Do you remember the film that set up the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe, that set up one of the most iconic villains of the franchise, and focuses on a super charismatic hero that has become a major staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? I do, but I don’t think it’s the same movie that most of you are thinking of because the movie I am thinking of is 2011’s Thor. I remember Kenneth Branagh’s Thor for what it was, the best film of Marvel’s first phase of films that set up everything we love in the Infinity Saga.
Without question, Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr set a ridiculously high bar of standards for what the Marvel Cinematic Universe could achieve. It was fun, action-packed, but more than all of that, it delivered a solid story that showcases the birth of the hero: Iron Man. However, as much as it’s the film that started it all, I do consider it as kind of its own stand-alone thing. I don’t feel like it should be lumped in with the others because the set up of the MCU that happens in its post-credits scene, was a hail mary pass that could have gone either way. The beginning of Phase 1 I consider to really be Iron Man 2, and between that, Captain America: First Avenger, and Thor, I feel that Thor often gets forgotten in the shuffle.
The first thing to note about Thor is its romantic soul. Now when I use the term Romantic, I don’t mean a love story (although there is one present). I use the term in relation to stories of adventure and heroism like King Arthur, Robin Hood, or even The Three Musketeers, and honestly, there couldn’t have been a better director to deliver that tone than Kenneth Branagh. Branagh is known for a lot of things, but first and foremost he’s known to be probably one of the most prominent modern Shakesperian actors and directors. As a result, we get this beautiful screenplay with a fantastic balance of Shakespearian style prose mixed with modern dialogue, costumes that truly bring the fantastical to the MCU, breathtaking set pieces that make the realm Eternal feel like it’s real, a score from Patrick Doyle that makes you feel like you are stepping straight into the pages of a fantasy story (seriously the fact that this score was seemingly abandoned for the rest of the franchise is criminal), and quite possibly some of the best casting in the entire MCU in the film’s leads: Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
It’s a crazy thing to think about, that prior to this film both of those actors were absolute nobodies. Hemsworth had just made his big-screen debut in Star Trek as Kirk’s father who dies in the opening 5 minutes of the movie, and Hiddleston was predominantly a stage actor. Now both of these men are practically household names due to their place in this universe, but none of their subsequent performances as these characters can hold a candle to the performance they gave in Thor (I will grant that Chris Hemsworth does come super close in Infinity War).
The performance that everyone goes crazy over in this film is without question Tom Hiddleston, and it’s not hard to understand why. Loki is at his best in both Hiddleston’s performance and the way the character is written in this movie. The fact that as much as Loki is the antagonist of the film, that you at the same time don’t necessarily want him to lose as he’s this person who has always felt like he has come second fiddle to Thor in a game of favorites played by their father Odin is fantastic. The scene where Loki confronts Odin about his true lineage as a frost giant is not only so emotionally charged that it gives me goosebumps whenever I watch it, it remains to this day one of my favorite performances Hiddleston has given in his entire career. However, just as this movie has been so under-appreciated, so too has been the performance of the lead, which to me far surpasses Hiddleston’s.
As I said before, Chris Hemsworth got cast in the role of Thor due to his fantastic performance in the opening scene of Star Trek where Capt Kirk’s father sacrifices himself valiantly against the antagonist of the film, and frankly Marvel couldn’t have gotten a better actor for Thor. Chris Hemsworth’s performance in the first Thor is oozing with passion, charisma, and heart. The scene where he takes on the camp of Shield agents to get back the hammer only to find he is now unworthy of it showcases the physicallity Hemsworth brings to the role, as well as the immense amount of range he has as he shifts between every emotion of the spectrum. His glee during the fight, the pride in finding the hammer and being victorious, the suprise, disapointment, and frustration he displays when it won’t budge, to the anguish of failure as he collapses to his knees. I don’t feel like there is a scene in any other of those phase one films that can hold a candle to its intensity. However, of all the impressive feats of his acting, there is one scene that towers above all in which Chris Hemsworth’s Thor delivers a line of exposition that would form the entire future of the MCU.
It’s simple exposition, but between the way the scene is written to build the romance between Jane and Thor, and Hemsworth’s perfect delivery, the scene engages the audience and makes people to truly fall in love with Thor. However, it does so much more than that. The explanation of the 9 realms and the existence of other worlds sets up the entirety of Marvel’s cosmic properties, and that’s without even touching the Easter Egg of the Infinity Gauntlet. In other words, without this scene, without Thor 2011, there is no Infinity saga. Thor brings this fantastical element to the MCU that allows for the existence of things like Aliens, and infinity stones. While this was obviously intentional, it cannot be understated at just how well it was handled. That instead of this film just being a halfhearted way to throw in the fantasy element to the MCU that would allow for it to expand, it instead gives us a story about Thor going from an arrogant, war-mongering man child, to a hero that understands the burden and sacrifice that comes with the territory.
The completion of the Infinity saga has only made this movie age like a fine wine. Its stark contrast of physical sets over immense CG editing of settings gives it an atmosphere that is lacking in more recent additions to the MCU, and seeing these actors really delivering their defining performances is just a joy to watch. It is a bittersweet experience though overall, and this is due to just how poorly the property was handled. It’s criminal that it took this fantastic character till Infinity War to really have his place on the center stage that he should have had since the start, and that the sequels to his movies feel like they abandoned the very things that made the original so great. I would have killed to have Branagh return to direct and write the sequel in a way that continued the journey of the first film organically, but perhaps we were unworthy of that for not appreciating the masterpiece that was given to us when it came out.