The Marvel Movies Debrief: Thor Recap, Legacy, and MCU connections

Chris Hemsworth steps up as the God of Thunder in Kenneth Branagh's Asgardian adventure. But how does the MCU's fourth film hold up?

Marvel's Thor Movie Poster

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This article contains spoilers for Thor and the wider MCU.

“Wait for it…”

Those words, spoken by Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, provide the opening line of Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 Thor. In the film, it refers to a quiet moment in Jane’s van in the New Mexico desert, where the scientist is hoping to make a big discovery alongside Stellan Skarsgård’s Erik Selvig and Kat Dennings’ Darcy.

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In the real world, the same three-word statement could be applied to Thor’s journey to the big screen. First introduced by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby to the Marvel Comics canon in 1962, the God of Thunder would have to “wait for it” for nearly 50 years before he got a shot at the movies.

Back in 1990, Sam Raimi tried and failed to get a Thor movie going at 20th Century Fox with Stan Lee’s help. Such geek icons as Matthew Vaughn and Guillermo del Toro were linked to Thor films in the years that followed, before the buck stopped with Branagh and the film actually got made.

Finding an actor to play Thor was also an interesting journey, with Daniel Craig reportedly being offered the role in 2008, before turning it down because of his Bond commitments. The audition process for Thor also saw Tom Hiddleston (who would eventually bag the part of Thor’s duplicitous brother, Loki) and Liam Hemsworth going up for the leading role – both of which are suggestions that feel downright hilarious in hindsight – before Chris Hemsworth was finally chosen as the MCU’s Asgardian Avenger.

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Tom Hiddleston auditioning for Thor

With a cast and a director locked in, the filming of Thor kicked off in January 2010. From an audience perspective, with Marvel Studios now starting to function as a self-perpetuating machine of post-credits teases, Thor’s arrival in the MCU was heralded ahead of time by the presence of his hammer, Mjolnir, in a crater during the tag at the end of Iron Man 2 (which premiered in April 2010).

Jane’s “wait for it” is followed by Thor crashing into her van, and then viewers get a crash course. Wisely taking a page from The Lord Of The Rings playbook, Thor serves up a narrated introduction to Asgard and its historic beef with the Frost Giants. Then, we transition forward in time to see young Thor and young Loki observing a Frost Giant artefact with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in his vault.

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The screenwriting team (Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne) make smart decisions here to cut through the pomp and circumstance and get straight to the point: this is Thor, this is his brother, and one of them is going to be king. You can already see the arrogant gusto emerging in Thor, and the snarky side-eye being summoned by Loki.

Thor and Loki

Next, we see the adult Thor swaggering his way through his coronation, just in time for a Frost Giant attack to interrupt the ceremony (which we later learn is Loki’s doing). Thor’s rash response leads us into an early and impressive action scene, before the battle-hungry young royal is banished down to Earth and stripped of his hammer and powers.

In hindsight, it’s incredibly impressive that Branagh and his team of writers managed to cram in so much detail early on, without scrimping on action or visual flourishes. Asgard looks opulent, and all the pieces are put in place quickly and efficiently without an onslaught of boring dialogue. 

read more: Thor Comics Reading Order

From this point on, the film is mostly Hemsworth’s to dominate, and it’s in this middle section that he really has to prove himself. With so much of the budget splurged at the start or saved for the end, the character of Thor has to be cemented in less-cash-stretching locations in New Mexico. Thankfully, Hemsworth is capable of carrying the film on his considerably broad shoulders, and he has the chemistry with his co-stars to keep viewers engaged. 

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Interestingly, looking back at this film with modern eyes, it’s funnier than you might remember. But in a romantic context, the transition from confused intrigue to passionate snogging seems like a bit of a sudden lurch for Jane and Thor. At times, including a drunken night at the bar that leads to Thor carrying Selvig home, it even seems like our hero is developing more of an understanding with Skarsgård’s character than he is with Portman’s one.

This cash-strapped second act hurtles by at a decent pace, resulting in a situation where Thor is tricked into believing that he can never return to Asgard. Thor even dons a checkered shirt, and he is completely oblivious as Loki moves his plans forward in Asgard: having discovered his true heritage as a Frost Giant, Loki lures Laufey (his biological father and leader of the Frost Giants) into the currently-comatose Odin’s chambers. Laufey thinks he is there to kill Odin, but Loki kills Laufey instead.

A key lesson is learnt here for fans: never believe the plans that Loki shares with other characters, because he’s always secretly playing a few steps ahead of the game. The script puts a lot of weight on Loki, whose machinations have been machinating since before the day of Thor’s botched coronation, but Hiddleston is more than up to the task of pulling off this mischievous, Machiavellian and somewhat manic mastermind role. He may have better lines in The Avengers, but the groundwork is all laid here.

Loki holding the Casket of Winter

It’s something of a shame, given the great work that Hemsworth and Hiddleston have been doing, that the film’s third act kicks off with something of a bum note: the Warriors Three, who are charming but under-developed, head down to Earth with help from Idris Elba’s Heimdall, because they’ve all got a very bad feeling about Loki’s impending rule, which prompts Loki to send the big metal Destroyer down to New Mexico to sort the situation out. 

Compared to Thor’s Earthy comedy-drama and Loki’s spacefaring Shakesperian villainy, the sight of a big metal robot stomping through a small town looks like something out of an early episode of Power Rangers. This scene does allow us to see Thor’s growth, though: while the Warriors Three charge into the underwhelming battle, the still-depowered Thor helps ordinary folks escape the scene. It’s a nice touch, taking the time to show Thor saving lives, with this quick nod to the human element drawing to mind Christopher Reeve’s civilian-rescuing moments as Superman

Thor sacrifices himself and regains his powers at the last minute, before bashing the Destroyer into oblivion and heading up to Asgard for a showdown with his adopted brother. This next bout is a far more emotional and effective fight than the previous one, and it culminates in Thor making another big sacrifice: he smashes up the Rainbow Bridge to shop Loki from using the Bifrost to send a genocide-sized beam of energy towards the Frost Giant world, which, in turn, stops Thor from being able to revisit Earth and couple up with Jane. Loki goes flying into deep space, clearly and definitely dead forever. The end.

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Thor with his hammer

Standout scene: Following the fun scene, featuring the late Marvel legend Stan Lee, where a bunch of locals try to lift the Excalibur-like hammer, Agent Coulson converts the crater site into an impromptu SHIELD base. This becomes the location for the film’s standout sequence, where a depowered Thor battles through goons aplenty to make his way back to Mjolnir. Caked in mud and rain, Thor fails to lift the hammer and lets out a truly anguished cry. It’s totes emosh, and Loki’s equally unsuccessful attempt to lift hammer minutes later provides a neat parallel.

Best quip: Thor may not have the one-liners or pop-culture references of his Avengers co-stars, but he does have fish-out-of-water chuckles and properly funny physical gags to offer. The funniest moment is till the smashing of a coffee cup and shouting of “Another!”, and other LOL-inducing moments include Thor having his face mushed against a glass door, wrestling with hospital orderlies and walking into a pet shop and demanding an animal “large enough to ride”.

First appearances: As well as the obvious ones (Thor and Loki and all their supporting cast members), we also see the first appearances of some key SHIELD personnel. Agent Jasper Sitwell, later revealed to be a HYDRA agent in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, makes his debut here. As does Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, who takes aim at Thor during his goon battle at the crater site. Clint even shows some early affinity with his future teammate: “Better call it, Coulson,” he says. “I’m starting to root for this guy.”

So long, farewell: Although Loki’s ‘death’ proves to be less than permanent, his biological dad Laufey seems to be truly gone from this world. After being stabbed by Loki in Odin’s quarters, the Frost Giant ruler is never seen again. Also, it may be a stretch to call the Destroyer a character, but we don’t that big metal Asgardian robot thing again either. (We do, however, see a reference to it in Avengers, when Coulson shows off the snazzy gun he made from the Destroyer detritus.)

It’s all connected: As well as introducing numerous revisit-able locations around Asgard, Thor also features a few other references to the past and future of the MCU…

• When the human-shaped and metallic Destroyer shows up on Earth, Agent Sitwell asks, “Is that one of Stark’s?” in a reference, of course, to Tony Stark’s array of Iron Man suits.

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• Before the Frost Giants are killed by the Destroyer in Odin’s vault, an Infinity Gauntlet is briefly spotted in the background. This is presumably the same one that Hela says is a fake during Thor: Ragnarok.

• “I knew a scientist, a pioneer in gamma radiation,” says Selvig, when SHIELD shows up. It’s easy to see this as a nod to Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk. 

Thor and Odin

• When Odin refers to Thor as his “firstborn” during the coronation scene, we get a quick reaction shot of Thor’s mum Frigga (Rene Russo). She pulls an uncomfortable expression. It’s a bit of a stretch, but with the gift of hindsight, you can choose (if you like) to take as a reference to the fact that Odin’s firstborn was actually the evil Hela that we met in Thor: Ragnarok. In the context of this film, though, it was probably intended as a reference to the fact that Loki wasn’t actually parented by Odin or Freya.

• “I am no more than another stolen relic,” says Loki, when he finds out about his Frost Giant heritage. We later learn in Ragnarok that much of Odin’s empire was built on thieving from and killing other societies. Again, this one is a stretch, but moments like this stand out once you’ve seen the full trilogy of standalone Thor films.

Credit check: In Thor‘s end-credits tag, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury shows up to introduce Erik Selvig to the Tesseract, one of the Infinity Stones, describing it thusly: “Power, Doctor. If we figure out how to tap it, maybe unlimited power.” (Later in 2011, next in the MCU release-date pipeline, Captain America: The First Avenger gave viewers some background details on the Tesseract.) A reflection of Loki then appears on a surface behind Selvig, putting words in his mouth: “Well, I guess that’s worth a look.” Oddly, the next time we see these characters, in Avengers, Loki takes control of Selvig’s mind using his sceptre… but didn’t he already have control of it?

What are your thoughts on Thor? Have we missed your favorite moment or reference? Let us know in the comments below…