It’s been quite the week for Marvel. Black Panther is cooking up a storm at the box office, obliterating records left and right. As the unstoppable MCU machine continues to make enough money to make Solomon blush, my mind has been cast back to the franchise’s humble beginnings. They may have hit the ground running with Iron Man, but more than a fair few stumbles were had between that and The Avengers.
Phase One isn’t exactly looked back on with the same level of fondness as Phases Two and Three, but it’s not without its gems. Sadly, those gems are of the hidden nature and require re-evaluation. This brings me to the original Thor, a movie that had the tall task of being centred around the least recognisable character of the first crop of Marvel offerings.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, with a screenplay penned by Zack Stentz, Ashley Miller, and the late Don Payne, Thor has been unfairly forgotten due to its more intimate portrayal of the title character. Last year, Thor: Ragnarok had many proclaiming that Thor finally had a stand out movie to hang his hat on, and while it is the best of the bunch, we already had a pretty damn good silver screen outing for Chris Hemsworth.
The 2011 debut of our favourite muscular Australian as the Asgardian prince is packed to the brim with heart and genuine humour. Ragnarok rightfully received acclaim for its laugh out loud hilarity, but that doesn’t mean it’s the first of its ilk. The sight of the god of thunder bursting into a pet shop and loudly proclaiming, “I need a horse!” remains the funniest line possibly ever included in a superhero flick. The bulk of the second act revolves around the gag of Thor coming to terms with the human way of life; it’s Marvel does Elf and it’s brilliant.
Bringing in Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Kenneth Branagh was an unconventional choice, given his past directorial pieces. Best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, Branagh infused the film with a thespian feel. The interactions between Loki and Thor have rings of classical theatre, from both their dialogue and intonations. Branagh, in fact, set the standard for the characters of Thor and their theatrical influences, as every subsequent film featuring them has echoed his original vision, be it in their framing or the manner in which the actors exchange words.
It’s not his loftiest achievement as a director (which we all know is Hamlet), however, it has ambitions that remove Branagh from his comfort zone and is a testament to his versatility.
As far as introductions to new characters go, it’s hard to top Thor. While Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger gave us strong first impressions of their heroes, we get a memorable villain on top of Odin’s favourite son here. Tom Hiddleston captured our hearts as the god of mischief, playing the green-clad trickster with a virtuosity that highlighted his classical training. As the MCU’s only villain to really have a solid through line over the course of the series, Loki has proven to be just as popular as his heroic counterpart, pulling off something that no other MCU actor can claim to have done.
When we examine Chris Hemsworth’s performance, it’s obvious that he was born for the part. Hemsworth has proved over the years that he has a real knack for playing absent-minded brutes with the kind of charisma and comedic timing that cannot be taught. Thor was a hell of a coming out party for the man and practically everyone bought into him. With the exception of Edward Norton as The Hulk, every new hero in Phase One nailed their part, something I’m sure we can all agree on.
Aside from the comedy elements, the third act of Thor has some serious heft to it with meaningful character actions. Thor and Loki’s seemingly constant war takes a simple sibling rivalry and ups the ante. Both actors deliver so well that there is no room for doubt that their conflict is the result of years of bubbling resentment. Thor means no harm to Loki, but his ignorance towards his vanity and the ease with which he goes through life makes his brother’s cause more empathetic.
Loki only wants his father’s approval, he just doesn’t know how to be the flashy, beloved jock that Thor is. His apparent suicide as he falls into an endless void in the film’s climax doesn’t ring hollow. This is impressive when you consider that he’s only recently made our acquaintance.
Thor isn’t a perfect film, but is there such a thing? It accomplishes an awful lot with very little in the way of spectacle. A rich world is created with an intriguing history that is paid off in spades in the third instalment. We also get two infectiously likeable characters who have been mainstays in the Marvel movie canon. If you don’t remember watching Thor and enjoying it, I urge you to revisit. When you notice the sheer amount of new ideas and creative risks that are taken for a still fledgling movie universe, it more than holds up in retrospect. It’s the little movie that could, and it more than deserves our attention seven years on.
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