Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba
The powerful, but arrogant god Thor (Hemsworth), is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.
Following on from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a whole lot bigger with the introduction of it’s next hero. For the first time, we were off Earth and in other realms as the series takes a turn into mythos and the fantastical world of Asgard.
Gods, Frost Giants, the bifrost…these might not seem like the usual elements of a superhero movie, but Thor, one of Earth’s mightiest heroes, is not your average superhero either.
It’s a slight shock to the system when Branagh’s film immediately throws you into this world, a voiceover from Anthony Hopkins’ Odin providing us with the context we need to establish who is who and where we are. His theatrical background makes Kenneth Branagh the perfect person to bring this story to life, and the film has an almost Shakespearean-like quality to it. It is interesting to view this film in the context of later Thor offerings, particularly Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok. Waititi’s film embraces the weirdness of Thor’s world in bright, vivid and imaginative ways, and certainly plays into this for comedic effect. However there seems to be a lot more reverence to Branagh’s film. At least initially anyway.
The opening is admittedly clunky, but essential in providing context for this character. It is when Thor quite literally crashes onto Earth however that the film really comes into it’s own and is much more akin to what we later see of the character. What follows is very much a fish-out-of-water story, with Thor’s archaic patter providing endless amounts of humour. Whilst the character of Thor continued to develop and change over the course of the films, it is this – his original outing – which reminds us that like Captain America, he is a man out of time (and indeed space!) and that sets him apart from the other heroes.
Thor’s arc is certainly an interesting one, and in particular his conflict with his brother Loki (Hiddleston) is something which carries over into the next phase of the MCU. Indeed, The Avengers is something of a direct sequel to Thor, with Loki being the main villain and of course the mysterious “tesseract” becoming even more of a crucial component.
Another important part of this film is that it goes further in establishing the background role S.H.I.E.L.D are playing in the proceedings. Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson plays a prominent role in this film, particularly when it comes to Thor’s legendary weapon, Mjolnir. The part S.H.I.E.L.D will have to play in establishing the “Avengers” as a cohesive unit is cleverly woven throughout the early films in the MCU, and particularly when re-watching these films in the context of Captain Marvel (which on the timeline would be before Iron Man 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk, and indeed the Earth parts of Thor) and a lot of the later MCU films, becomes even more interesting.
The story is now massive, spanning galaxies and a whole host of heroes, but going back to these early films in the MCU is something which still has merit. The fact that each character in the “core four” of the Avengers was established in their own right, meant that when The Avengers did arrive, it felt like an event. “Event Cinema” is a term being used more and more now, particularly when it comes to big box office draws such as the latest Marvel offering. Now as we approach Endgame, these beginnings of the MCU may seem relatively humble, but it is fascinating to go back and see what it became.
As I am planning to rewatch all of the MCU films*, I will rank the films as I go and update on each review.
- Iron Man (2008) – ★★★★
- Thor (2011) – ★★★★
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – ★★½
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – ★★
*I first started this in May 2018(!), but I have re-started (and re-watched all but Incredible Hulk!) again in the lead-up to Endgame.