ready to be exploited in the future.
Of course one of the shining lights of the entire film and someone who goes on to steal the show on and off screen is of course Tom Hiddleston as the charming and malevolent Loki. In the Journey Into Mystery comic series Kieron Gillen creates a lovable child Loki that everyone ended up rooting for. In Thor Hiddleston does something similar but the difference is the movie version is the villain and is meant to be the villain. A little understood maybe but all of his planning is to further his own needs and nothing more but there is at least one moment during the film where you kind of secretly hope Loki comes out on top.
The Throne of Asgard
So, did Marvel succeed in bringing Thor to the big screen? Yes, yes they did.
It’s true there is some division in opinion about the movie, there are people who don’t like it, who compare it to Iron Man and find it lacking but most of this comparison is based on personal tastes in style and genre. Thor is not Iron Man, or the Incredible Hulk and the world he inhabits is very different. But pretty much all of the central characters in the Marvel Universe before and after Thor have one thing in common; each one is about finding the hero inside. Thor’s arrogance and lofty position as the son of Odin rules him at the start of the film and it’s not until this attitude is changed, in a naturalistic and plausible way, does he become the hero everyone expects him to be.
Yes, Thor is gaudy, over the top and in places damn right ridiculous but then again have you read any God myth’s that aren’t? It’s theatrical but with Branagh’s deft hand at direction, it’s also easy to accept these characters in a shared world with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.
Nick Fury turns up with a colourless Rubik’s cube sort of thing for Eric Selvig to play with. A strange apparition of Loki urges Selvig to agree to help S.H.I.E.LD. and there’s no question as to what the next film in the franchise will be.
* I do not apologise for the bad gag.
**quote from Total Film magazine, October 2010