MCU Retrospective: Thor
The Marvel Report is currently counting down to the release of Doctor Strange by analyzing the 13 films which preceded it. As you have heard many times from Marvel, their film universe is “all connected,” and we are breaking down those connections for this retrospective series. Today we are looking at the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor. While Thor may seem like a distant memory since its release back in 2011, it actually introduced audiences to both magic and space travel in the MCU. It also set up Thor’s future with the mighty Avengers and the motivations of the villain who would bring the Avengers together, Loki.
I am very happy to be diving into this film because it was my first experience with the MCU. At the time these films were released I was going through a major transition in my life and they weren’t on my radar. I didn’t see Iron Man or Iron Man 2 in theaters, and I was only able to catch The Incredible Hulk on video. My dad was, however, a huge fan of Thor, so when this film was released in theaters in May of 2011, we made sure we went to see it. I remember being amazed at the spectacle of the film, the vast world of Asgard, the galaxies being explored through the Bifrost — it completely enchanted me. It wasn’t until the end title card “Thor will return in The Avengers” that I realized the film was a part of something bigger. Because my family enjoyed Thor so much, we then saw Captain America: The First Avenger just a few weeks after, in July. Cap 1’s post-credit scene was the first teaser for The Avengers, and in that moment, I was hooked. Marvel is now one of my all-time favorite fandoms and I owe that all to this film.
Thor opened on May 6, 2011. It was written by a variety of writers including Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz (who co-wrote X-Men: First Class), and Don Payne (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer). It was directed by Kenneth Branagh, the master of Shakespeare, and starred some of the world’s finest actors including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and of course, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. At this point I had only seen Chris Hemsworth in Star Trek 2009. I was surprised to see that the man I knew as Jim Kirk was wearing an elaborate red cape in a throne room on Asgard. As for Tom Hiddleston, he was a new face to me. I had never seen him in anything until Thor, and his performance as Loki was absolutely captivating. The scene where he confronts Odin about his parentage and screams “Tell me!” still makes me cry to this day.
As many of you know, Thor takes place on three worlds: Asgard, Earth, and Jotenheim. While Guardians of the Galaxy is widely considered Marvel’s first “space epic,” I would say that Thor held that territory first. The amount of space travel that Thor, Odin, Loki, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three did in this film was astounding. It was the first time we saw space travel in the MCU. It was also the first time we learned about the nine realms, quantum teleportation (via the Bifrost), and saw a technologically advanced race make an impact on Earth. Thor’s arrival on Earth was the reason that Nick Fury went on to develop tesseract-powered weapons in The Avengers. The threat development in the MCU was set up perfectly because the Iron Man films introduced enhanced heroes and villains (Iron Man, Iron Monger, War Machine, and Whiplash), The Incredible Hulk introduced genetically enhanced heroes and villains (The Hulk and Abomination), and Thor introduced what Thor calls the magic of science, hereos and villains who had an understanding of something beyond human comprehension–like magic, quantum teleportation, dwarf star alloy manipulation (Mjolnir), and eternal life.
As we count down to Doctor Strange, who will invariably be the main catalyst for magic in the MCU, we must also remember the foundation that Thor made to establish magic in the MCU: Loki was technically the MCU’s first sorcerer/enchanter. In Thor, Loki used his magic to cloak the Frost Giants who stormed Odin’s treasure vault during Thor’s coronation. Loki also used magic to change his skin, hair, and clothes. In the post-credit scene of the movie, Loki used magic to influence the mind of Erik Selvig. Magic was also used to control the Destroyer, who was seen on Earth in the finale battle and Odin’s treasury. Something to note about Odin’s treasury is it contained numerous magical items, including the Casket of Winters (the terraforming device seen above), the Warlock’s eye, and the Infinity Gauntlet. This was only Marvel’s fourth film, but it was clear by the inclusion of these items that they were cueing up Avengers Infinity War from very early on.
Thor also established space travel. Guardians of the Galaxy demonstrated space travel via ships, but Thor established it through both magic and science. It still astounds me just how much Thor set up for future Marvel films. The presence of Phil Coulson was another significant element of the film, since he was the first character to cross over from the Iron Man movies to Thor. As we know, Coulson was the glue that held these films together in terms of continuity, or was, before he was killed in The Avengers. He and Nick Fury both made appearances in these films to remind audiences that something bigger was happening. Hawkeye also made an appearance in this film, as the dark ops archer inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. The first time I watched this I didn’t know who Hawkeye was. It wasn’t until I rewatched Thor after watching The Avengers that I realized he was the guy with his bow aimed at Thor. Nick Fury’s appearance in Thor was also a great post-credits cameo because he gave Erik Selvig the tesseract. The tesseract was recovered during Captain America: The First Avenger, so it’s safe to assume that Thor and the current events of Cap 1 were taking place at the same time. The tesseract was another nod to the Infinity Gem storyline, so Marvel was making a pretty clear connection here.
Thor also established the great Shakespearean tragedy that is the brothers Thor and Loki. The betrayal of Loki, the lies of their father Odin, the rampant jealousy, the revelation that Loki was actually Laufey’s son, all had roles to play in Thor’s banishment and Loki’s revenge. This Shakespearean drama was clearly translated on screen in no small way because of Director Kenneth Branagh. Branagh’s extensive work adapting Shakespeare made the Asgardian royal family seem relatable in a way, because of the accessibility of Shakespeare. What’s remarkable about Loki in this film is that he could have been a one-note villain. He could have fallen into the vast reaches of space at the end and drifted into oblivion, but he didn’t. As we saw in The Avengers, Loki spent almost a year with Thanos. How long was he under Thanos’ control?. Did Loki meet Nebula and Gamora? Did Loki endure torture and pain to be Thanos’ servant? We know that Loki promised Thanos the tesseract, but why? What did Thanos tell Loki about the gems? There is so much that happened to Loki that remains unanswered, answers that could hold the key to Thor solving the mystery of the gems. Maybe this will all be revealed in Thor Ragnarok, we’ll have to see. Overall Thor was a fantastic film, filled with heart and humor, and a foundational MCU that invariably laid the groundwork for The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and soon, Doctor Strange.
Next up in our MCU Retrospective series, Captain America: The First Avenger.