I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t think 2011’s Thor has aged that well. Not to say it’s particularly out of touch or dated in itself, rather it feels like a tonal misstep that the franchise eventually goes on to self right in the late movies in the franchise. Looking at the movie objectively, it’s a perfectly serviceable action movie that mixed fantasy and science fiction, it’s just that the direction the series took ended up leaving this movie looking like the odd one out.
The MCU’s First Risk
The early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were tentative steps into portraying a comic book world on the movie screen without any kind of filter. As I’ve mentioned before ad nauseam; superhero movies were always accompanied by a near-sympathetic wink and a nod at the audience, like they were embarrassed by their source material to an extend.
Thor was Marvel Studio’s first foray into the deeper aspects of the comic books and their interpretation of Norse mythology. Which worked really well in the movie at the time, the realisation of CGI Asgard, coupled with the level of legitimacy that came with having an actor of the caliber of Anthony Hopkins playing Odin made the movie feel better for taking itself so seriously.
Looking back at it today, I kind of feel like it ended up taking itself a little too seriously.
I know that sounds like it counters the traditional approach I have to this kind of storytelling, but there is something a little stiff about the pomp of everything that takes place in Asgard. There is humour to the character’s banter sure, but the costume drama nature that surrounds everything makes it hard to really connect to the characters.
Which is why the movie’s other half end up being the stronger of the two.
Thor’s Lightning fast change of heart
The sections of the movie that take place on Earth are the heart of the movie, where we meet Jane Foster, Erik Selvig and see Clint Barton’s first appearance in the series. The characters of this world feel far more in tone with what’s already been established in the two Iron Man movies. Which makes sense.
And once Thor finds himself powerless on Earth, the fish out of water aspect of the story works perfectly. It’s cute, it’s charming and there is some real chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in their scenes together.
But it never really gets deeper than “cute”. In the first half of the movie, Thor is a real asshole. He’s hugely arrogant, full of misguided self-righteousness and utterly in love with his own hype. Once on Earth, he suffers a series of deeply personal revelations; realising he is now unworthy of Mjolnir, (falsely) believing himself to be the cause of his father’s death and Loki’s confirmation that he can never return to Asgard.
Given Thor has spent his entire life believing himself to be the rightful future King of Asgard, then having all this happen within 36 hours of him nearly being crowned by his father, it obviously would be a deeply impactful event in his life. The thing is, after learning this, he spends a few hours drinking with Selvig before spending a few more hours chatting with Jane by a fire. In the next scene, he seems to be totally at ease with his new situation.
Which has ultimately always been my major problem with this movie even when first seeing it.
Writing Thor into a Corner
After over 1000 years of deeply ingrained arrogance and being praised for acting like a douchebag, Thor becomes an altruistic figure, willing to make acts of self-sacrifice after an evening of drinking with a Norwegian and realising he has a crush on Natalie Portman.
I mean sure, Thor is never portrayed as being evil. I’m sure he’s performed thousands of acts of heroism before now. But everything he did seemed purely self serving up until the point where he willingly allows himself to be destroyed by Loki if it means Earth and its people are safe.
As the movie ends, we see a utterly changed man, who is humble before his father and desperate to redeem his misguided brother. The problem with this not just being the quickness at which Thor’s character totally and completely changes, but also that it changes too much so soon in a series that expects him to appear in at least five more movies.
Part of the reason Tony Stark is such a great character in the MCU is that each movie only seems to strip away a single layer of what is a train wreck of a person, each piece of personal growth only opening a new avenue to explore the character.
Thor feels like it strips the character down to his core and rebuilds him all in the space of half a movie. It’s difficult to see where the character to go in future movies without completely having to remake him from the ground up, which is exactly what they have to end up doing.
The Future of Thor
Not to get ahead of myself, but Thor becomes stale as a character before his first movie is even over. Thor’s presence in the Avengers movies is a lot of fun, with his little Hulk rivalry and continued rivalry with his best frienemy Loki. But even his “he’s adopted” line in the first Avengers, while funny, is out of tone with the pompous, self serious nature of Asgard as portrayed in this movie.
Even at this point, they needed to drag him out of the world they’d created for him in the first Thor as the tone of the series moved swiftly away from what they’d chosen to make here. Something they seemed to realise almost right off the bat.
We’ll get to why this becomes increasingly problematic when we get to Thor’s sequel. It took the MCU until Ragnarok to completely salvage Thor and reinvigorate Chris Hemsworth’s passion for playing the character. The Thor we see after Ragnarok, and especially in Endgame is an infinitely more interesting character than the one see at either side of this original movie.
People like to talk about Iron Man 2 being the worst movie of “Phase 1”, but you know what, I found more to enjoy in Iron Man 2 than I did Thor. And it feels kind of bad to day that. Had it not been for Tom Hiddleston whose Loki is a continued highlight of the franchise to this day, this movie could have easily turned into a dark fantasy train wreck akin to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Van Helsing.
It’s not a bad movie by any means, but the choice to create their vision of Asgard within a world of costume drama on green screen ended up being a detriment to the character going forward. Not helped by the incredibly drab earth setting of one road town in the middle of a desert on Earth.
Thor suffers from feeling out of tone with the rest of the series. Switching between high drama and comedy on the fly became the hallmark of the MCU, and Thor has too much of the drama and comedy that feels pretty weak in comparison. But, had this first movie been willing to have a little more fun with itself, then maybe we wouldn’t have eventually gotten Fat Thor and Asguardians of the Galaxy in the next few years. So it’s swings and roundabouts in the end I guess.