The best Thor movie is the one nobody talks about

Thor has been at the center of the MCU for years, but his best tale is overlooked far too often.
Chris Hemsworth in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures
Chris Hemsworth in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures /

No film saga within the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had as many highs and lows as the Thor movie series. There are four of them, and the vast majority of them have received emotional responses; which each one generating very different kinds of responses.

The first sequel used to be a favorite choice for fans' "least favorite Marvel movie" while the second was widely considered one of Marvel's best. The most recent installment took the good in its predecessor too far, descending into parody. All types of emotions for an all-types of film saga; because there hasn't been all that much consistency in the Thor movies, to be honest.

But while Thor: The Dark World was criticized for being "dull" and "uninteresting", Ragnarok was praised for its wit and charm, and Love and Thunder was dragged for its overreliance on humor (and those screaming goats!), we often forget about the movie that started it all. Thor, just Thor.

Released in 2011, Thor kickstarted Chris Hemsworth's journey as the God of Thunder, introducing him to audiences around the world. It also introduced us to a number of characters who would become staples of the MCU, most notably Loki and Hawkeye, but also Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, Darcy Lewis and Heimdall (while also featuring Clark Gregg's returning Agent Phil Coulson and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury). To take that one step further, it was probably the most pivotal of the Phase One movies in terms of setting up the story of The Avengers.

So why don't we talk about Thor more? That's a question I too have found myself asking for some time now, and it was certainly on my mind when I decided to revisit it on Disney Plus. But now that I have, allow me to take this opportunity to present to you my review of the movie, and put forth the case as to why the MCU's oft-overlooked origin story is the God of Thunder's best movie yet.

Thor's origin story is the God of Thunder at his best

Shortly after starting Thor, I couldn't help but realize just how much of a 2000s movie this was. If this movie was made today, it wouldn't be anything like this. It's just so unlike the typical Marvel fare that we're used to these days, and even tough many of the MCU devotees aren't fussed on it for that very reason, it's actually something that works well for it. Oh sure, there are big battle scenes, and a universe-altering power that threatens the existence of all humanity, but there are also many, many differences from what we've come to expect.

There are two tales to Thor and both of them reflect those differences. On one hand, you have the ancient feud between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, and on the other you have Thor's quest for redemption on Midgard, a.k.a. Earth. That redemption comes through his unlikely connection with mortal astrophysicist Jane Foster, who accidentally hits him with her car before the two become close. And Thor, who has been cast out of Asgard by Odin after starting a war with the Frost Giants, find his way back to worthiness because of that.

Thor review
Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures /

That's a lot to digest but one of my favorite things about Thor is how straightforward the movie made it for general audiences. This was before the MCU required the passionate levels of commitment, so the story wasn't overcomplicated or bogged down with too much backstory, and that was clear from the beginning, right as Anthony Hopkins' Odin narrated the events of the Asgardians' war with the Frost Giants. Things moved pretty quickly on Thor, and that was very much appreciated on my end.

Speaking of that war, I have to complement the first half of the movie on just how beautiful it was. The visuals were stunning, with the glistening grandeur of Asgard remaining among the MCU's most impressive backdrops and the grim caverns of Jotuenheim setting the mood before a single Frost Giant even appeared. There are some imperfections in the CGI, with some of it looking very early 2000s, but it all has character; full of life in a way that the bland CGI landscapes of modern Marvel movies aren't. Kenneth Branagh's direction ensures that all of the visuals feel epic, and that never falters throughout the film.

I also watched the first half of the movie realizing that this is what a Thor movie is supposed to feel like. I didn't want to compare it to the more recent Thor: Love and Thunder (which I admittedly enjoyed a lot more than most) but it was hard not to, because it really made me think about how the God of Thunder has been portrayed in recent installments vs. how he should be portrayed. Do I want my Thor films to be epic war stories with a touch of humor and a lot of heart, or do I want silly space operas with lowbrow humor and an inability to take things seriously? It's not much of a choice when you put it like that.

Thor review
Chris Hemsworth in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures /

We do have Thor: Ragnarok to blame for Thor's evolution into this sillier character because, great as it was, it was the movie that shifted the franchise (and the character) into this new direction. While that one didn't lack the nuance of the story it was telling below the surface, Love and Thunder did - and it's a sharp reminder of what can happen when you lose sight of who you're writing for.

That's not to say that Thor can't be silly. Thor itself has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but a lot of that comes from the Earth side of things, with Darcy providing most of the film's humor. Thor gets in on the fun from time-to-time too, but it often comes from jokes that he cracks with his friends or his inability to understand Earth's customs. He's a fish out of water, and that's funny; that doesn't make him a stupid character, which is what some of the later movies did. And Chris Hemsworth hit the nail on the head with his performance; it was his charisma that sold it, because we still took Thor seriously in this film, even in his silliest moments.

Asgardian fantasy epic meets 2000s romcom

Thor isn't a comedy; it's a fantasy epic about gods and monsters full of ambitious visuals and power struggles. When you're watching the Asgardian scenes, it feels like you're watching larger-than-life gods in a kingdom so far out of reach it shouldn't be seen by the human eye. It's like a family-friendly Game of Thrones. And Branagh did a wonderful job of capturing that, with a real sense of awe and wonder coming across in each and every one of these scenes.

For that reason, it's rather unusual that the film's other half, if you will, is essentially a romcom. Granted, it's primarily about Thor's struggles with being cast out of Asgard and his attempt to redeem himself, but his quickly blossoming relationship with Jane is at the center of that redemption. This is very 2000s, because on the surface there isn't much substance to their relationship. It's there, but the film opts for a more light-hearted approach in telling the story, with only glimmers of the potential depth when the two share that scene on the roof. This is largely down to lack of time to explore that arc since it was splitting its time between the two, but it works well nonetheless.

Thor review, Thor and Jane Foster
Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures /

The Thor and Jane relationship gets a bit of flack but it isn't worthy of it. Hemsworth and Natalie Portman do have a lot of chemistry and even if Thor can't fully capitalize on it, there is more than enough there to keep general audiences invested. Does it have the emotional depth of Captain America and Peggy Carter's relationship? No. But Thor isn't a 1940s war movie; it's a fantasy movie with a dash of 2000s romcom thrown in for good measure. And its tone is just right.

We mentioned Hemsworth and Portman's chemistry, but the two are very watchable in their own right too. Hemsworth in particular shines in the title role, brandishing such charisma that you can't help but love Thor even when he's at his most arrogant. He's playful, charming, and powerful on-screen (something more recent movies robbed him of) and it's easy to see why he has become one of the MCU's most lovable heroes.

Portman has fun as Jane Foster, adding subtleties to the character that aren't necessarily in the script. She deserved more, but there was enough there to keep us interested, and she shared the screen well with Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings, with the trio's back-and-forth making them one of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor (2011), Thor review
Tom Hiddleston in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures /

We haven't talked about him yet because this was very much just the beginning of his brilliance, but Tom Hiddleston is a scene stealer as Loki, balancing the character's need for mischief with faux compassion with ease. He truly shined when the character went full on baddie, though, setting the stage for his star-making turn as the villain of The Avengers. While the script could have focused a bit more on his conflict over his feelings of betrayal and fear of insignificance, it ultimately benefited the sense of mystery around the character. Just when you thought you had figured Loki out, he surprised you. Hiddleston thrived on the unpredictable nature of the character and it was an exhilarating watch.

Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo are underutilized as the pair's parents. I get that Odin falling into the Odinsleep was necessary to the plot, but Hopkins didn't get much of a moment. He was understated and reserved in his performance and that worked for the tired king, but he only occasionally got to let loose. It would have been nice if the movie allowed him more opportunities to get involved a bit more, but he certainly brought the imposing character to life with a touch of Shakespearean class.

All in all, Thor is an odd beast destined to surprise you on a rewatch. It's a strange blend of medieval fantasy and noughties movies that works. Its story is pretty straightforward and that's surprisingly refreshing in today's day and age of multiverses, post-credits scenes, and world-building. It's there to showcase its title hero in his earliest of adventures and it gets in, tells that story, and gets out. And it presents him with what is his best character journey to date - something we don't talk about enough.

The Thor franchise has had many different looks, but this one is perhaps the greatest of them all. Its epic, heartfelt, and funny without descending into parody. To quote Jane Foster:

It's a good look!

Thor is perhaps one of the MCU's most underrated movies, balancing fantasy epic with 2000s romcom for a fun, straightforward, and entertaining adventure. It's perfectly imperfect, but it's a better representation of the God of Thunder than his more recent outings. . . Thor (2011). Thor (2011). A-

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