Reviewed by John Hussey
As indicated in the post-credit scene for Iron Man 2, Thor would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the fourth instalment. Marvel Studios had certainly found their groove by this point and were whacking out films on a regular schedule. With that came the development of their universe, which had seen the inclusion of Tony Stark, i.e. Iron Man, and Bruce Banner, i.e. The Hulk, along with secondary characters Nick Fury and Black Widow (and original character Agent Coulson).
But things would certainly become tricky for Thor as this would be the first proper instalment to exit Stark’s established universe. Sure, The Incredible Hulk was technically the first, but as we’ve established in previous reviews that film felt disconnecting, and doesn’t sit right with the rest of the films within Phase One. So (for all intents and purposes) Thor had to be the first film to get across a new angle, establishing the realm of science-fiction and Gods.
Whereas in the previous main films the tone was quite realistic (and sometimes gritty) we now had to get our heads around the idea of other worlds and legends existing within the same established universe without elements feeling distracting, or out-of-place. In that respect Thor had a massive task on its hands, one that was never going to be easy to introduce. All I will say is for what they did, it was fine, but it’s certainly not the best superhero introduction within the universe (besides Banner’s, which was extremely boring due to his films direction).
I think this film’s major problem is the blandness to it. For a huge chunk of the film it feels rather uninspiring, which is heavily to do with the dull settings. No offence New Mexico but, a desert is a desert. For a film that is trying desperately to throw in new elements into the mix (in order to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe in time for Avengers Assemble) spends far too fucking long concentrating on the norm. I suppose (in a roundabout kind of way) that sticking Thor in the middle of modern-day was a sure way for audience members to notice the difference in style and tone. You’d be wrong!
For the majority of the first 30 minutes we are shown Thor’s life on Asgard. His way of life, his status within his lands, and the world and characters within his established universe. I have to give credit to the film for being able to introduce this side of the universe within such a short space of time and it not feeling forced. On one hand you could easily forget it’s a Marvel Studios film because of the high-dosage of fantasy elements, but swiftly you;re beaten in the head repeatedly by Marvel in order to remind yourself that this is in fact within the same universe as the Iron Man films, and Avengers Assemble is fast approaching.
These segments of the film are clearly (without a shadow of a doubt) the best parts to the narrative. They stand out because they are different. We see worlds, new cultures, and really get a grasp on Marvel Studios’ grand perspective on their brand. Gone are the days where we have individual superhero franchises. Now we have multiple franchises intertwining into one massive saga of events. At this point in time it could’ve still gone incredibly wrong, especially if Thor wasn’t taken well.
I think most of us (including myself) can agree that poor Thor gets the most flack. I wouldn’t say his character is particularly bland, or his stories are massively boring, but it always seems like his involvement within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is underwhelming. His first film still stands as my least favourite introduction film (besides The Incredible Hulk). But, unlike The Hulk’s introduction, Thor doesn’t have such a bad ride. In fact, his film is entertaining. My only grudge (like I mentioned above) is the lack of fantasy.
Too much of the narrative is dull for my liking, but when the film does decide to turn up the voltage on its “awesome factor” Thor is fucking great. My favourite aspect about the film (and Thor’s character in general) is the character development. My God did Marvel Studios get this aspect right. Yes, Marvel Studios clearly did well with Stark (and it has shown throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe) but with Thor there was a very clear indication to his development and it feels very rewarding.
I suppose, like Stark, you have to question whether or not you want to root for Thor in the beginning. After all, he comes across as a massive tantrum baby who’s quick to throw over tables if he doesn’t get his way. For a man that was about to be crowned king he’s certainly not a good role-model. Instead of thinking about his kingdom first, Thor acts as a triumphant warrior thirsty for battle and glory. This way of thinking quickly develops disagreements from his father, Odin, who feels his son’s attitude is unfit for the role of king.
Angered by the fact that Odin shot his ideas for justice down in flames (thus allowing their enemy, the Frost Giants, to get away with their attempted attack) Thor attempts to act on his own, furthering the case that his selfish impulses outweigh his good qualities as the rightful heir to the throne. Upon travelling to Jötunheimr Thor confronts Laufey (leader of the Frost Giants) and ultimately breaks the peace within the Nine Realms all for the sake of proving himself the “mighty warrior of Asgard”.
Naturally, his childish, selfish, and retarded actions are thus punished by Odin. It’s a rather fitting moment and shacks the film up. Before we see Thor as this unstoppable force, but in the presence of Odin he is but a humble child, learning to become a man. It clearly shows here as his father witnesses his son (the very boy he attempted to crown king) disregard everything he had taught him, and ultimately endangered his brother, friends, and his kingdom for the most childish reasoning.
Thor is sentenced into exile, reduced to a mere mortal, with his trusty hammer Mjolnir taken away from him. This begins his journey of discovery. Upon crashing on Earth he bumps into Dr. Jane Foster, her assistant Darcy Lewis, and Dr. Erik Selvig (or more accurately gets run over by them). The film then has an amusing scene of Thor attempting to escape a hospital, throwing several doctors across the room as they try to restrain him, to the point where he proclaims his strength as Thor, only to be taken out by a tranquiller.
This is where the film takes a horrible turn for the worst in which we have to endure the boring scenario of Thor’s exile, and although it holds some funny moments, and some downright emotional moments, it still feels inferior in comparison to the ambitious fantasy elements established prior. Why can’t we have more of that? Luckily the sequel, Thor: The Dark World, rectifies this.
We of course have the somewhat clunky love-story between Thor and Jane. I think a lot of the problem with this aspect of the Thor franchise is down to the simple fact that Natalie Portman is in the role, who is best remembered for playing Padmé Amidala within the Star Wars Prequels. I don’t think fans wanted another repeat of that God-awful storyline, and its forced feelings and sickening dialogue. For the most part it comes across quite well, doesn’t feel overly forced, but you kind of can’t ponder on what the actual fucking chemistry is. She just comes across as “creepily obsessed” and he just seems “thankful”.
Another element that is introduced (for the sake of fucking tie-ins) is the inclusion of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Cue Agent Coulson (reprised once more by Clark Gregg) and his somewhat irrelevant purpose throughout Phase One. I know he plays a much larger, and detailed, role within Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I have (unfortunately) yet to stick my teeth into the show, and thus, I have to go off what I have seen. Their purpose within the film does at least hold more merit within the flick, i.e. they are investigating the crash-landing of Mjolnir.
But their presence still feels forced for the sake of connecting the dots of the universe just in case the general public don’t understand what Marvel Studios are trying to get across (although I can guarantee that a large portion of the general audience still don’t have a clue – and that’s not because they’re not trying hard enough, it’s simply because the general audience doesn’t fucking pay attention).
Here’s another good point: what the fuck happened with Hawkeye?! Jeremy Renner, you poor guy. Honestly, this guy works his arse off and he’s still considered the underling that just turns up for the fucking Avengers outings. The character clearly has potential for so much more and is instead completely underutilised. I know his presence is getting slightly better as each appearance goes on, but that’s still not good enough. Take Black Widow for instance, she’s appeared outside of The Avengers films, and in each appearance gets in-depth development to her character (for better or worse).
Poor Hawkeye just gets forgotten about. Black Widow’s first appearance was as a secondary character featured throughout the majority of Iron Man 2. Hawkeye probably has about 1 minute of screen-time, and it feels so utterly pointless, as if to say, “Shit, we haven’t introduced Hawkeye in preparation for Avengers Assemble! We can’t fit him in the next film, Captain America: The First Avenger, because he wasn’t fucking born yet! We’ll have to quickly fling him into Thor so that the general audience won’t be so confused!”
What’s even more baffling is that he doesn’t appear again for the rest of the film. What gives? Why doesn’t he return? He’s just there for that one random scene and then disappears from the face of the Earth. You’d think he’d return for perhaps the interrogation scene (helping Agent Coulson gather information as to who Thor is after he breaks into their base), or more obviously the third act when his talents would’ve been required (then again it was perhaps thought that his limited abilities would’ve rendered him useless in the fight, but that’s not the point). But nope. I’ll just call this what it is: “Utter fucking bullshit!”
We then progress with Thor’s character development as he begins to rekindle with the life lessons that his father taught him, thus becoming a more refined character filled with wisdom, passion, and true leadership. In that respect Jane is a great beacon to his character and helps him (in a rather sweet way, which doesn’t feel sloppy or mushy) become the noble hero. But, alas, Thor would first have to face the challenging task of realising that his trusty hammer, Mjolnir, has been sealed from him by Odin, meaning it is out of his reach despite his hard struggle to reclaim it.
Added by the fact that he is exiled from his home, his friends, his family, it makes this section of the film all the more tragic because you feel Thor’s despair as defeat slaps him in the face and pretty much mocks him. It’s there to state to him, “This is your fucking fault! You decided to play the role of the selfish twat and this is your just deserts.” Thor is very much aware of this fact now and actually begs for forgiveness, showcasing a clear, and natural sign of intellectual character development.
Meanwhile, we have the development of Marvel Studios’ most successful villain within their franchise, i.e. Loki played by Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston has a certain charm as Loki, one that brings out all the beautiful sides of his tragic character, from the shadowed son, to the jealous brother, and to the confused king who just wants acceptance. I will admit though that his presence within Thor is less impressive and at times feels uneasy to watch, to the point where I don’t fully like the portrayal and direction of the character (which, upon my original viewing, left me fucking baffled as to how he would stand as the main villain within Avengers Assemble).
But, I have to remember that this film was a development process for all the character’s, and it clearly shows within later appearances within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, in that respect, I can forgive. There are, however, some real gem moments from Loki’s character that indicated to Hiddleston’s promise within future instalments. This was particularly shown towards the end of the film when his evilness took form and his bitterness against Thor was unleashed in spectacular fashion.
What makes Loki’s story more interesting is the tragedy. He’s not actually Odin’s son, or Thor’s brother, but rather the son of the enemy. Loki is a Frost Giant (Laufey’s stolen child) whom Odin took at the end of the original conflict on Jötunheimr in an attempt to create a peaceful tomorrow, but those plans are ruined after Thor practically screws everything up, meaning that Loki’s presence feels completely pointless. This revelation drives Loki to such emotional levels as he confronts Odin about his deceit and how everything became clear to him, particularly why he was never destined for the throne, and why he was always overshadowed by Thor’s glory.
Loki then begins to formulate his plans to rule Asgard after Odin falls into a deep sleep after the stress of Thor’s exile, the brink of war, and Loki’s confrontation bare too much on his heart. The God of Mischief then assumes the throne and begins finalising his position by torturing Thor’s mind with torturous lies in order to break his will further, thus forcing him to give up on the idea of returning home.
For a time it is unclear what Loki’s motives are, thus making him more intriguing. You don’t know whether he was always trying to be evil, or just plain mischievous to dick-over Thor on his grand day of victory (i.e. letting the Frost Giants into the Weapons Vault). Then we see him attempting to allow Laufey access to Odin’s chambers in order to kill him in his state of vulnerability. Is he trying to get vengeance? Or is he just playing a cruel game for his own amusement? Answer: a bit of both.
It becomes even more tragic when Loki is just trying to prove his worth in the eyes of both Thor and his father, that he could be the great and fearless leader that Odin would want as his successor. But this is where the film truly pays-off by the conclusion because we see how much Thor has grown. At the beginning of the film he didn’t care for being the fair, and caring leader, but rather the brainless soldier who wanted to fight whenever and wherever he could. By the end he has become selfless, putting other’s before himself, attempting to defend them despite his mortal state.
Upon The Destroyer being sent out to destroy Thor (after his friends, Sif and the Warriors Three, disobey Loki’s commands and look for Thor on Earth) his character utterly changes as he evacuates the Mexican town, getting everyone to safety, before confronting the creature himself in order to make peace with his brother in a deplimated solution. Thus Mjolnir finally recognises his worth and returns to its master, renewing Thor in all his glory in order to save Asgard from his brother.
It’s a really triumphant display which is made worse by the fact you have to sit through a lot of dull shit to get to this fantastic point in the film. There’s a lot of great development shown within this film (which helps to pave way for better things for the characters, and the universe in general, within the future) but it’s not the best form of execution. I really don’t know how else they could’ve introduced the character, which is the major problem, but there had to be a better way than what we received.
But at least the battle between Thor and Loki is worth it, especially in building up one of the greatest story-arcs within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What makes this rivalry so good is the relationship between the characters and their clear love for one another, despite Loki despising Thor. Plus it’s great to see the role reversal. Thor is now the man of wisdom, whilst Loki no longer holds any real grasp on what a true leader should be, lost to the perimeters of power. He honestly believed he could become better than Thor, and prove to his father that he was the rightful king by overcoming Thor and destroying the Frost Giants (thus deceiving Laufey into a trap that cost him his life).
Upon realising that Odin didn’t agree with his actions, and becoming disappointed at Thor’s change in character (to which he blamed Jane for and threatened in order to provoke his brother’s inner anger) he allows himself to fall into a crack caused by the overloading Bifröst. It’s fair to say that this moment, and the two character’s build-up, is the only real thing you need to take away from this film because the rest is near enough forgettable. And the less said about the forced dialogue indicating to Thor’s allegiance with Agent Coulson the better.
For what it’s worth Thor was a gamble worth making as it had a lot of pay-off for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s just unfortunate that the film itself wasn’t. But say, as I’ve pointed out in this review, it did have some good points which stand tall. And the post-credit scene featuring Erik, Nick Fury (reprised again by Samuel L. Jackson), and Loki opened the doors to Avengers Assemble in the best possible way. Thor’s development was great, Loki’s introduction was most appreciated, and their rivalry paved the way to a great set of conflicts that help to re-shape the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everything else, however, is just tick-box work to allow Thor access to his seat within the assembly that was now fast approaching.