Back in 2011, the early days of Phase 1 inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe were still exploring the possibilities of bringing familiar superheroes to the forefront. Of course, we already had Iron Man, its underwhelming 2010 sequel, and The Incredible Hulk out of the way, but this was the opportunity to hit it out of the park with the God of Thunder himself in Thor. For many fans of the Marvel character created by legends Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby, it would be difficult for this Avengers member to work in a standalone movie, especially someone like me who knew little about him from the comics. And I remembered being excited about this, yet a little concerned from the trailers. But was this first installment in the franchise good enough to be a hit? I think I’m more optimistic about this introduction to this hero as the years follow on.
In the realm of Asgard, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) is prepared to take on the throne from his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). But his celebration is interrupted when the Frost Giants try to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters. So, against his father’s orders, Thor travels to Jotunheim, alongside his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his warrior friends, to attack. A battle between them and the Frost Giants leads to Laufey, prompting to restart the war with Asguard. Furious about his selfishness and what he’s done, Odin strips his son of his powers and banishes him to Earth with his mighty hammer, Mjölnir, saying, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” He lands in the New Mexico desert, living amongst humans where he meets astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). While Thor is finding a way to return home, Loki plans to seize the throne and his revenge.
It wouldn’t have survived if we had gotten a Thor movie back when many comic book movies failed to impress. And I never realized until recently directors like Matthew Vaughn, Guillermo del Toro, and even Sam Raimi were in early talks to make this project come to life. But for Marvel to make a movie about a God should’ve been an easy task to not fail. But what we eventually brought here to this larger-than-life character, I won’t say it’s a great film despite thinking that when I saw it on opening day after school, but accomplished enough for kicking off the summer eleven years ago.
Something I wasn’t entirely expecting from this story was how it approached a more fish-out-of-water angle that seems to take place in a couple days. Thor is a God seen as arrogant and doesn’t follow leadership rules, and now that he’s on Earth, he must learn to be powerless in the company of others. This wasn’t the way I personally wanted them to show this character’s growth, but it’s fine enough to make it possible, albeit taking away from the cosmic elements. We have experienced nothing fantastical yet in the MCU mixed with Norse mythology, and for when there’s a scene breathing in the life of Asgard, they pulled it off. So was it the most predictable story to come by? It was because it plays out when few usual tropes are in hand.
But for my money, Chris Hemsworth is why the movie made a lasting impression over the past decade. The Australian actor wasn’t the big name we know now, and his most prominent role before this was playing Jim Kirk’s father in the opening of Star Trek. He’s the only actor who could’ve made his performance like nobody’s business, much like Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, in a breakout role easy to believe as this buff, funny guy not knowing his actions and feel for him when he meets his lowest point. There was always something about his arc, specifically here, about what it means to be a leader and put those first instead of him. We all love Thor, but nobody thought the mischievous Loki was true to being a scene-stealer, and he really surprised me. I believe they were the first great villain in the MCU, especially in a phase where they ranged from good to useless. Loki is someone who can see as a misunderstood person in this growing jealousy of his brothers that brings some sympathy, believe it or not, and to be loved more by his real father. No wonder he was chosen as the villain in The Avengers the following year.
As for the rest of the cast, they mostly did well. Natalie Portman (who everyone was massively crushing at the time) as Jane Foster was fine. She wasn’t the most exciting love interest in the world, and I wished they’d done more with her, but I dug the chemistry with her and Hemsworth enough that it didn’t matter if the romance was rushed. One of my favorite moments between them in the entire film was Thor explaining to Jane the Nine Realms and how he comes from a place where science and magic are one and the same. But it also shows that the human characters like Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings as Dr. Erik Selvig and Darcy Lewis, respectively, were less than essential to follow when it cuts back to Earth with the humor sometimes hitting and doesn’t at others. But I also thought Sir Anthony Hoskins was the perfect choice as Odin; not a lot to do later on because of his condition to drive the plot forward but still worth since he had a nice blend of moving and stern. The film also gave us the debut of Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/ Hawkeye in an uncredited cameo during the sequence of Thor trying to seek into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s temporary base to retrieve Mjolnir by getting through many agents. So weird to see him get about two minutes of screen time and have to wait ten years to get his series.
Bringing on Kenneth Branagh was a choice I didn’t see coming. Because he’s best known for his Shakespeare adaptations of Hamlet, Henry V, and later winning an Oscar for the underappreciated Belfast. With his background and a fan of the comics, it ultimately made sense to have Thor contain conflict among family members and betrayal, much like his take on crossing both worlds together on a blockbuster scope. He captured Asgard beautifully stunning at any chance it cuts to the fictional world. And his handling of the action was good, but they’ve gotten better with its sequels later. The beginning opens with a battle between the Asgardians and the Forst Giants was cool, but I’ve always thought the last battle between Thor and Loki was the standout. And I didn’t notice until my third viewing that there were many Dutch camera tilts throughout. They were pretty distracting and probably weren’t Branagh’s intent, yet that didn’t lower my overall enjoyment..
I also must mention Patrick Doyle’s score since it’s not discussed much in terms of pretty good MCU music and made me wish he returned for the next movie. And this gets high points for playing one of my favorite Foo Fighters songs, “Walk,” twice. Once in the background during Thor and Erik’s conversation and again during the end credits. Most probably have this near the bottom of their annual MCU rankings, and while it holds up more minor, it’s not in my top 10, but it’s a worthy hero’s journey about gaining courage and selflessness.
In the end, Thor was a surprise nobody saw coming early in the MCU. Though far from perfect, it succeeds as a solid fantasy introduction for the character, thanks to the balance of action and drama, and giving us two great performances, that of Hemsworth and Hiddleston. When you look at this, there’s no competition in thinking this is the second-best Thor movie so far.
Thor was released in theaters on May 6, 2011. Runtime: 114 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence. Studios: Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment