For our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel canon movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1. Today, we get philosophical about the nature of heroes and aliens with Laney’s review of Thor (2011).
When it first came out in theaters, despite starring another of my all-time favorite leading ladies Natalie Portman, Thor just didn’t hold up to how much I enjoyed Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely! Was it the best written plotline in the world? Well… to me, it felt a little rushed and a little contrived.
Rewatching it for our blog, however, and in light of the films that come after Thor, places the film in an entirely different light. Like a lightbulb going off, I have realized it is the pivotal plotline of the current Marvel continuity.
(1) It is the first plotline in the continuity where humanity (even a small subsect) is aware that we are not alone in the galaxy. I love mythology, and the idea of the “gods” being advanced alien beings makes a whole world of sense. Thor is NOT, in fact, a super hero. He is an alien with advanced technology. When Daddy Odin takes that technological advantage away, ironically Thor becomes much like everyone else here on Earth. But the film reminds us (for instance in my favorite scene in the diner where he throws the mug on the ground and cries “Another!” much like my 2-year-old nephew), that Thor has not learned Earth’s niceties. He is from a warrior culture that venerates strength in battle above all else. Not because it wants to (as is seen by Odin’s desperate attempts to maintain peace among the realms), but because the galaxy is a cruel and malicious place, full of creatures who are neither benevolent nor peaceful, and who would give anything to tap the riches of other worlds in whatever form. This is particularly important later in The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), both of which are all the better for their galactic scope.
(2) Which brings me to the second important piece of this film: Loki. We’ll be getting to our review of The Avengers, where we will be talking a great deal more about our dear Loki, but ultimately, the conflict of that film is entirely set up by the initial brotherly conflict in Thor. Loki lets a couple Frost Giants into the treasure room to set his brother up and prove that he’s not ready to be king of Asgard in their father’s stead. Of course, the great part of this film (and with many of the plotlines with Loki) is that Loki ISN’T ENTIRELY WRONG. His brother Thor is hotheaded, rash, impulsive. He cares more for his name in battle and the veneration of his skills than he does in keeping his people safe. Does he have those qualities inside him? Of course; which is why Odin is ALSO not entirely wrong in wanting to make him his future king. But let’s stop a second and imagine what it is to be Loki. Tricky. Clever. Slight. More likely to use his words and magic to avoid battle than to face his opponent directly. The script is written in a way that the barbs and insults of Thor’s childhood companions (and therefore by proxy, Loki’s) that are thrown Loki’s way feel commonplace and frequent. They don’t trust him. They don’t love him. At least, not like they do the almighty Thor.
(3) The Tesseract. When we first saw the movie in theater, my comic-book-loving husband nudged my elbow at the end and stage whispered, “That’s going to be important in future movies. It’s part of a set!” Indeed it is. At the end of the day, just like all conflicts here on our own planet, galactic conflict comes down to power. Who has it, and who is trying to get it. The Tesseract is one of the Infinity Stones, six singularities that predated the known universe. Of course, in Thor, we don’t really know that; we just know that it’s a Big Plotpoint of Important and Convenient Power Level. It follows us into Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and The Avengers, where its role grows a bit beyond that (but not much, really). Most importantly, in Thor, it is highlighted that humanity does not quite know what to do with real power. We are still very much behind the learning curve of many other races in the galaxy.
(4) This is also the first time, I believe, that we see Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and really see S.H.I.E.L.D. from the side of the people whose lives they are ruining and research they are taking with not a single explanation. Jane is justifiably mad at our beloved Agent Coulson, who can’t give her any reason why he is taking her things. (Also, VERY creeped out now by the presence of agent Sitwell in this movie. Thank you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for forever ruining my movie-viewing pleasures.) It begins that seed of doubt about whether S.H.I.E.L.D. is really an agent for good that will continue across the other movies and the TV show.
So, considering all the set up above that the movie Thor does, does it surprise anyone that 2011 Laney would have felt like this film was written like a convenient placeholder? Thor and Jane meet cute, she jumps in the car with him despite her better, rational-scientist judgment and away they take us on a journey of adventure and convenient plot. Only later, with the other films, does it really all fall into place.
That being said, if you stay on the surface and enjoy it for what it is (a traditional, comic book, action film), Thor is great to watch, and Chris Hemsworth plays the character with boyish charm. Most importantly, it introduced whole troves of Tumblr users to Tom Hiddleston, and the world has never been the same.
What did you think of the original Thor? I invite your controversial opinions, puny mortals!