Our journey to Infinity War continues with 2011’s Thor. So far, we’ve covered the perfect start to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, the studio’s green-headed step-child with The Incredible Hulk and Marvel’s first sequel, which is admittedly uneven, with Iron Man 2. Now, we have the introduction of Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder as we take our first steps into the cosmic side of the Marvel universe. This may not be a great movie in its own right, but it’s an important one for the MCU.
I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a lot of personal love for this movie. The side of the Marvel universe that Thor explores is not something I was ever particularly interested in, but as a fan of comics my whole life, knowing that they were building to The Avengers, I was in and saw Thor in theaters opening weekend. At the time, I wasn’t able to appreciate how important it was and how much credit director Kenneth Branagh deserves for doing something way outside the norm for comic book movies. At the time, it was a massive risk assuming that audiences would in any way accept the fantasy side of the MCU. It’s kind of like a not-as-great version of something like Game of Thrones with superheroes in it.
That said, without proving that audiences would show up for something like Thor, other movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that many consider to be among the greatest the MCU has ever produced, would not have been possible. Period. Sure, Thor, wasn’t a massive hit, earning just $449 million at the box office. But that’s actually a pretty great number when you consider just how little The Incredible Hulk made. People know who Hulk is. Not nearly as many people outside of hardcore Marvel Comics lovers really knew Thor, let alone the ensemble of lesser-known characters, such as Odin, Jane Foster and, most importantly, his troublemaking brother, Loki.
Speaking of that, let’s look at what Thor really gets right, which is primarily two things; Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. For whatever shortcomings this movie may have (such as pretty underwhelming visuals and fight scenes), the brotherly duo of Thor and Loki is so crucial and works so well. This pairing, given where the MCU is now, is incredibly important and it absolutely had to work. At this point, The Avengers was already well on its way to getting made. Had people truly not accepted Hemsworth as one of Earth’s mightiest heroes and, perhaps more importantly, in a way, if they didn’t like Loki as a bad guy, this whole grand experiment could have been in trouble.
We’ve all come to really adore Chris Hemsworth as Thor, but he didn’t get his own great movie until Thor: Ragnarok last year. That actually makes watching his first solo adventure in the MCU a little more difficult now. Thor: Ragnarok really wound up being an outstanding and uniquely fun comic book movie. That makes watching this middle-of-the-road origin story a little unimpressive now. Though, this movie has its very serious defenders and, if fantasy is your thing, that makes sense.
But without question, especially looking at the MCU now, Thor is so important for gifting us with Loki. He’s the best villain the MCU has had to date and, granted, the bar is set pretty low most of the time, as the movies generally focus much more on the heroes, but Loki isn’t just the best of a bad situation; he’s a truly terrific, emotionally grounded and complex villain. He’s actually the reason that the lack of great villains in the MCU since is so damn frustrating. And sure, we’ve had the benefit of seeing Tom Hiddleston as Loki in several movies, so he’s had time to marinate. But even just isolating him in Thor, it’s downright fantastic.
While audiences were largely unfamiliar with Hemsworth and Hiddleston prior to the release of Thor, this movie has a staggeringly established cast. And what’s most surprising looking back at it now is just how wasted all of this talent really is. This movie has Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Not to mention Ray Stevenson and Jaimie Alexander. To be fair, I wouldn’t trade having Anthony Hopkins as Odin for anything, but he doesn’t get a ton to do here and he actually gets the better end of the stick, compared to everyone else in this group. Specifically, Idris Elba feels terribly wasted as Heimdall. Not just in this movie, but in the MCU overall. Imagine what could have been? Seeing all of this somewhat wasted talent really stuck out like a sore thumb this time around.
Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but let’s not forget how important this post-credits scene is. Erik Selvig joins Nick Fury at a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base in order to reveal to him what we will come to know as the Tesseract, aka the Space Stone, the first of the Infinity Stones to be revealed in the MCU. At the time, we couldn’t have known what this meant, but this really was the first true building block for Avengers: Infinity War. Plus, it sets up what will become a central piece of Captain America: The First Avenger, which we’ll be discussing next week.
Marvel has come an incredibly long way since Thor. I’m not entirely certain that the studio could get away with putting something out of this quality now, but it’s an important movie with a lot of heart that I would blame nobody for enjoying. It’s also quite impressive that this is considered a low for Marvel Studios, as Fox and Warner Bros. have both done far worse when it comes to superhero movies at one point or another.