Countdown to Endgame #6: Thor Really Goes There

As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

The action of Thor overlaps with both The Incredible Hulk and the end of Iron Man 2. Super important to the overall story arc of the MCU, Thor sets up the character and relationship dynamics that propel the conflict in the The Avengers, the first film to bring all these individual characters together.

Hero: Thor

“You are no match for the mighty Thor!”

God of Thunder, Son of Odin, first in line to the throne of Asgard, Thor is a part of a technologically advanced and very powerful alien race. Because of their intervention in defense of primitive Scandinavians during the dark ages, Asgardians were characterized as gods in Norse mythology. In earth time, Thor is ~1500 years old.

Other heroes:

  • Jane Foster
  • Erik Selvig
  • Agent Coulson

Villain: Loki

“I only ever wanted to be your equal.”

God of Mischief and Magic, Son of Odin, second in line to the throne of Asgard. Loki was raised as an Asgardian, and as Thor’s brother, but is actually the son of Laufey, King of the Frost Giants – a powerful, ancient enemy of Asgard, and of peace in the Universe. In earth time, Loki is just over 1000 years old.

Villain Complexity Rating: 5/5

Loki is a sympathetic bastard. The younger brother, the second son – even when he thought he was Asgardian, Loki had a serious complex about not measuring up. Having compared himself to Thor all his life, he knows his brother better than anyone, and so can see his flaws and all the reasons he’d be a terrible King. He wants the adoration of the people of Asgard more than he wants to rule them, despite what his actions might suggest. Even more than that, he wants the respect of his family – most of all from Thor. When he finds out he’s A) a monster and B) a tool, it’s understandable that he freaks out a little bit. Granted, stealing the throne, trying to murder a town full of humans, and threatening fratricide seems like an overreaction… but hey, I haven’t been lied to by the people closest to me for 1000 years – I don’t know what it’s like.

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 3/5

If Loki wins, Thor will remain powerless in exile on earth, he’ll be King of Asgard and the Frost Giants will be completely obliterated. Though the earth consequences are minor, planetary obliteration/genocide is pretty serious.

What did our hero(es) learn?

Humility, selflessness, what it’s like to be powerless, what it’s like to feel lost. This is the “Thor learns what it’s like to be a human” movie – which to an Asgardian, means he learns how it feels to be a weak, clueless idiot. It doesn’t feel very good.

Heroism Rating: 4/5

In this film, Thor:

  • Does some problematic warmongering with the Frost Giants (negative hero points)
  • Assaults a bunch of doctors and is rude to the scientists who are nice to him (negative hero points), but then starts to be nice after all
  • While powerless, offers his life to Loki in order to save the small New Mexico town
  • Saves Jane’s work from S.H.I.E.L.D., then offers his services to them as earth’s intergalactic protector
  • Sacrifices his own happiness (i.e. seeing Jane again) in order to save Jotenheim, Asgard’s enemies, from obliteration

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 4/5

Asgard is spectacularly strange and magical – all gold columns and floating buildings and rainbow technology – the helmets are super cool and the visual style is grand. The CGI looks good – and considering the whole first battle is with giant aliens, that’s impressive. New Mexico is dusty and sparse – a stark contrast that wrks – though the town feels a little too polished and movie-set-like to feel authentic.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 4/5

Though it is, within the context of the Avengers, a superhero origin story – as a standalone film, Thor is both a high-fantasy royal dynasty drama, Shakespearean in its scope, structure, and stakes, and a small town fish-out-of-water comedy. Miraculously, it excels at both. Though I know Kenneth Branagh has an extensive filmography as a director, his beautiful films of Shakespeare’s plays – especially Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing – have been most influential in my life. It really fits that he took on this project. All the elements of a great Shakespearean tragicomedy are here: sibling rivalry, throne succession, a bastard son, a dastardly plot, the devastation of war, betrayal, exile, adventures in the wilderness, mistaken identity, romance, redemption, … geez, even flowy outfits.

Contrast that with the New Mexico desert scene, where a couple leading-edge scientists (including Natalie Portman as the hottest astrophysicist of all time) and a political science intern race around the desert chasing astronomical anomalies and arguing about the line between science fiction and science fact.  The absurd collision of these worlds is a lively playground for Branagh and his actors, and they succeed at maximizing the fun potential. And Thor really is so much fun, with MANY of the most memorable LOL moments in any of the MCU movies yet (see: Thor at the hospital, Thor enjoying coffee, Thor at the pet store, etc.). That’s what I sense most people gravitate to, and remember, about this movie.

Underneath the wonderful silly stuff, though, the foundations are being laid for one of the most impactful and interesting characters in the MCU (and one of my personal favorites, for sure): Loki. The younger brother, Loki is undeniably a sneaky, backstabbing, power-hungry, selfish, manipulative liar with an inferiority complex. It would’ve been easy to go straight-up evil with him – but to the credit of the film’s writers and the amazing Tom Hiddleston – instead, we get a Loki who is deeply hurt, easy to empathize with, charming, even lovable – and in later films, someone you really start to root for. So much of that character begins here – in which we get to know Loki first as a son and a brother, who has been lied to by his family all his life, and who stands between worlds, with great power and potential, but not truly belonging anywhere. Importantly, it is through Loki’s plotting in the first act that Thor is revealed to be unworthy of his power and position – and though his intentions are anything but altruistic, the truth is: he’s RIGHT.  Underneath his muscles and charm, Thor begins this story as an arrogant, warmongering brat – who is willing to endanger not only the lives of his closest friends, but whose selfishness and ego threaten to undo the peace Odin has fought for, exposing the universe to the horrors of war. Though Thor eventually learns the humility and selflessness that make him truly worthy of his power, he also never really stops being that pompous self-satisfied guy underneath. The evolution of these two brothers and the dynamics of their relationship makes so much of the action of future stories come alive, and the seeds of that complexity and humor are nurtured, first, here.

Justin’s Rating: 4/5

I’ve been struggling a bit to figure out what I’d like to say about Thor. It’s an excellent origin story for two of the MCU’s most vital and most loved characters, both perfectly cast. It gives viewers a taste of Asgard’s awesome power along with bits of lore concerning some of its more distinguished inhabitants, Like Heimdall and Lady Sif. The New Mexico bits are full of heartfelt character-building stuff while also pulling off some truly great physical humor. None of this is very interesting analysis, but hey, it’s true man; I love what Kenneth Branagh has done with this material and this character.

Thor isn’t particularly challenging or controversial, but it is epic and fun as hell. This is a film that didn’t shy away from reallllly fantastical shit, like Bifrost and space rainbows and Frost Giants, knowing fully that it was to be directly linked with much more grounded franchises like Captain America. This is something the MCU got so right because it allows Thor to be the most epic and the funniest character in the realm (at least to this point). Sure, Tony Stark is earth funny and Steve Rogers is an earth hero, but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is so effortlessly homeric it’s clear he’s playing a different game entirely. The dude was born for this. How else can you explain him looking like that? That shit took some effort.

And while Thor is loveable for all his arrogance, Loki is sympathetic for all his treachery. Though only the surface of Loki’s character is scratched in this film, it’s clear that Tom Hiddleston has put work into understanding the complexity of this iconoclastic antihero. The emotional charge behind his eyes is like, actually observable at times. I literally got chills from his performance this last time around.

So yeah, I like it. Definitely recommend it. Not sure about Thor: The Dark World, but we’ll see what that’s all about when we get there. Now it’s on to The Avengers!

OVERALL: 4

Thor is available rent/stream for a few dollars through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores. Strongly recommended!

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