*SPOILERS from Thor (2011), The Dark World, and Ragnarok*
To most, Thor isn’t their favorite Avenger. Most people like him and Chris Hemsworth portrayal of the character, but he’s never had the same attention as Iron Man or Captain America. Part of the reason why is that his films were never really on par with the other two. The first Iron Man kicked off the MCU and remains as many people’s favorite superhero film. Captain America’s first film started off like Thor, with both being good origin stories, but Cap’s sequel The Winter Soldier, became one of the best superhero films, while Thor’s sequel, Dark World, is arguably the worst in the MCU.
Now Thor’s trilogy might not be the best, but it is one of the more fascinating ones. With each film having a different director, different style, and different tone, it’s worth exploring and seeing how each of these films stand together. I firmly believe that to better understand these films you have to look at the directors that were chosen and their specific sensibility. Understand why they were chosen to direct and what they brought to the character and mythos of Thor.
Thor – The Shakespearian Tale
- As You Like It – A Shakespearian comedy involving two brothers, with one trying to kill the other.
- King Lear – A Shakespearian tragedy of a king descending into madness as he divides his kingdom to his daughters who only make matters worst.
- Henry V – A Shakespearian tragedy of a man trying to prove his worth to his father.
- Hamlet – A Shakespearian tragedy of a man and his messed up family.
Yes, I’m oversimplifying Shakespeare, but please bear with me.
- Thor – A superhero film about a man, banished by his father the king, betrayed by his brother, and must learn humility.
Some of you might say this is a stretch, but I beg to differ.
Chosen to direct Thor is actor, writer, & director, Kenneth Branagh. A director with an extensive list of films on Shakespeare plays, such as Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, As You Like It, and his most popular one, Henry V. The parallels between a Shakespeare tragedy and Branagh’s Thor involves one brother falling down only to pick himself up by learning humility thus realizing what it means to be a true king. While the other brother craves for the approval of his father, the King, seeming to elevate himself to be the better ruler but has actually fallen down a wicked path. Branagh was also able to create an amazing setting, with a fantastic production design of this mythological world with a flair of sci-fi and having it connected to contemporary New Mexico/Earth. At the same time it’s a superhero origin story with warring worlds, but at the center of it, it’s about two brothers and their father.
The film starts with a teaser, introducing us to this vast landscape in the New Mexico desert, to show a sense of immensity. We are also introduced to a couple of characters introduced to two scientists, Jane Foster (who adds scientific credibility) and Erik Selvig (who helps Thor grow), as well as their intern, Darcy (basically the audience, who doesn’t know anything about the mythos and the science.) So he ends the teaser with a question and the film continues with a prologue on the narrative history of Asgard, the nine realms, where we meet younger versions of Thor and his brother Loki, they are told that only one of them is to become king, already putting them at odds with one another at a young age. We fast forward to the present with Thor at his ceremony, being ready to be crowned king until an incident occurs. Thor handles it horribly and creates a war between two realms, for his brash and arrogant decision proves that he is not worthy to be king and is banished to Earth, along with his hammer Mjolnir, who only the worthy can wield.
With Thor banished, Loki is next in line to become king, but he has this cataclysmic discovery and finds out that his life has been a lie. Angered by this revelation, his father falls into a deep sleep leaving Loki king of Asgard, sitting on the throne with a wicked plan.
Both Thor and Mjolnir land in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. Mjolnir ends up being like the Arthurian legend, of the Sword in the Stone, waiting for a worthy person to wield it. Thor fights his way to get to Mjolnir and according to director Kenneth Branagh, in Thor’s mind this was his way of saying that “might is right.” The score starts to swell as if he’s triumphant but… he’s not worthy. From then on a part of Thor is broken, coming to the realization that he may never return home. We have Thor put in this “fish out of water” scenario for most of the film and it’s comical. He is literally a god among men and it’s fitting to have some comedic moments and to its credit, the humor in the film works.
Towards the end of Thor, right after the big climactic showdown between the brothers, Thor has just destroyed the Rainbow Bridge. Odin is holding on to Thor, who is holding the staff that is holding Loki, it is Loki who then pours his heart out to his father confessing he did it all for him; Odin disapproves. Loki looks up and contemplates his options, he slowly lets go of the staff, symbolizing that he is severing the tie between him and his family, and falls down into the dark void of space and time. The film ends rather melancholic. Yes, Thor won and defeated his brother but Loki is gone to god knows where, the Bifrost (rainbow bridge) is destroyed, and Thor has no way to visit Jane. What comes next is unsure…
Luckily we see Thor and Loki again in The Avengers. Now, we learn in Thor that the titular character went through an arc, learning humility and he tries to use to the people of Earth and protect them. While Loki goes through an arc himself since he uncovered the dark truth of his past and realized everything about his life was a lie, so he wants to rebuild himself in the most wicked way, falling from grace. As Thor rises up to become the hero, Loki descends into even greater chaos and solidifies himself as a villain.
In the end of Avengers Loki is taken back to Asgard with Thor, who has to set order to the nine realms, which leads us to…
Thor: The Dark World – The Unimposing Epic
In Dark World, an ancient race of Dark Elves, led by Malekith, is awakened, seeking vengeance on Asgard and pursuing their goal to plunge the nine realms into darkness. Gotta say, there isn’t really any depth to the character. Thor is very different from when we last saw him, he’s more introverted, solitary, and reflective. Loki is imprisoned for his crimes against Earth, biding his time. Still sinister and untrustworthy, but is ultimately brought back together with Thor to stop Malekith. There is no question that the best part of the film is the relationship between Thor and Loki as we see them interact after every incident they went through together. Thor is heartbroken that he seemingly has lost his brother, who despises him. Plus their interactions are the only funny parts of the film.
Chosen to helm the film is TV director, Alan Taylor. He’s worked on several shows, most notably for HBO such as Sopranos, Rome, and the show that more than likely landed him the job, Game of Thrones. Which honestly makes sense, if you were to see the episodes he’s directed for Thrones, it isn’t far-fetched for him to direct a Thor film and make it as epic as can be… at least on paper it seems nice. Though to his credit, the scale of Asgard and the nine realms does aesthetically seem like an Epic. We dive a little deeper into Asgard and in a clever scene when the Dark Elves invade Asgard, it looks great. We see ships zoom past the streets and homes, showcasing more of the world, while also demonstrating the deadly precision of the Dark Elves. Taylor may elevate the grand scale of the film, but he manages to dish out a boring, yet somehow annoying, story.
There are certain plot points that the film starts with that are just dropped in the middle of the story. There is a tease that Thor should be with Lady Sif, one of the fiercest Asgardian warriors, but his heart is stuck on Jane Foster. Jane returns and in a switch from the first film, she’s the one in a “fish out of water” story with her visiting Asgard. When she arrives she stirs controversy between Odin, Sif, and Thor; they could’ve gone an interesting route and continue with a Shakespeare like story, such as Romeo & Juliet. Then we have Dr. Erik Selvig who’s gonna crazy after the events of Avengers. He’s running around naked, trying to be the person to add scientific credibility to the film.
More than anything, the film tries to force several things on us, such as a romance that has little to no chemistry. A villain with zero flair or charisma, adding nothing to the screen. Then there’s the obnoxious comedy from otherwise endearing characters (Darcy & Erick) in the last film. We are also introduced to an unnecessary new character (Ian) that is supposed to represent the audience but has no worth when the audience already knows more than him and is just there to add more unhumourous, forced jokes.
Thor’s journey in Dark World is somewhat necessary as he discovers his true place and makes a decision to do what he wants. He’d rather be “a great man, than a good king.” and he walks off to start a new life on Earth with Jane and the Avengers. In the end, Thor, as well as Loki, get what they want. Thor regains clarity and sets off as Earth’s protector, while Loki sits on the throne once again only this time, disguised as his father.
Thor returns in Avengers: Age of Ultron as just a regular member of the team. He assists on missions, lives on Earth, is still dating Jane Foster at the time, though we don’t see her, and kept his promise to protect Earth. Life is pretty easy going for Thor until Ultron shows up. He receives a vision and he suddenly has a new quest, to unravel the mysteries of the infinity stones. So he leaves Earth, as something else in the universe takes precedence.
We aren’t certain where he’s gone and what exactly he’s been doing in the years he’s been away. All we know is that he’s been having visions of Asgard in flames which leads us to…
Thor: Ragnarok – The (Scientific) Fantastical Parody
Ragnarok – “The Doom of the Gods”
In the film, we establish that Ragnarok is the destruction of Asgard at the hands of the fire demon, Surtur and with the eternal flame, he shall grow as large as a mountain and lay waste to the kingdom. Seems like some pretty heavy material to deal with; like something that would appear to be grand and epic! So who better than the comedic, indie director, Taika Waititi to helm this story! Known for comedies such as Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and his most popular, What We Do In the Shadows, Waititi seemed like an odd choice at first, but he went in, did his own thing, and created the best Thor film yet. He’s constructed an amalgam of the Ragnarok storyline from the comics, as well as the Planet Hulk story, adding a strong aesthetic/tone of science fantasy, while doubling back on the mythos.
One of the largest inspirations for the Ragnarok was 1980’s Flash Gordon, which is a very stylized, rather campy, but ultimately enjoyable film about a New York Jets quarterback who saves Earth. Sounds a bit ridiculous, but he wasn’t always like that. Flash Gordon is based off old 1930’s comic strips that were rather serious. Then comes the film and its a fun, wacky, ride that mainly took inspiration from the original comic strip. Seems rather similar to Thor with Ragnarok being a huge departure from the first two films. But Chris Hemsworth was growing a little bored of the Thor films and wanted to bring new life into it, which was where Waititi came in.
What Waititi has managed to do is subvert Thor’s story from his previous films as well as other decisions made in the MCU and parody it. The most overt parody happens in the beginning of a theatrical play about Loki’s “death” in Dark World. Playing Loki in this is famous actor Matt Damon, Chris Hemsworth older brother, Luke, plays the actor, playing Thor in this parodical interpretation. We also get Sam Neil as Thor, which was a nice surprise. Then there’s Jane Foster, who is only acknowledged once when two fans take a selfie with him and apologize that Jane dumped him. Thor clearly says that he dumped her, but then we move on, never to hear her name again. There’s also a hilarious bit with the Hulk when Thor tries to calm him down, the same way Black Widow did in Age of Ultron. Thor says it repeatedly for a while trying to calm him down, with no effect, showcasing how silly that was. Other subversions include the death of the Warriors 3, who was in the film to ultimately die and show that they don’t matter in the story that’s to come. Also, the villain Skurge is very different from the comics, not really what you would’ve expected, that’s for sure.
The world and designs that add to the science fantasy element to the film is a combination of Jack Kirby’s art and the very best moments of Walt Simonson run on the Thor comic. There are also designs and several shots on Asgard that look like they were out of a Frank Frazetta’s piece, adding some of the more fantastical element for the mythos.
The film itself is very comedic, with actually a large amount of improv. One could argue that Ragnarok didn’t have to be science fantasy story, it could’ve followed suit with the previous Thor films if they added more of Thor’s mythos and make it more serious. Instead of going to Sakaar, the story could’ve followed more of the comics a little have I agree that the film didn’t have to be the way it was, but it is. So now all we can do is wait for Infinity War and see what fate has in line for Thor…