Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Approaching Infinity Part Four: Thor (2011)

Okay - this is where the MCU kicks off with some authority, for me. They've danced around the wilder aspects of superheroics so far by offering either just-about-plausible technologies or familiar takes on tried-and-tested 70s TV shows. Thor is the MCU's first taste-test on a grander scale, and it very nearly pulls it off without a hitch. We get a pretty complex villain, a decent mix of comedy and drama and some solidly planted seeds for future exploration. The dialogue lets it down in places, notably in the Asgard bits, but all in all it could have been a whole lot worse if  Kenneth "Brick-Subtle" Brannagh been given enough creative rope to hang himself.

The Villain
Loki is pretty much the linchpin of MCU villainy, so it's almost weird that we're 4 films in before we meet him. He neatly dodges the Evil Shadow problem by having an established mythology behind him (however mangled Marvel's interpretation might be), and is just really well played by Tom Hiddleston. He's genuinely conflicted a lot of the time, but keeps falling victim to his own nature. By this point, the MCU is going about 50/50 in killing off the bad guys in their films, so it was a relief that Loki's ambiguous end in this film gets quickly clarified during the credits - even if that kinda steps on the dramatic climax of the film.

The Story
Thor throws everything at you in the first few minutes in an attempt to steamroller you into acceptance of the stuff they might otherwise seem ashamed of. In fact, they do such a good job of establishing the power of Thor and the world he inhabits that it feels distinctly weird when they abandon it all early on to talk about quirky astrophysicists and unlikely hospital escapes. It's all pretty goofy from the outset, of course, but they get a lot of mileage out of making everything seem convincing and consistent while we're in Asgard, then throwing it all into sharp comic relief when the gods start walking the Earth. De-powering Thor for half the running time feels cheap - and maybe even a little cowardly. The Destroyer still looks cool, though.

The Universe
We get a lot of new stuff hurled into the ever-expanding Marvel-verse with Thor - a whole mythology's worth, in fact. This is the point where the MCU really earns its U. There are a couple of weird choices - the 2 minutes of half-arsed Hawkeye we get, for example. There's some retrospective confusion about the Casket that gets kicked around here, too. Once the Tesseract is introduced at the end, it seems like they might as well have used that instead to avoid having 2 blue, glowing super-weapons cluttering up the place. Anyway, we get some more solid Coulson work, plus the first appearance of Sitwell. Jane Foster and her peripheral cast seem like a wasted opportunity now, given the amount of work put into establishing them here, but that's a purely post-Thor 2 hindsight issue and we're not there yet.

The Stinger
Okay, we're reaching the Phase 1 climax, so this credits sequence had to be something special. We get a little Nick Fury to sweeten the pot, an Infinity Stone and an instant, slightly odd resolution of Loki's apparent death. The stakes are ramped up respectably, and we're on our way to The Avengers...

The Take-Away
The Asgardian scripting and delivery is clunky in places, with those clumsy little mock-Shakespearean flourishes tripping everyone up. Thor himself does a decent rage-sulk and even Anthony Hopkins doesn't seem quite as bored as usual. Idris Elba, as always, deserves a lot more time and attention than he gets, though. As a radical expansion of the ground Marvel films can cover, Thor more than does the job it needed to. Even the CGI holds up surprisingly well. Thor was a creative risk, but more than earns the weirdness it introduces.

Previously: Iron Man 2
Next: Captain America: The First Avenger

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