411 Comics Showcase – Thor (MCU)
Way back when I started this column last year, one of my first big projects was a spotlight feature on Captain America and Iron Man as they appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a fun project as the anticipation built for Civil War, and I’ve always intended to go back to the idea to spotlight other characters. Luckily for me, the biggest positive news in the comic book world this week is the teaser trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, our first real look at what Marvel Studios and director Taika Waititi have in store for us in November.
And by Odin’s Beard, what a magnificent teaser trailer it was. We got just a taste of who Thor is up against, how powerful Hela is, the situation Thor finds himself in, and the reveal of the Hulk (complete with Waititi’s signature earnest humor). I loved that this mostly looked like stuff from the first hour or so, and look forward to seeing how things play out. It looks like the third time may actually be the charm and we get a genuinely great Thor movie. So, what better time to look at the MCU’s God of Thunder?
The Source Material
Thor is one of Marvel’s most bizarre creations, and I remember walking out of Iron Man 2 thinking “Well how the hell are they going to make that work?” I mean, it’s not like there isn’t plenty of interesting stories about Thor to tell, it’s just that Thor is such an over the top character and has stories that take place in far off fantasy realms. Thor stories are big and epic and strange, and to top it off, he’s also the alter ego of Dr. Donald Blake, a disabled doctor who find Mjolnir in a cave and turns into Thor. Yes, seriously, that’s how the first Thor story went. This was later retconned to being part of Odin’s banishment of his son so he could learn humility, but those early stories really do feel like Captain Marvel with a disabled doctor instead of a young kid.
So, Marvel Studios actually tones down some of the weirdness. The Donald Blake element is gone (save for a clever in-joke), and the MCU’s is just well, Thor Odinson; God of Thunder, defender of the Nine Realms, and human Labrador Retriever. Marvel hired veteran stage actor Kenneth Branagh to direct the first movie, and cast the physically impressive but largely unknown Chris Hemsworth. Thor introduced an element of mythic fantasy to an MCU that had mostly grounded science fiction at that time, as well as ideas like space travel, aliens and cosmic artifacts. And also a sort of important villain named Loki who might have showed up again once or twice. But what about its main character?
Thor: Arrogance, Humility and Heroism
In spite of the extreme differences in setting, presentation and tone, Thor has a lot in common thematically with the first Iron Man. Both leads are heirs to empires, arrogant and perfectly fine with war, are put in an unfamiliar situation where they are stripped of their powers, learn a life lesson, and eventually save the day. Iron Man pulls this character arc off better, mostly because Thor’s characterization is not really consistent from scene to scene. Up until his banishment, Thor acts like a spoiled brat throwing temper tantrums, and he quickly sheds this once he’s on earth and learns a little too quickly how to act like a proper hero.
But while the execution leaves a big to be desired, the similarities also help establish something about Thor’s personality. Thor is much like the metal in his hammer; he can be tempered and molded. His life experience pounds him into shape and he has a very real change of heart. The brat that is in this movie is nowhere to be seen in the subsequent movies. Thor may always have a temper and revel in combat, but from this point on he is a pure-hearted and honorable champion of good.
The Avengers: Brotherhood and Friendship
Thor is the last major player to show up in The Avengers, arriving to give us a recap scene of the first movie’s plot, and the conflict between Thor and Loki. While the family drama was certainly present in Thor, Thor’s motivation in this film is to stop Loki from taking over the earth while also reconnecting with his estranged brother. The love he has for Loki in spite of his many crimes is the emotional center of the film, and helps cement Thor as the emotional center both of the Avengers as a team and of the MCU as a whole. Thor’s emotions are big and sincere, and there is rarely a time where we don’t know exactly what Thor thinks of a person at a given time.
Thor’s primary interaction is with Loki, but he also quickly comes into conflict with Tony Stark in a fight scene that reinforces their childish origins. Tony still has to pick fights, and while Thor does try to avoid it, once it goes, his temper flares and he can’t finish it. He also develops a clear respect for Steve Rogers; they are the two purest heroes after all. But perhaps the most important thing to take away comes from the Helicarrier attack, a moment which reveals what each Avenger is like in a crisis situation. Tony is a mechanic fixing the engine, Steve is a soldier taking orders, Natasha is an operative who takes out Hawkeye, and Bruce becomes a monster. Thor? Thor is a defender, a man who battle monsters; his battle with Hulk allows him to cut loose, but also protects everyone around him. That is who Thor is at his core.
The Dark World: Family, Responsibility and Agency
The Dark World does some things better than its predecessor, such as the fantasy elements and the action scenes. Chris Hemsworth is notably more comfortable as the character, and Thor has fully realized who he is. We see him as the same noble warrior and defender he was in The Avengers, and still dealing with the emotional turmoil of having a psychotic killer for a brother. Where does he go from there? He’s torn between his duty to become the new King of Asgard, something he always wanted, and his love for Jane Foster. It’s layover character stuff from the first Thor, but we see Thor ultimately go with his heart and it’s a nice enough payoff. He knows he can do more good as a warrior than as a king, which is true nobility.
Also a carry over is Thor’s complex relationship with Loki. This film allows the siblings to work together for a change, finding a common enemy when Malekith murders their mother Frigga. Their escape from as Asgard and their struggle to cope with their loss is the best part of the movie. Loki ascends to the throne in one hell of an ending, and one has to wonder how that will play out in Ragnarok, especially with Hela looking to takeover herself. Will we see these two brothers team up again? Fight again? Who knows.
Age of Ultron: Steadfast But Treading Water
Thor is in the Avengers sequel… and that’s about it. While Loki’s presence made him a vital part of the first film, Thor is mostly in Age of Ultron because he’s an Avenger and we expect to see him. He’s still friends with Captain America (teaming up for some memorable moments) and he’s still hostile towards Stark. Marvel includes some teases for Ragnarok and Infinity War into the margins, but Thor doesn’t really develop. He’s steady, he’s still fun, but what is he doing? Aside from proving that he is a loyal and warm friend to his teammates, not much.
There is one development; early on we see the Avengers trying to lift Mjolnir, and Cap nearly does it. We see a bit of Thor’s insecurity, but by the end, when Vision lifts the hammer, he is willing to roll with the punches. It should be interesting to see how he handles losing the hammer in Ragnarok, but I suspect he will adapt to it with the same steadfastness that has defined his character to this point. And it’s pretty clear we’ll also see his friendship with Banner develop, which I’m looking forward to. Let’s hope it meets expectations.
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Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, Michael and I dove deep into The Abyss. This week, we head to feudal Japan with Seven Samurai.
Which Thor movie is his best so far? The first, the sequel, or one of The Avengers movies?