Ah, the first Thor movie. A movie that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a full-on, dramatic space opera, essentially Lord of the Rings / Shakespeare in space, or a typical Marvel superhero action-comedy. Instead of dedicating itself to one or the other, it attempts to do both, and the end result is…about what you’d expect.
We start out with a clunky exposition dump from Odin, king of Asgard. He’s played by the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins, who has decided to take these very silly movies and use them to try and win an Oscar. Seriously, he’s the strongest part of these films, fully dedicated to the character and giving us what is basically a career-defining performance. We’re introduced to Thor and Loki, then unknown actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who would prove to be a couple of Marvel Studios best finds.
It is in this family dynamic where the film is the best it can possibly be. The Shakespearean family drama surrounding Odin and his two sons pack an emotional wallop in every scene, the best of these being Odin almost tearfully stripping Thor of his power and casting him out to Earth, Loki discovering the truth of his parentage and screaming at his adopted father for his failings as a parent, and Loki and Thor both psyching themselves up to fight each other for the throne and heart of Asgard. It’s what director Kenneth Branagh is best at, and the quality of the acting performances behind them elevate these scenes to some of the very best melodrama Marvel has ever offered.
Loki is the real gem here, as we all know. Tom Hiddleston’s performance is perfect, giving us a vulnerable, jealous, insecure, hurt child who hides behind a cunning, scheming persona. Loki is the personification of mischief, literally being the god of it, and Hiddleston really sells the fact that you can never really tell who’s side Loki is on or what he is planning next. He is also one of the only Marvel villains who sticks around. Thanks to audiences falling in love with Loki and his evil yet sympathetic ways, he receives the honor of being the villain the Avengers have to come together to stop, he returns for both Thor sequels, and he’s coming to finish it all out in Infinity War. Loki certainly earned his title at the top of the Marvel villain roster, but a lot of it is due to audiences simply having spent the most time with him compared to the others.
Thor, despite a horrifying decision to dye his eyebrows and facial hair blonde, making him look truly ridiculous, proves to be the Avenger that goes through the most drastic change and enormous character development. Starting out as a bratty, entitled, battle-hungry prince all ready to be crowned king, a humbling trip of self-discovery down on Earth turns him into a reflective leader, ready to put the needs of others above his own. His decision to destroy the rainbow bridge in order to save the lives of the frost giants, an alien race he was happily murdering by the dozens at the start of the film, knowing that doing so means he may never seen Jane Foster, the woman he’s fallen in love with, ever again, is a true display of how far he’s come in just one film. From selfish, self-absorbed, self-importance to selfless, self-sacrificing, and fighting for people other than himself. Perhaps it’s a bit too much of a change for one film, plus the fact that it occurs over the course of only a couple of days. Thor’s development may have benefited more by making his time on Earth with Jane and her friends a bit longer than what it appears in this film.
Speaking of Jane and company, this is where the movie blunders. The decision to put Thor on Earth and turn the whole thing into a fish out of water story makes sense. It’s the best and maybe only way to get audiences used to this kind of extravagant character, since at this early stage the MCU was trying its best to stay as grounded as possible. Thor’s oblivious antics are great comedy most of the time (“This drink, I like it. Another!” “I need a horse!”) and looking back at them now, they’re a great tease at the comedic turn both the character and Hemsworth would later take.
However, the rest all falls flat. Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, and Darcy the intern are never too interesting or compelling, despite Jane and Selvig both being brilliant scientists. Kat Dennings’ Darcy is downright obnoxious most of the time, only landing one or two actually funny quips. Jane’s relationship with Thor is weak; Again, these two only spend a couple of days together. Jane’s friends repeatedly tell her that Thor is an insane, possibly dangerous, homeless man as far as they know, so her falling for him and he, in turn, falling for her comes across as something that is based purely on physical attraction to one another. It’s not great to see a supposedly brilliant astrophysicist going all giggly over this man she doesn’t know and her friends say is dangerous simply because he’s good looking. The love story being told rings hollow, and the failure of it here leaves a curse on the sequels.
The parts on Earth aren’t the only problems here, sadly. Asgard looks a bit hokey, and the visual effects of it have NOT aged well. The main issue is that it doesn’t ever come across as a real place, where real people might live. Lady Sif and the Warrior’s Three, Thor’s friends, are never fully realized as characters in their own right, instead being reduced to single character traits. They would continue to be wasted like this in the sequels. Odin falling into a coma right when Loki is giving him what he deserves and then waking back up in the nick of time to save his sons isn’t the best plotting device, and Thor’s showdown with the Destroyer is an enormous letdown after the battle against the frost giants on Jotunheim (which is an awesome display of how powerful Thor is).
This film was the biggest gamble yet for Marvel. It was the first foray into the cosmic side of the universe, and if it didn’t work the MCU of today would probably look a lot different (more Hydra, less Thanos). Thor stumbled a bit more than most entries in the MCU, but thanks to the perfect casting and performances of the royal Asgardian family, it still managed to prove itself worthy.
Connections to the MCU: Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. are back, and they brought in Hawkeye for his first ever appearance, even though it’s only a short cameo. Coulson and company wonder if the Destroyer is one of Stark’s creations when it first arrives, and Erik Selvig tells Jane and Darcy about a “pioneer in gamma radiation” he once knew who disappeared mysteriously after coming onto S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar. It’d be nice to see Selvig and Banner meet up again. Odin’s treasure room is full of Easter eggs, including the Eternal Flame (which will come into play in Ragnarok) and the Infinity Gauntlet. The post-credits scene gives us our first glimpse at an Infinity Stone: The Tesseract AKA the Space Stone. It also teases the return of Loki, who, after falling into the vast abyss of space and spending some time with the big bad Thanos, is looking a little worse for wear but all the more determined for galactic conquest. Almost all of the pieces are in place for the assembling of The Avengers, but first, we need to go back in time to World War II, to meet the leader of this band of misfits, Captain Steve Rogers.