As we barrel through an MCU currently loaded with Groots, Infinity Wars and more alien races than a Star Trek Tinder app, it’s easy to forget how tough a job Thor had of establishing itself. After all, only three films in to the sprawling Marvel universe and we’d barely scratched the surface, with only a rich dude in a metal suit and a scientist with emerald-hued anger issues making their cinematic bow.
No, Marvel’s opening gambit for a cosmic scale had to match with what had been established before, so where do magic hammers and frost giants fit in a world of super science and ‘roid raging monsters? Enter Kenneth Branagh, yes THAT Kenneth Branagh, greatest living Shakespearian helmer and surely Marvel’s greatest directorial risk at that time (until someone decided to get Taika Watiti on the phone) who wisely puts all his experience with the bard to good use and utilizes it to add weight to the many issues that plague the Sons Of Odin.
Thor, a member of the alien Asgardian race that has been worshiped as Gods on Earth, is disgraced and stripped of his powers after reigniting an ancient war with his egotistical bluster. After being banished to New Mexico by his father, Odin; Thor meets up with a group of physicists looking for proof of worm holes to other worlds (lucky that). As Thor strives to reclaim Mjolnir, his all powerful hammer, his mischievous brother Loki is pulling strings behind the scenes to make a bid for the throne in order to scratch a regal itch he’s had since childhood. As life on Earth as a mortal helps Thor begin to realise that maybe a life of selfishly hammering the shit out of everything that doesn’t want to put up with his prima donna ways is wrong, his Asgardian friends seek to liberate him from his banishment – but they’ll have to be quick. Loki’s bitter machinations involve letting agents of Odin’s enemies into the Realm Eternal while the old man is powerless to defend himself. Can Thor learn enough life lessons to become worthy of his powers once again in time to stop a chilly coup from the villainous Frost Giants, or is Loki’s grand plan far more complex than it initially seems…?
While it may seem weird for the filmmakers to tackle outer space deities with a comedy heavy, fish-out-water plot considering how full-on they tackled the Guardians Of The Galaxy only three years later, Thor reveals itself to be gently sweet and incredibly warm. It also establishes the Thor-lore easily and breezy, digging deep from beloved comic runs from Walt Simonson, J.Michael Strazynski and, of course, Stan Lee, dropping you into this world of Frost Giants and laser vomiting Destroyer armour with surprising grace. The casting of newbies too is crackingly good, while the biggest stars here are Natalie Portman who is only really required here to be “nice” and Anthony Hopkins who barks at his sons from beneath a fetching beard/eyepatch combo, it’s the discoveries that make the most impression. Chris Hemsworth, last seen impressing as Kirk’s dad in J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot (and Home & Away before that) brings a easy going boyish charm which is imperative in keeping Thor likeable when he’s acting the twat but it’s Tom Hiddlston as God of mischief and pointy hat enthusiast Loki, who scores MVP with an intricately layered performance and Marvel’s best and most interesting villain by far; until a certain purple faced titan chose to upgrade the bling on his space glove.
And yet the first Thor seems destined to not really get the adulation it deserves, getting passed over for newer, shinier and funnier fare when it actually marks ground zero for the MCU’s first tentative steps into a (literally) bigger universe.
Sure it’s a little overly convenient here and there, Thor turns around his whole life view in under a week (impressive for an entitled frat boy) while the climax struggles to shuffle all the main players to where they need to be; and despite the odd perfect timed joke, the earth stuff just isn’t anywhere as exciting as the Asgard stuff – but on the other hand, if this film was any warmer you could use it to reheat a damn pizza.
At the end of the day, Marvel definitely bet on the right Norse.