An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Thor’ (2011) (Movie review)

This blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the fourth film, “Thor” (2011):

STRENGTHS

“Thor” has a vibrant cast of characters and both Asgard and New Mexico are wonderful places to visit on screen (although in both cases, I wouldn’t want to live there). Asgard is visually beautiful, with its Rainbow Bridge and the device that blasts people through wormholes to the other planets in the realm. I am a sucker for fish-out-of-water humor, so I enjoy Thor (Chris Hemsworth) interacting with Jane (Natalie Portman) and other Earth humans for the first time. And there’s pretty good ruling-family drama between Thor, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their dad (Anthony Hopkins).

WEAKNESSES

I felt “Thor” needed a bit more of the things it is structured to serve up on a platter: the Jane-Thor relationship and the befuddled-outsider humor. Maybe the somewhat convoluted in-house Asgardian power plays could’ve been tightened up to make room for this.

HEROES

The buff Hemsworth is a visually perfect Thor, and a decent enough actor. Thor’s backstory is similar to Superman’s, but with more pathos and room for nuance, as he is banished from Asgard to Earth due to his immature warmongering. On Earth, he must learn that violence is only to be used in defense – acquisition of the famous hammer is predicated on this – and that ultimately ties in nicely with his budding love story with Jane.

VILLAINS

Being Thor’s brother, Loki is the most personal villain in the MCU thus far – and, from what I gather, a fan favorite. His scheming strikes me as a bit convoluted, but kind of interesting. At first, he is the more mature and wise brother, who sees the folly of Thor’s youthful bloodlust. But it turns out he had something to do with the whole cycle of violence himself, by allowing the Frost Giants’ initial infiltration of Asgard (even though he doesn’t learn his Frost Giant heritage till after that). I may be misunderstanding some of this, but I get the broad family dynamic, at least.

Also on the villain front: S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), outright steals Jane’s research into the atmospheric event in the name of national security. I know they are the ostensible good guys, but they sure are arrogant SOBs. They think they are efficient, but I see them as buffoons who don’t recognize the obvious fact that Jane, Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) could be valuable allies if they simply treated them as such. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. immediately makes enemies out of them, which just causes a distraction. Objectively, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a villainous group in “Thor.”

WOMEN

A big step up for the MCU, “Thor” easily passes the Bechdel Test, with Jane and Darcy regularly discussing scientific instrumentation and astronomy theories (and sure, the fact that Thor is ripped, but that’s not the focus of their chats). And Thor’s group of big brute friends – the ultimate comic-book portrayal of manliness – makes room for a warrior woman, Sif (“Blindspot’s” Jaimie Alexander).

MIRROR TO REALITY

“Thor” comments on the world’s cycle of violence in a more personal way than the previous MCU entries, but it still works as a metaphor for Earth governments and militaries. At the film’s start, Thor – in line for the Asgardian throne — pays lip service to his dad’s notion that military might is to be used for defense, then he escalates a misunderstanding with the Frost Giants into war. Later, Thor successfully acquires the hammer only when he wants to use it in defense of Jane and other innocents.

As noted above, the government’s treatment (via S.H.I.E.L.D.) of Jane and her research group is a mirror to the reality where “national security” can be used a trump card, and a thematic continuation from its blunt attempt to legally steal Tony’s tech in “Iron Man 2.”

BEST ACTION SCENE

It’s video-gamey, sure, but it’s pretty awesome when Thor’s hammer mows through a bunch of Frost Giants in a first-act battle on Jutenheim.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

Having satisfied his need for “sustenance” and enjoyed his first taste of coffee, Thor slams down his mug on the diner floor and requests another. That’s proper etiquette on Asgard, but not so much on Earth, as Jane informs him.

WORLD BUILDING

S.H.I.E.L.D. – two years away from getting its own TV series — is in the thick of this film, as we knew they would be from the teasers peppered into “Iron Man 2.” Led by Coulson, they steal Jane’s research and construct a facility around the Asgardian hammer that’s stuck in the desert ground. One of Coulson’s operatives is a bow-and-arrow marksman named Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner); we’ll later know him as Hawkeye, a member of the Avengers. Unlike Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” Hawkeye’s appearance is a mere cameo – he has a shot at Thor but Coulson orders him to stand down.

This film gets rather lazy about tying its hero into the supergroup: Text at the end of the credits simply states “Thor will return in ‘The Avengers.’ ” Instead, “Thor” uses its post-credit scene to show Loki still exists – as an evil Force ghost equivalent – so I assume he’ll seek revenge in future films.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

“Thor” was my buddy Seth’s favorite film of 2011, when he first talked me into giving it a look. I thought it was mediocre then, and I’ll never be a huge fan, but I did appreciate it more on this second viewing. With a passable love story between Thor and Jane – mainly because Hemsworth and Portman would have chemistry with anyone – and decent family drama on Asgard, “Thor” is a serviceable introduction to this latest future Avenger. In sequels, I’d like deeper exploration of the Thor-Jane relationship, and more fish-out-of-water comedy as we see how Thor’s Asgardian upbringing contrasts with the lives of Iron Man, Hulk and the other superheroes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *