'Once, mankind accepted a simple truth: that they were not alone in this universe'
As we count down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War (out May 4), EW’s Marvel Movie Club is preparing by revisiting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in the weeks leading up to the mega-sized movie. EW’s Chancellor Agard (that’s me!) will revisit one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions along the way like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eye-patch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” This week, Kenneth Branagh makes you believe in gods (and Tom Hiddleston) in Thor.
Now it’s time to get to the good stuff…
Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2 were concerned with certain mundane affairs: the military industrial complex, science gone bad, science gone right, billionaire playboys YOLO-ing until they needed to save the day. But the fourth movie in our series — Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh — is when the Marvel Cinematic Universe first took the stars and introduced us to Chris Hemsworth’s titular, hammer-happy hero, as well as Internet boyfriend Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their golden city of the gods. As with pretty much every other Phase One movie, it’s been a while since I revisited Thor, which I remember enjoying when it first came out. Rewatching it kind of felt like I was watching it for the first time, albeit with new knowledge of everything that has since come after. This week in Marvel Movie Club, here are a few Thor thoughts that crossed my mind this time around.
1. What happened to Kat Dennings, a.k.a. Darcy the intern?!
Look, it’s been at least seven years since I watched this movie, but I completely forgot that the 2 Broke Girls star was in it. Yet there she was in the first scene! As comic relief Darcy, Denning is there for the kids and for Jane (Natalie Portman) and her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) to have someone to whom they can explain all the science stuff. A few silly lines of hers that I love:
“I’m not dying for six college credits!” she yells after Jane forces her to drive toward the big, bright beam that just broke open in the sky.
“This is going on Facebook,” she quips as she takes a photo of Thor gorging himself on pancakes.
Darcy: They [S.H.I.E.L.D.] even took my iPod… I just downloaded like 30 songs onto there.
Jane: Could you please stop with your iPod?!
She very well may be one of the most inconsequential characters in the entire MCU, but now I desperately want to know what became of Darcy. After whatever happens in Thor: The Dark World (I’ll find out a month!), did she end up leaving the astrophysics game, putting her political science degree to use, and help get the Sokovia Accords passed? Or did she get swept up by the S.H.I.E.L.D. machine? Does she still use her iPod? Does she still carry taser around with her?
2. Chris Hemsworth was perfectly cast
Although Marvel had achieved success with Iron Man, it still faced a somewhat uphill challenge in getting audiences to care about a widely unknown hero like Thor — an arrogant, shoot-first god who, in case you forget, begins the movie by slaughtering a bunch of faceless Others out of pettiness. But by gosh, the film succeeds in making Thor likable thanks mostly to Hemsworth’s disarmingly charismatic performance. You recognize all of his flaws, but watching him flounder once he arrives on Earth is rather endearing. Each time Thor thunderously and ridiculously demands a horse or gets hit by car, you somehow fall for him even more.
However, Hemsworth’s golden-retriever-like performance can’t assuage one of the movie’s biggest problems: Thor never feels any kind of guilt for invading the Frost Giant’s realm, killing many of them in the process. Odin exiles him for this, but it never weighs on his mind. Alas, the film has other things on its mind (like S.H.I.E.L.D. and flirty scenes with Jane).
3. With its villain, Thor succeeds where Iron Man failed
Thor borrows quite a bit from Iron Man, especially when it comes to the film’s Big Bad. Like Tony Stark, Thor is betrayed by someone close him — in this case, Loki. However, unlike in Iron Man, Thor and Loki’s final confrontation actually has real emotional weight. The movie put effort into fleshing out both sides of the conflict so by the time we get to Loki and Thor fighting on the Rainbow Bridge, we know there’s much more at stake than just the fate of the nine realms and Asgard: Thor and Loki’s relationship is also in play. Compare this to Iron Man, where Jeff Bridges’ Obie was supposed to be some kind of mentor or something to Tony and how that doesn’t really matter at all when they finally come to blows. To be fair, part of the reason Loki stands out here is because Marvel had plans for him beyond that movie — but nevertheless, he’s still the villain every future MCU baddie should aspire to be.
4. Asgard is the best part of the movie
I have always loved Branagh’s regal depiction of Asgard, Thor’s all-gold-everything home world (that would make Trinidad James happy). Sure, all of Asgard’s landscape shots look like concept art because of their digital effects, but that doesn’t really matter because you can feel how much fun Branagh’s having exploring this glorious alien land. Branagh’s infatuation with his majestic surroundings is infectious. If someone were to ever curse us with an adaptation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, I would want Branagh to direct it after watching Thor again.
Furthermore, you get the sense that Branagh feels more comfortable in the Shakespearean world of Asgard than he does once the movie moves to Earth. To be fair, that makes a tremendous amount of sense given his background. Before Thor came around, Branagh had spent years adapting Shakespeare’s plays for the big screen, earning several Oscar nominations in the process. This pedigree comes across in Asgard sequences because he never lets his actors get too carried away with the faux-high-English dialogue. It’s never over-the-top or overly dramatic, thus perfectly set for the tone of the movie.
5. Marvel’s weird relationship with magic begins here
“Magic is just science we don’t understand yet,” says Jane, quoting Arthur C. Clarke. Thor later expands on this sentiment and tells Jane that, at least on Asgard, magic and science are one and the same. Both of these moments are great examples of Marvel’s need to ground every single thing in reality. On the one hand, I completely understand this desire; Thor was the first MCU movie to dip into the fantastical after three pseudo-science-heavy movies, and it seems the Powers That Be were obviously worried that the audience wouldn’t immediately accept the existence of magic. However, I personally think moviegoers didn’t need that science qualifier since many of them had spent the last decade devouring the Harry Potter films (which made an ungodly amount of money and ended the same year Thor hit theaters). To be fair, this is a very small quibble because at the end of the day “magical science” is still, well, magic.
6. S.H.I.E.L.D. remains a problem
Thor becomes rather bland the moment S.H.I.E.L.D. enters the picture; however, it’s hard not to be charmed by Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson. Gregg acquits himself rather nicely in his expanded role here and you can already understand why someone chose to build Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. around him. He emits a harmless sense of authority that can lull you into a false sense of security and make you root for the agents of an overreaching, civil-rights-violating security agency. However, it’s hard to watch Thor now and not feel uneasy when the organization confiscates all of Jane’s research and equipment without any warning whatsoever. That move alone soured me toward every other scene in the movie that involved them. Furthermore, given S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reduced presence in the movies and ever-changing status on the show, it’s kind of funny remembering a time when it felt omnipotent to the point of absurdity.
7. Hawkeye’s cameo is rather LOL-worthy
Ever since Zendaya’s barely-there presence in Spider-Man: Homecoming (rewatch that movie and count how many times she actually appears in another frame with another actor), I’ve become low-key obsessed with moments in movies where you can tell an actor was barely there for a cameo. Needless to say, Jeremy Renner’s brief and unnecessary appearance here made me quite giddy because there’s no way he was in the same place as the other actors. It’s so obvious that I couldn’t even let myself believe that Hawkeye and Coulson were actually talking to each other.
Next Week: Captain America: The Great MCU Movie