For a good few years now, Thor was one of those movies that I always rated lower just because there were some specific things about it that I didn’t like. For example, I didn’t like how most of the movie he is not a fully realized version of his character and I also thought director Kenneth Branagh used entirely too much Dutch Tilt in his camera angles for the whole film. Those two things were by far the largest detractions I had about the first Thor movie.
I’ve changed my mind after the rewatch. Big time.
A big part of the change of heart is appreciating the tone of this movie overall. This is yet another Phase 1 Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that has a smattering of solidly timed jokes inside a film that is generally more serious in tone and story. We are witnessing the maturation of Thor, Son of Odin, heir to the throne of Asgard and it not only serves as an introduction to his character, but also as an introduction to the world of magic in the MCU, or as the Asgardians would consider it, science.
That’s what helped me realize that Thor’s growth and character development throughout the movie was a good thing, not a bad thing. We are watching the growth of a young man into a true hero and to see his evolution from a petulant, selfish idiot at the beginning of the movie into a wiser, self-sacrificing leader at the end is satisfying, and Branagh does a great job of balancing the scale and scope of the world in general throughout the 130 minutes of screen time. We spend almost the first full half hour of the film on Asgard, understandably so, as we the audience need to learn some things about their world and how it relates to Earth. It’s not overly-expositional and they manage to keep the story centered around Thor’s growth despite the ensemble cast surrounding Chris Hemsworth’s title character.
Obviously when it comes to Asgard, you can’t go wrong with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin. You need gravitas, presence and stoicism in a role like that and he personifies it perfectly. On Earth you’ve got Natalie Portman’s Dr. Jane Foster running around with Stellan Skarsgard’s Dr. Erik Selvig and Kat Dennings comic-relief role as Darcy and that’s more than enough to handle the load of the story on “Midgard.” The tone changes considerably when Thor is banished to Earth without his hammer Mjolnir or his abilities after a foolish attempt to attack Jotunheim and the Frost Giants, led by King Laufey, played by expert villain actor Colm Feore. The regality and operatic nature of the story isn’t present among humans on Earth, nor should it be, and the story gets more grounded at that point as Thor is reduced to normality and must learn ultimate humility in order to get Mjolnir and his powers back.
The thing is, there are plenty of times that we go back and forth between Midgard and Asgard, switching from Thor’s quest for humility back to the operatic stoicism of the Asgardians and how they respond to what is happening and that is where we see our true breakout star of this film and of the MCU itself: Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. Indeed, this is the MCU’s first STRONG villain and it comes straight out of his tortured story. He’s spent his whole life idolizing and living in the shadow of his brother Thor, always secretly wanting the throne of Asgard for himself and plotting with Jotunheim to take it from Odin and his brother at the right time, only to discover that he’s really a stolen Frost Giant baby from King Laufey’s DNA and uses Thor’s banishment plus a well-timed coma from Odin to take over Asgard’s throne for himself in a fit of rage and self-righteousness. He is very much everything you want in a comic book movie villain. Personal motivation, twisted backstory, willingness to do whatever it takes to assume power, incredibly mischievous and highly ambitious despite a clear set of insecurities. He causes more than enough trouble for Thor, Asgard and Earth for that matter and when he is defeated at the end of the movie, you wonder if that’s for the best or not. Then you get excited when you see him in the end credit scene with Dr. Selvig speaking to Nick Fury about the Tesseract and that’s how you know you’ve got a great villain, because you want to see them come back for at least a few more rounds.
For all the people that didn’t like this Thor movie and consider it the worst in the MCU, that’s a real shame because it has the best story, the best character growth, the best cinematography, the best direction and even the best score perhaps from Patrick Doyle. The pacing and editing is solid for the runtime, it doesn’t drag, it looks gorgeous all throughout the film for a $150 million budget, and the humor in the movie never derails the story or the character intentions. Thor is very much a “real” movie about a young adult learning to be a great king in spite of his jealous brother wanting to take the throne from him and it deserves way more credit than it gets, which is definitely a theme for Phase 1 MCU movies so far.
At this point in the franchise, we’ve seen the continued exploits of Tony Stark, the introduction of Bruce Banner and now the realization of Thor along with a quick “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. We’ve also been introduced to a major villain in Loki that will soon cause even greater trouble for our band of heroes when they assemble, but first we’ve got to go back in time to learn about our final hero and his connection to the Space Stone at the end of this movie.