Thor: How does the first film compare to the modern MCU?

We take a deep die into Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, the movie that introduced us to the longest-tenured memeber of The Avengers.

Before we saw Taika Waititi blasting color and humor into the mythological realm of Asgard, the God of Thunder and his cohorts were traversing the early MCU in a much more regal and almost Shakespearian outing in 2011’s Thor.

In 2008, Hollywood was shaken wide awake by the introduction of Iron Man and the MCU at large. Following the success of Iron Man, we were treated to the forgotten but noteworthy Incredible Hulk film starring Edward Norton, and even an impressive direct sequel to Iron Man in 2010 that proved the MCU was onto something with their new expanded and interconnected universe. From the teases littered throughout the first three MCU movies, it was clear to audiences that Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel were working hard to develop much more than a couple of live-action summer romps. And with Iron Man and the Hulk being introduced, it was time for Marvel to take their biggest swing yet and deliver a film that would hold the same continuity as the MCU outings before it and expand it from the world we knew- to the more cosmic side of the MCU that had yet to be explored.

Now, Thor is an interesting character within this version of the Avengers. What started as an experiment in bringing renaissance to the otherwise bombastic and poppy mood of the pre-established universe has landed Thor among the top characters to stand the test of time, with the character receiving four feature films of his own, as well as appearances in several other MCU projects over the years. Actually… I’m pretty sure Thor is the only Avenger to have his own movie, plus 3 solo sequels. 

But, while it’s easy to praise movies like Thor Ragnarök and Guardians of the Galaxy, today we’re going to take a look at the original Thor film and see just how well Marvel was able to introduce us to the idea of heroes from planets far away from our own. A film that Marvel was so confident in, by the way, that they teased it a whole year before its release in the post-credit scene of Iron Man 2. And as always, the question today is how does this Victorian style blockbuster hold up against the standards and quality of today’s superhero cinema? Let’s find out in today’s episode of Marvel Revisited.

The God of Thunder, Thor Odinson, is a spoiled, young, naïve, and somewhat dim heir to the throne of Asgard, which is currently under the rule of Thor’s father, Odin. When Thor and his brother Loki inadvertently restart a war between Asgard and a race of Ice Giants, Thor is stripped of his power and banished to earth where he must learn to become the warrior he was destined to be and wield his beloved hammer once again.

Along the way we’re in for some creature battles, fish out of water goofs, intergalactic romance, family betrayals and like one thousand of the dreaded… Dutch angles.

Now, this movie was famously directed by Kenneth Branagh, who you’d know as the director of films like Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and A Haunting in Venice. Branagh is a talented filmmaker in his own right, of course, but before he was slated to direct, the movie was almost made with Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn, who planned to revive a version of the movie based on Sam Raimi’s 1991 treatment that had since been abandoned. I must admit that while I think Matthew Vaughn would’ve done an exceptional job as the director of this movie, I’m glad he backed out and was later offered a job directing some of the best X-Men movies we’ve gotten yet. I’m looking at you, X-Men: First Class.

When it comes to casting, the movie struck gold by finding a pre-fame Chris Hemsworth as the bleached-eyebrowed, brick shit house that is Thor. Interestingly, Tom Hiddleston, who famously plays Loki in the MCU, auditionedtimately passed on in favour for the role of Thor but was ul of using Hiddleston’s striking features and elegant speech pattern to play The God of Mischief. Good call on Marvel’s part, and honestly, there is nobody better at playing Thor than Thor- and Thor IS Chris Hemsworth for me now, so…

The movie begins with a war between Asgard led by King Odin, and the frost giants. The movie definitely gives us a tone very different from what we’d seen so far with Iron Man and The Hulk. It sets the stage off planet which is a nice way to immediately put audiences in a new space, and the opening war provides context for the ongoing beef between these two kingdoms. The Asgardian soldiers defeat the frost giants and Odin steals something called “the casket of ancient winters” which is said to be the source of the frost giants’ power. This sets our main conflict into action… sort of.

Now that Thor and Loki are grown, Odin is looking for a successor to his throne, and the brothers both feel that they are fit to rule. Thor is more impulsive, loud, and brazen with his title of Prince of Asgard, whereas Loki is more reserved and calculated. Odin seems to be favoring Thor to take over as king, and Loki just might be a bit jealous of this. After Thor and company go to the realm of the giants and start a pretty epic brawl, Odin’s disappointment in Thor for reviving an old conflict results in Odin taking away Thor’s powers, hammer, and as a result, his purpose- and sends him to earth as banishment. Specifically, New Mexico.

The bulk of this movie is really a sort of heightened fish out of water scenario. Thor is basically human now and is forced to team up with a friendly group of eccentric scientists played by Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, and also Kat Dennings and the always reliable Stellan Skarsgard. They basically act as Thor’s guides through this strange new world he finds himself in. 

chris hemsworth thor

Now, while I personally like it when the MCU goes full weird, this movie does have a good balance of humor and seriousness that makes the entire runtime feel like you’re really getting a complete story. Thor must simultaneously prove himself worthy to be allowed back home and have his power restored, while also navigate the rules of Earth that will keep him safe from being tracked by SHIELD, and hopefully stop his brother Loki from gaining the throne of Asgard and destroying it. Loki’s deal is just that he discovers he’s actually a frost giant adopted by Odin, and he sees that as the reason for not being the favorite when compared to Thor.

While Thor is playing in the earth realm, we’re treated to some classic Marvel easter eggs that are not-so-subtle although I still enjoy them despite being a little on the nose. Some notable eater eggs in the movie that fans of the comics may notice are things like the Rainbow bridge, the Donald Blake alias, and who could forget the introduction to Hawk Eye which I remember exciting me to no end when I saw this movie in theaters. Now, while the cinematography and overall scope of this film are still highly impressive, I must say that throughout this movie there are WAY too many Dutch angles for me.

But despite the questionable composition choices of the framing, the movie delivers on some strong themes that go well with the Shakespearian type of story. There’s a scene just past the midway point where Thor tracks down Mjonir and fist fights his way through a slew of SHIELD agents to get to it, only to realize when he’s finally reunited with this iconic weapon, that he can no longer lift it.

tom hiddleston thor

This scene is heartbreaking. Thor has been arrogant, he’s been funny, he’s even been charming and brave- but this is the moment where we see Thor be broken. Thor’s whole thing up until this point has been that he’s the rightful heir to the throne of Asgard. To Thor, Mjolnir isn’t just a weapon, it’s a friend, a partner, a reason for being. And when he can’t lift it, he realizes that he truly isn’t worthy of anything he previously thought he was entitled to. Thor learns in this moment that being worthy goes beyond his bloodline, that he must truly become a hero in order to prove himself. It’s actually some really good acting from Hemsworth and some incredible writing to make this scene really turn things around for our guy.

To contrast this scene, there are moments of pure humour that help break the movie up from its King Arthur hero’s journey arc. Specifically, we all remember the iconic scene where Thor tries coffee and pancakes for the first time.

Ahh, that’s the Thor that I fell in love with.

And speaking of contrast, the earth scenes in this movie take place in New Mexico, which is obviously not the most aesthetic setting to make a movie. However, I actually like the western small-town look of the setting because of the high contrast it has to Asgard. Where Asgard is regal, imperial and almost ethereal, New Mexico is dusty, bleak, and flat. It adds more to Thor’s confusion by sticking him somewhere that holds no resemblance to his home. There’s a scene where Thor explains the nine realms to Jane, who feels a little bit like a wasted love interest in this movie, but this scene is really cute.

natalie portman thor

He basically gets a chance to be the knowledgeable one in his dynamic with Jane, which is yet another nice contrast to balance this movie’s tone. He charmingly explains the realms to Jane, and the happiness in his eyes is what plants the seed of love that the two will eventually share. Even if it takes us like 10 years to see it pay off…

So, while Thor is on his little spirit quest to figure out what kind of leader he needs to be, Loki is sabotaging Asgard in full effect. After discovering that he’s an adopted frost giant, Loki plans to take over the throne of Asgard and make a secret deal with the frost giants to infiltrate the kingdom and regain their Casket of Ancient Winter. If that happens, there will be nothing standing between them and the glory of their race. Which also means, the downfall of Asgard. Thor can’t let that happen, but what’s a guy to do? I mean, without his hammer and powers, he’s just a hunk of a guy with good-looking friends and a half-baked plan. That is until Thor’s friends from Asgard visit to let Thor know of Loki’s plans, which sets him into motion as he attempts to take on a space destroyer without his abilities and sacrifices himself to save the town of innocent local New Mexico residents. This sends Mjolnir hurling through the sky like a bat out of hell to be reunited with Thor once again. And just like that, It’s final battle time.

Now, the climax and really the entire final act of this movie is… fine. It’s just fine. Loki and Thor battle it out and Thor wins after Loki falls from Asgard and lands in a portal directly to earth. The action, to me, was a bit lacking and at this point in the movie I just wanted Thor to go back to earth and keep being funny an tough. However, this movie does do a good job of finally introducing a villain that is well worth his weight in ice. Loki is well-deserving of the title of one of the best MCU villains of all time. His arc throughout the years has been unmatched as we find ourselves genuinely enjoying his status as an anti-hero after seeing him being such a petty and menacing foil to Thor.

At the end of the day, Thor offers a unique style, a fun balance of humor and action, and a wonderful cast of characters that still holds up for the most part. Sure, it’s not as good as some of the MCU’s other fare, but it provides us with a watchable introduction to one of the strongest Avengers. Fans also seemed to enjoy the film, given its nearly $550 Million box office run on a budget of just $150 Million. And by this point, fans had learned to stick around the theatre until the credits were over because this movie offered ane that would lead directly into the highly anticipated crossover film that would unite all of our favourite post-credit sce characters in 2012’s The Avengers. But we still have some movies in the zeitgeist to get through before we cover that monumental film.

What do you think of 2011’s Thor? Do you like the more colorful and silly version we’re seeing these days, or do you miss the more serious and brooding nature of this movie? Comment your opinions down below!

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.