Written by David Holland
We are inching ever closer to the first Avengers! Today we introduce a new player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s a godlike figure, powerful, handsome, one of the most iconic and important characters across the MCU and the larger Infinity Saga arc.
Casting is key again. Loki was always going to be the villain in the first Avengers, but Tom Hiddleston’s performance was so powerful that he basically charmed Loki into being woven through the entire Infinity Saga. But Hiddleston isn’t the only treasure here. Apparently when Anthony Hopkins and Chris Hemsworth first saw each other in costume, Hopkins remarked “Oh God, there’s no acting required here is there?” Like Alec Guinness in A New Hope, Hopkins lends a level of credibility to the film. Following director Kenneth Branaugh’s instructions, Hopkins (who had never read a “Thor” comic or had any knowledge of the mythology) improvised the scene in which he banished Thor so powerfully that he brought cast and crew members to tears. Natalie Portman, who has cooled on Marvel movies after two Thors, is thankfully returning AS Thor in “Love and Thunder”, and she serves as a helpful avatar for the Earthling audience. Oh and also Idris Elba in a supporting role!? How do you even do that?
How Does it Hold Up?
Back to origin stories again, but there are so many delightful tidbits in this one that make it worth revisiting. There’s the humorous montage of men grilling hot dogs while taking turns trying to lift Mjolnir, Thor smashing a coffee mug as a way of trying to ask for more, and literally every line that Kat Dennings says.
This film has a lot of exposition to give us very quickly – the Nine Realms, the war between Asgard and Jotunheim, the fact that Asgardians were considered Gods by humans but aren’t exactly – and it does it all with the dulcet tones of Sir Anthony Hopkins reading a bedtime story. “Thor” is straightforward but it has some cool elements that are absent future installments, most notably Thor’s friends. I’m sure they have a name, but one of them reminds me so much of Robin Hood that I can only mentally call them the Merry Men.
SHIELD is still prominent, with our old friend Coulson building a makeshift fortress around Mjolnir and accepting an offer of alliance from Thor. The fight with the Destroyer gives us a Thor-as-Jesus moment that hits at just the right emotional resonance for a Marvel movie, but it’s Thor’s sacrifice on the bifrost and Loki’s choice to fall that make the brothers’s divergent arcs compelling. Mark this as the first in a long string of Loki deaths.
This theme isn’t subtle at all. It’s spoken directly in Odin’s famous line: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” Thor’s arc in this film revolves around understanding when NOT to act, when diplomacy, honor, and sacrifice are wiser than violence. Odin isn’t the only king to impart this lesson to Thor. Laufey, king of the Frost Giants taunts him in the beginning of the film: “You’re nothing but a boy trying to prove himself a man”. Interestingly, we will learn that Odin himself is a flawed judge of who is worthy. Each Thor film reveals a new secret that Odin has kept from the world: Loki’s true parentage, the truth surrounding the Dark Elves, the existence of Hela, but like Dumbledore in King’s Cross he uses the lessons of his regrets to help guide his son Thor to become a better man and king than he was himself. But it’s not just Thor who is looking for worth: it’s Loki too. He looks for acceptance from his adopted father who always kept him at arms length and puts into motion a complex plan designed to prove himself worthy. He even tries lifting Thor’s hammer at one point – he wants so desperately to prove that he’s just as worthy as his older brother, if not moreso. In the final moments, hanging over the void of space from the bifrost, he screams at Odin “I did it all for you.” It’s the sort of thing that you can only identify with if you grew up playing as Luigi.