Marvel Cinematic Universe profile: A look at Idris Elba’s career

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 02: Idris Elba speaks onstage at Netflix's 'Turn Up Charlie' For Your Consideration event at Pacific Design Center on March 02, 2019 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 02: Idris Elba speaks onstage at Netflix's 'Turn Up Charlie' For Your Consideration event at Pacific Design Center on March 02, 2019 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images) /

Idris Elba guards the Bifrost Bridge as Heimdall in the Thor trilogy. The stealthy Asgardian even sneaks into a few Avengers epics.

When Thor  hit theaters, there were many fun Marvel Cinematic Universe characters to take in for the first time. Thor and Loki were the magnetic brothers, while Odin was the imposing king of Asgard. The Warriors Three, as well as Lady Sif, fought alongside the titular hero and briefly joked around with him when there was down time. On Earth, a trio of scientists garnered a lot of Thor’s attention, not to mention a few SHIELD agents. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for the all-seeing Heimdall. Luckily for Marvel fans, Idris Elba was cast as the stern and sturdy gatekeeper.

Elba invokes an atmosphere of importance with his piercing stare and unyielding demeanor. Thor treats him with high regard and offers Heimdall even more respect than most of the Avengers. In the first Thor movie, Heimdall displays his disciplined duty by aiding the Warriors Three travel to Earth to retrieve Thor and he exhibits heroism by fighting back against Loki’s betrayal, rather than blindly following his responsibility to anyone who claims rule over Asgard.

Heimdall expressed doubts in Thor: The Dark World as the enemy could veil themselves from his gaze. As the first line of defense, Heimdall manages to spot the dark elves’ cloaked attack and fights back; taking down one ship and activating an Asgardian shield to prevent other incoming ships from invading. Continuing with the watchman’s inherent commitment to do good, he disobeys Odin’s order to help Thor take revenge on Malekith for killing Frigga.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Heimdall again answers the call of heroism, but this time he is removed from his station and is one of Asgard’s last resorts to protect the people while Thor is lost, Odin has passed, and the Warriors Three were slain by Hela. He safely hides the citizens until it is time to stand defiantly and fight against great odds. Ragnarok is Idris Elba’s best showing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Aside from the Thor movies, Elba does make brief appearances in two Avengers collaborations. Scarlet Witch puts a spell on Thor in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Heimdall appears to foreshadow the apocalyptic events of Ragnarok and beyond. In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos massacres the Asgardians and kills Heimdall, but not before he uses his abilities one more time and transports Hulk to safety.

Idris Elba makes his presence felt in every MCU scene, and the same goes for his other work in film and television. For a long time, TV was his forte. Elba appeared in many British television shows throughout the 1990s before taking on the pronounced role of Stringer Bell in The Wire. That Baltimore crime drama set his career on an accelerated trajectory, although he has since had great roles in other series such as Luther, The Office, Guerilla and The Big C.

On the film side, Elba has consistently swapped between drama and genre pictures, and has excelled in both. For every Molly’s Game, there is an Elba sighting in a science fiction franchise like Star Trek; he would move from the criminal underworld of American Gangster to the zombie apocalypse in 28 Weeks Later.

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That is not to say all of his movies are hits. He is impressive as the captain of Prometheus in Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, but fails to rise above the bland adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. He is very fun to watch in action-heavy movies like RocknRolla and The Losers, but less so in Takers or the Ghost Rider sequel Spirit of Vengeance.

Elba’s deep, commanding voice emphasizes many of his performances, including Heimdall. In 2016 alone, Elba lent his vocals to the Disney animated Zootopia, the Pixar animated Finding Dory, and the live-action Jungle Book, as the treacherous Shere Khan. His hoarse tone is most effective as an African commandant in Beasts of No Nation, where he tantalizes as a child soldier recruiter. Elba’s speechifying evokes the important magnitude of Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom and he also delivers a compelling rallying cry in Pacific Rim when he announces “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”.

Elba does suggest a tenderness at times in movies like Molly’s Game, Mandela, and The Mountain Between Us. Director Hany Abu-Assad typically crafts thought-provoking thrillers such as Paradise Now and Omar, yet The Mountain Between Us is not one of them. Still Elba’s affection toward Kate Winslet’s character is palpable.

Idris Elba’s Top 10 Movie Roles

1. The Commandant in Beasts of No Nation
2. Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
3. Captain Janek in Prometheus
4. Charlie Jaffey in Molly’s Game
5. Heimdall in the MCU
6. Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim
7. Ben Bass in The Mountain Between Us
8. Roque in The Losers
9. Mumbles in RocknRolla
10. General Stone in 28 Weeks Later

Idris Elba’s role as Heimdall in five movies across the Marvel Cinematic Universe is definitely one of the British actor’s current career highlights. Though, Elba has shown he is capable of reaching a superlative acting level in films like Beasts of No Nation and Mandela. The more he embarks to work in that type of potent dramatic arena, the lower his franchise efforts may drop in his larger oeuvre.

Next. MCU actors: Stellan Skarsgard. dark

Next year, Idris Elba makes the jump from Marvel to DC as he stars alongside Margot Robbie and Viola Davis in The Suicide Squad sequel.