MCU Retrospective: Thor

Written by Anna Harrison

In these retrospectives, Anna will be looking back on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, providing context around the films, criticizing them, pointing out their groundwork for the future, and telling everyone her favorite scene, because her opinion is always correct and therefore her favorite scene should be everyone’s favorite scene. Time for space shenanigans.

70/100

So far, the burgeoning MCU has remained grounded—relatively speaking, of course, as they feature a man flying around in a gold-titanium alloy suit and another man who turns into a big green rage monster if he gets angry. However, Thor marks the first time that Marvel ventures off-world, and even if the movie tries to explain away the magical elements by quoting Arthur C. Clarke (“Magic is just science we don’t understand”), the film still represents a marked departure from the three previous entries, serving as a litmus test for the MCU’s burgeoning audience. However, the departure that occurred with Thor wasn’t entirely clean: to ensure that the film didn’t get too otherworldly and alienate its audience, a large chunk of the movie is spent on Earth, which ironically ends up as the weakest portion of the movie. The result is a decent first outing for our God of Thunder, but one hampered by its tethering to reality. 

It is helped, though, by excellent casting in Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Hiddleston had worked with director Kenneth Branagh before, and, as is well-known by now, initially auditioned for Thor before getting the role of Loki, and the titular hero went to Hemsworth. Both of these actors have become mainstays of the MCU, and for good reason; even before Hemsworth could flex his considerable comedy chops in Thor: Ragnarok (and before his eyebrows were unbleached), he was exuding charisma, and Hiddleston is, for my money, one of the best actors in the entire franchise. 

It’s a good thing these two are so talented, because both characters could have easily been annoying had they been in the wrong hands. Thor, as presented initially in this movie, is overconfident, cocky, and unwise, but even so Hemsworth manages to make him charming (it helps that he is just ridiculously, superhumanly attractive). When Thor’s coronation day on Asgard is interrupted by Frost Giants from Jotunheim, Asgard’s greatest enemy, Thor immediately rushes off to fight Laufey, king of the Frost Giants, and get revenge. He is accompanied by Loki and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Fandral (Josh Dallas). Together, this merry group threatens to destroy the fragile peace between Asgard and Jotunheim, as well as get untold numbers injured or killed, until Odin shows up and prevents further catastrophe.

Apoplectic with rage, Odin casts Thor out, banishing him to Earth. “You are unworthy of these realms, you’re unworthy of your title, you’re unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed!” he roars before stripping Thor of his powers and sending him away from Asgard. Finally, right before he throws Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, after its owner, Odin murmurs, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” A challenge, then, for Thor to rise towards: become worthy of Mjolnir, of his father, of Asgard.

Now stuck in New Mexico, Thor has to adjust; luckily, he conveniently runs into Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist studying atmospheric anomalies, unaware she is chasing the Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge that allows Asgardians to travel between worlds. Jane is joined by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and the trio take in a very dazed and confused Thor. Branagh mines this fish-out-of-water scenario for some good moments (Thor smashing a coffee cup on the ground and crying, “Another!”, Thor going into a pet shop and asking for a horse, Thor repeatedly getting hit or almost hit by cars because he has no idea what they are), but New Mexico drags compared to Asgard and all its cool costumes, production design, and royal intrigue. On top of that, the romance that brews between Jane and Thor is far too rushed to be believable (remember how I praised Marvel for going somewhat slowly with Pepper and Tony? Yeah, this is the opposite of that) and stunts Jane as a character by immediately saddling her with Thor. She certainly has potential (and is certainly more of a real character than, say, Betty Ross was), and Natalie Portman is good as ever, but stick her in the most boring aspect of the movie and immediately force her into the “love interest” box and you are heading towards failure.

Thank goodness for Asgard and Loki, then. Production designer Bo Welch had his work cut out for him, as he is tasked with the unenviable task of translating Asgard from page to screen, making it seem advanced enough to belong to gods but familiar enough not to alienate the audience, but he succeeds, making Asgard one of the most recognizable locations in the MCU and deftly straddling the line between the fantastic and the plausible. Frequent Marvel costumer and Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne manages a similarly impossible feat, clothing the Asgardians in regal fashion and crafting iconic looks that will last throughout the movies. This isn’t just a trip to the 1940s, as will happen in the next Marvel film, but a trek to an entirely new, alien world, and thus a lot hinges on its aesthetics; at this somewhat tenuous point in Marvel’s trajectory, a failure on the design fronts could have been catastrophic.

Back in Asgard, Loki finds out that he is adopted. What’s more, he is actually a Frost Giant; on top of that, he is Frost Giant King Laufey’s son. Understandably perturbed, he confronts Odin, who… falls asleep? Odin falls into the “Odinsleep,” a vague concept never truly explained, but essentially Odin gets very tired from all his troubles and must rest in a coma-like state to regain power. While the concept of Odinsleep is a) ridiculous and b) very convenient, the confrontation scene in the throne room stands out as one of the most affecting scenes in the whole film.

Marvel brought on Branagh partially due to his experience with Shakespeare, as the studio wanted to emphasize the family drama of Thor in order to make it more relatable, and no one does family drama better than Shakespeare, and no one does Shakespeare better than Kenneth Branagh. This scene shows why Marvel chose Branagh, and why Branagh sought classically trained actors like Hiddleston for this film. Hiddleston puts in the work here, cycling between rage, betrayal, jealousy, hurt, rolling a hundred different emotions into one performance. It’s good stuff.

As Odin has been knocked out of commission, the throne falls to Loki; with the added baggage of his backstory, Loki treks to Jotunheim, reveals that it was he who sabotaged Thor’s coronation, and agrees to let Laufey and his fellows into Asgard to kill Odin. Sif and the Warriors Three go to retrieve Thor from Earth to stop Loki, but Loki sends some faceless robot thing to kill Thor before he can come back. The faceless robot thing, called the Destroyer, nearly succeeds, but because Thor was ready to sacrifice himself to save innocents, he becomes worthy of Mjolnir, destroys the Destroyer, and heads back to Asgard to confront Loki. 

Well, it turns out that Loki only invited the Frost Giants to Asgard so he could kill them in front of Odin to make himself look heroic, and then Loki tries to destroy all of Jotunheim by using the Bifrost’s power. Thor, now against genocide (good job), prevents Loki from doing so, in the process destroying the Bifrost and preventing him from traveling back to Jane (the Bifrost is fixed with zero problems in the sequel). Thor is now worthy to be king, and Loki has fallen into the abyss of space.

The story beats in Thor trace a familiar arc dating back centuries: the unsuitable heir must go on a quest to prove himself worthy. The younger brother schemes to get the throne. So on and so forth. Even with Hemsworth’s winning performance (and Patrick Doyle providing one of the more memorable Marvel scores), were it not for Hiddleston, Thor would have easily been forgotten. 

Loki goes through far and away the most interesting arc in the film, an arc that has continued to this day with his titular Disney+ show, and one that very quickly captured the hearts and minds of Marvel’s audience. Marvel’s greatest strength lies with its characters; there are many instances where a weaker entry has been elevated by character work (see: Iron Man 2), and Loki is certainly a very strong contender for the title of “Most Psychologically Complex Marvel Character” even from his very first outing, boosting every film he appears in. The discarded son, never meant to rule but always feeling as if he is worthy of it—and in a family where “worthiness” is everything, of course that would twist him up inside. Then to discover that you belong to a different race entirely, a race hated by your home, your family, by everyone around you, and what’s more to learn that the only reason your so-called father adopted you was to use you as a pawn to broker a peace treaty? That would drive anyone to madness. (“Is it madness?” Loki asks, tears swimming in his eyes. “Is it? Is it?”) But instead of going after the father that lied to him his whole life, Loki only doubles down to prove himself a worthy son. (There’s that pesky “worthy” word again—it’s everywhere in this movie, haunting both Thor and Loki like shadows, always just out of reach. You have to be worthy of your hammer, of your throne, of your father. You have to prove yourself worthy of respect, even of love, even to your apparent family.) 

Of course, he tries to do this by committing genocide, which is admittedly not great—genocide against his own people, no less. You could easily dub Loki narcissistic, and in many ways he is, but at the root of all his posturing and peacocking runs a very deep thread of self-hatred, strong enough so that Loki is willing to kill his own race. Then, to cap it all off, the infamous exchange: “I could have done it, Father! I could have done it! For you, for all of us!”

“No, Loki.”

What a terrible thing to say to your son as he dangles off the edge of a bridge, the void of space yawning behind him. No wonder Loki lets go. Odin, in a cinematic universe full of bad fathers (Ego, Vulture, Howard Stark), might well take the cake, a sting made all the worse by the fact that Marvel has tried to paint him in if not an ultra-flattering light, at least a decent one. 

In the hands of a studio willing to get darker than Marvel, there is a hell of a lot to work with for Loki; even with the staunchly family-friendly MCU, it’s substantial. Thor only works as a character here because he has Loki to bounce off, and Thor only works as a movie because Hiddleston works overtime to make up for the boredom of New Mexico and the excessive Dutch angle shots that Branagh uses. Is this an exaggeration? Frankly, no. The movie might be called Thor, but it’s Loki’s show—and it’s a good thing, too, coming off the dull affairs that were The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2

Groundwork: Marvel has no big master plan; rather, they plant seeds wherever they can in the hopes that some of them might one day germinate. None of these were planned from day one, lest the whole ship sink, but the seeds germinated nonetheless:

  • Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is here, I guess. Cool.
  • And there’s an after credits scene with the Tesseract, which contains the Space Stone, and will make its first chronological appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger, the next MCU movie. (In that film, the Tesseract appears in Tønsberg, Norway, the site of a Frost Giant attack in Thor and New Asgard in Avengers: Endgame.)
  • Speaking of Infinity Stones, there’s a (fake) Infinity Gauntlet in Odin’s vault. Hela knocks it over later in Ragnarok and makes a joke about it.
  • This marks the first appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent/Hydra spy Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández), who pops up in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Endgame (and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!).
  • Dr. Selvig makes unnamed references to both Bruce Banner and, more importantly, Hank Pym; the latter doesn’t show up in the MCU until Ant-Man 2015.
  • Not groundwork, but the nametag on Thor’s borrowed shirt belongs to Donald Blake, Thor’s human alter ego in (some) comics. Cool!

Anna’s Favorite Scene: The confrontation between Loki and Odin in the throne room, purely because it cemented Loki as one of the best and most interesting characters in the MCU and because it cemented Tom Hiddleston as one of best performers in the MCU.

MCU Ranking: 1. Iron Man, 2. Thor, 2. Iron Man 2, 3. The Incredible Hulk

Thor Trailer

Thor is currently available to rent and purchase on most digital storefronts, and is streamable on Disney+.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

2021 Broadcast Critics Choice Awards Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

In recent years, the Critics Choice awards have been a great predictor on what will not only be nominated at the Oscars, but what might win. This year the awards are being given out almost a whole month before the Oscar nominations even come out, on the flipside, voting begins this Friday (March 5), two days later, the Critics Choice Awards happen, which could help the winners and the nominees that have fallen behind in the guilds and other respective awards shows.

BEST PICTURE
– Da 5 Bloods
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Mank
– Minari
– News of the World
– Nomadland
– One Night in Miami…
– Promising Young Woman
– Sound of Metal
– The Trial of the Chicago 7

After the (somewhat) surprise win for Nomadland at the Golden Globes, I think that win secured its win for the Critics Choice Awards this Sunday, the only other film I think that could challenge it would be The Trial of the Chicago 7 or Mank.

BEST DIRECTOR
– Lee Isaac Chung: Minari
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman
– David Fincher: Mank
– Spike Lee: Da 5 Bloods
– Regina King: One Night in Miami…
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland

The Critics Choice awards have historically split Best Director and Best Picture, so if Nomadland wins Best Picture, then I think David Fincher will win for Mank, and vice versa. Also, quick rant, why is Emerald Fennell even being considered for this category, her direction is the entire reason I believe Promising Young Woman is a mediocre film. Either way, she’s nominated so that should show that she is in the running for Best Director, for some reason.

BEST ACTOR
– Ben Affleck: The Way Back
– Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal
– Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Tom Hanks: News of the World
– Anthony Hopkins: The Father
– Delroy Lindo: Da 5 Bloods
– Gary Oldman: Mank
– Steven Yeun: Minari

I think we all have the same winner in mind, Chadwick Boseman, he has been the runaway winner the entire awards season thus far. On the flipside, Riz Ahmed has been the critical darling, so he is definitely one to watch for.

BEST ACTRESS
– Viola Davis: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Andra Day: The United States vs. Billie Holiday
– Sidney Flanigan: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
– Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman
– Frances McDormand: Nomadland
– Carey Mulligan: Promising Young Woman
– Zendaya: Malcolm & Marie

The Best Actress race is still a little tied up between Frances McDormand, Vanessa Kirby, and Carey Mulligan, I believe that Mulligan will take it, as she has always been a critical darling.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
– Chadwick Boseman: Da 5 Bloods
– Sacha Baron Cohen: The Trial of the Chicago 7
– Daniel Kaluuya: Judas and the Black Messiah
– Bill Murray: On the Rocks
– Leslie Odom, Jr.: One Night in Miami
– Paul Raci: Sound of Metal

I think with Daniel Kaluuya suddenly emerging as the freight train frontrunner for the Oscar will undoubtedly be taking the award home. The only other competitor is Sacha Baron Cohen, but even he might be too far behind to take home the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
– Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
– Ellen Burstyn: Pieces of a Woman
– Glenn Close: Hillbilly Elegy
– Olivia Colman: The Father
– Amanda Seyfried: Mank
– Yuh-Jung Youn: Minari

This season’s Best Supporting Actress race has been a very complicated one, but Glenn Close is who I think will be taking it home as a career win. Possibly Yuh-Jung Youn for her role in Minari, but in America she is relatively unknown and this is an American critics group, I’d lean towards Close in my predictions.

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
– Ryder Allen: Palmer
– Ibrahima Gueye: The Life Ahead
– Alan Kim: Minari
– Talia Ryder: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
– Caoilinn Springall: The Midnight Sky
– Helena Zengel: News of the World

Helena Zengel has been getting a lot of acclaim for her role in News of the World, and will most likely take home the win. Her only competition is Alan Kim, who also has been getting a lot of acclaim for Minari.

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
– Da 5 Bloods
– Judas and the Black Messiah
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Minari
– One Night in Miami
– The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 has one of the best casts of the year, and all of them give fantastic performances as an ensemble, and will undoubtedly win the award.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
– Lee Isaac Chung: Minari
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman
– Jack Fincher: Mank
– Eliza Hittman: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
– Darius Marder & Abraham Marder: Sound of Metal
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7

The original screenplay award is very tied up, but Aaron Sorkin just got a huge boost from his Golden Globes win, which I think will put him ahead of Promising Young Woman and Mank.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
– Paul Greengrass & Luke Davies: News of the World
– Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller: The Father
– Kemp Powers: One Night in Miami
– Jon Raymond & Kelly Reichardt: First Cow
– Ruben Santiago-Hudson: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland

Nomadland has one of the best screenplays of the year, and will most likely be taking the award home, the only competition being One Night in Miami….

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
– Christopher Blauvelt: First Cow
– Erik Messerschmidt: Mank
– Lachlan Milne: Minari
– Joshua James Richards: Nomadland
– Newton Thomas Sigel: Da 5 Bloods
– Hoyte Van Hoytema: Tenet
– Dariusz Wolski: News of the World

While Joshua James Richards crafted some beautiful cinematography for Nomadland, you cannot ignore Erik Messerschmidt’s work in Mank, his gorgeous B&W cinematography of 1930s Hollywood I think will bring home the win for him.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
– Cristina Casali, Charlotte Dirickx: The Personal History of David Copperfield
– David Crank, Elizabeth Keenan: News of the World
– Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas: Tenet
– Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale: Mank
– Kave Quinn, Stella Fox: Emma
– Mark Ricker, Karen O’Hara & Diana Stoughton: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank has some of the best sets of the year and most likely will easily take home this win.

BEST EDITING
– Alan Baumgarten: The Trial of the Chicago 7
– Kirk Baxter: Mank
– Jennifer Lame: Tenet
– Yorgos Lamprinos: The Father
– Mikkel E. G. Nielsen: Sound of Metal
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland

The Trial of the Chicago 7 has the flashiest editing, and it’s only competition is Tenet, but Chicago 7 will probably be taking home the win.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
– Alexandra Byrne: Emma
– Bina Daigeler: Mulan
– Suzie Harman & Robert Worley: The Personal History of David Copperfield
– Ann Roth: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Nancy Steiner: Promising Young Woman
– Trish Summerville: Mank

Mank or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be taking it as critics groups love a good period piece and they have the most lavish costume design.

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP
– Emma
– Hillbilly Elegy
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Mank
– Promising Young Woman
– The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Most likely Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be taking this for transforming Viola Davis as the titular character.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
– Greyhound
– The Invisible Man
– Mank
– The Midnight Sky
– Mulan
– Tenet
– Wonder Woman 1984

The Midnight Sky or Tenet will be taking this one, no contest.

BEST COMEDY
– Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
– The Forty-Year-Old Version
– The King of Staten Island
– On the Rocks
– Palm Springs
– The Prom

Most likely Borat, will be taking this one because of the politics, but I’d love to see On the Rocks or Palm Springs win.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
– Another Round
– Collective
– La Llorona
– The Life Ahead
– Minari
– Two of Us

Another Round has run away with this award, plain and simple, and I am definitely okay with that.

BEST SONG
– Everybody Cries: The Outpost
– Fight for You: Judas and the Black Messiah
– Husavik (My Home Town): Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
– Io sì (Seen): The Life Ahead
– Speak Now: One Night in Miami
– Tigress & Tweed: The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Let’s just say if One Night in Miami… doesn’t take it, I will be shocked.

BEST SCORE
– Alexandre Desplat: The Midnight Sky
– Ludwig Göransson: Tenet
– James Newton Howard: News of the World
– Emile Mosseri: Minari
– Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: Mank
– Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste: Soul

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are ruling awards season with their scores for Mank and Soul. I think they will most likely win for Soul, however I would love to see Göransson win for his career best work in Tenet.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.