Thor’s impact has been much more limited in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in part because of the less-than-stellar outings of Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013). He becomes relegated to something more secondary until Thor: Ragnarok (2017). However, Thor is a bridge into the universe outside of Earth. As royalty, his actions have a huge impact on the MCU but he’s never really utilized well until Ragnarok where director Taika Waititi takes advantage of Chris Hemsworth’s acting ability and comedic timing, delving deeper into his character, and setting him up for Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
When Thor begins his journey, he is an arrogant prince– not a huge stretch for Thor‘s director, Kenneth Branagh, who is known for his Shakespearean adaptations. While having such a prestigious director on board gave legitimacy and elevated Marvel Studios, I feel that it was ultimately detrimental. Thor was played as a Shakespearean character in a franchise where humor has been a staple since Iron Man (2008). By the end of the film, Thor has learned humility and found love. He has learned enough to sacrifice his own happiness to save multiple planets, destroying the Bifrost Bridge, which enables him to travel to other planets.
Thor did well enough, but compared to more recent Marvel movies could be considered something of a failure. Thor: The Dark World brings in a new director on a story that is actually interesting and complex, but as a whole the film is a hot mess. With sloppy directing by Alan Taylor (Terminator: Genisys) and determination to portray Thor in that same high fantasy/Shakespearean style, the movie is scarcely more integral than The Incredible Hulk (2008), which is only vaguely recognized as having occurred by the characters. The reality is that for most of Thor’s appearances, he is looked at as eye candy, while Chris Hemsworth’s talents are overlooked.
The key takeaways from Dark World are this:
1. The Bifrost has been restored and Thor can now travel to and from Earth
2. Loki is masquerading as Odin, whose fate is unknown
3. Following the death of his mother, Thor is living on Earth with Dr. Jane Foster
4. The Aether/Reality Stone has been found and now resides with the Collector (depicted in a post-credits scene)
While events from the film are vaguely referenced as global events, for the most part the film is easy enough to sweep under the rug. There’s a lot of handwaving away any questions or contradictions.
Waititi is the first director to attempt to apply the MCU formula to Thor, recognizing the comedic talent of Chris Hemsworth, among others. He gives his actors free range to try things, with Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Hiddleston more than a little familiar with the characters they’ve been playing for years. The casting of Jeff Goldblum is further proof that humor was Waititi’s intention, while even more serious actors Anthony Hopkins and Cate Blanchett get the chance to let their hair down.
Ragnarok brings together a number of key plot points. He establishes on screen what the audience already knows, that the Infinity War is coming, and brings Doctor Strange into the fold, whose exploits in magic are a new element in the MCU. We learn that Thor and Jane have broken up, watch Odin die and Thor take his place as king, and see Thor and Loki make amends. Mjolnir is destroyed, allowing Thor to better understand his own power. Asgard is destroyed, leaving its people as wandering refugees heading towards Earth, and leading directly into the opening of Infinity War. We’re introduced to Valkyrie and given more insight into Asgard’s history and Thor’s family. And, we get the return of Bruce Banner/Hulk, who has been the Hulk since disappearing at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and is now struggling with this fact.
The point is, that in addition to being hugely entertaining, Ragnarok synthesizes a lot of stray elements and establishes a new baseline for Infinity War. In Infinity War, directors Anthony and Joe Russo draw on the characterization established in Ragnarok, which enables him to better mesh with the comedic Guardians of the Galaxy. Still, Infinity War is a more serious film, so while we all kinda wanted Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to start up when Thor arrived on Earth, that was not the case, though Thor does prove himself to be a huge asset in the fight.
Because Thor does not have the same impact or attention as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Steve Rogers/Captain America, the decision to blind Thor at the end of Ragnarok is quickly undone in Infinity War, but we continue to see him grow as king representing his fallen people. He gains the mystical ax, Stormbreaker, which is able to summon the Bifrost, and even aids in its creation. Later, Thor not only makes a dent in Thanos’s forces, but also nearly succeeds in killing him, teaching us all the importance of going for the head.
Thor was one of the characters to survive Infinity War, and from what we’ve seen in trailers he is set to play a large role in Avengers: Endgame; already he’s expressed how much he likes Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. We’ve also recently learned that Valkyrie has survived the snap and is expected to play a role in the film. Happily, we also get to see more of Thor teaming up with his friend, the ‘rabbit’, Rocket.
Beyond Endgame, Thor’s fate is currently unknown. While there have been rumors that Hemsworth and Waititi have discussed what else they’d like to do with the character, we probably won’t know anything until for months yet. There is a rumor of an all-female A-Force movie featuring Valkyrie on the way, but we have yet to hear a peep about Thor’s future or how else Waititi and Hemsworth can surprise us. Thus far the only franchise to go beyond a trilogy is The Avengers, so it seems unlikely, especially with more characters being introduced and given opportunities for their own solo films.