After an disastrous assault on Jotunheim, the home of the Frost Giants, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is banished by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for his recklessness. Exiled to Earth while his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stages a coup, Thor’s only chance of returning to Asgard is to prove himself worthy to wield the enchanted hammer Mjölnir which remains immovably embedded in a New Mexico crater.
My first thought on revisiting “Thor” for the first time in a long while for this countdown was how much more bling Brannagh’s Asgard is. It’s literally dripping with gold, so much so that there’s probably a waiting list for coffee, ice cream and perfume companies within the MCU to film there.
If “Iron Man 2” was where Marvel felt confident enough to raise the stakes, “Thor” is where they went all-in. Fully embracing Arthur C Clarke’s third law, to whit ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, Brannagh deftly weaves a sci-fi fantasy robe to drape around the shoulders of the Shakespearian family power struggle that sits at the heart of “Thor”. And ‘heart’ is the right word for if the MCU gets its foundations from “Iron Man”, “Thor” is where it gets its heart, and here Marvel is wearing theirs on their armoured sleeve. Embracing the weirdness of the comics (in a way that every Fox attempt at “The Fantastic Four” has been afraid to do), it’s awash with iridescent colour and auric spectacle, the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a feast for the eyes so rich you risk developing ocular gout from the banquet on offer. Such is the breathtaking spectacle that the Earth-bound scenes, by and large, seem quite drab by comparison, especially those set in daylight.
Casting-wise, Marvel again strike 24-carat gold with Chris Hemsworth who brings just the right amount of earnest, lunkheaded nobility and charm to Thor, especially the subtle but well realised emotional arc from arrogance to humility. Of course, in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki Marvel found a villain too good to use just once and one who, while an adopted brother of the hero, wasn’t quite the dark reflection of the hero we’ve come to expect.
One of the most character-driven Marvel entries to date, many of the cast get little to do apart from reacting to either Thor or Loki but the two hold the screen so well that you don’t mind (well, unless you’re Natalie Portman apparently). It’s an important film in the franchise not only for setting up the worlds beyond Earth ready for the bigger stories to come but it moves some important pieces into position for the great experiment of “Avengers Assemble”. On its own merits, it’s a solid action adventure film, a great introduction to the Marvel version of Thor – who up until that point had very little profile outside of comic book fans – but as part of MCU history, this was the point where it became clear that Marvel could slip the surly bonds of grim/dark groundedness and touch the face of intergalactic weirdness. Its low placement in the rankings has nothing to do with its lack of quality and everything to do with the shoulders it provided for those that came after it to stand on.
We’re firmly in the Marvel Cosmic now, but just when you think there’s not going to be a sniff of an infinity stone, the post-credits scene comes up trumps with our first glimpse of the Tesseract, setting up not only “Avengers Assemble” but also “Captain America: The First Avenger”.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Frigga (Rene Russo), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Heimdall (Idris Elba), The Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander), and the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas), Agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández)
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) makes his debut in some post-production reshoots while Stan’s cameo this time around is the guy who wrecks his truck trying to pull Mjölnir free.
A post-credit scene offers a tantalising set-up for “Avengers Assemble” and suggests that even prior to being touched by the Chitauri sceptre, Erik Selvig was under the ‘fluence of Loki.
Mjölnir is ancient Norse for “grinder”, which is also the name of an App, albeit one which has very different criteria for judging worthiness.