The latest in our series on the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe reaches the mighty Thor...
Thor, the crown prince of Asgard, is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers after he reignites a dormant war. As his brother, Loki, plots to take the throne for himself, Thor must prove himself worthy and reclaim his hammer Mjolnir.
Since his comic book debut in 1962, Thor has been one of Marvel’s front-bench favourites, yet he was always one that looked trickier than most to put up on the big screen.
It’s difficult now to remember a time when Thor wasn’t Chris Hemsworth. Before his casting, most of the names being bandied about weren’t bona fide actors, but muscle-strewn wrestlers and blank male models. Before Hemsworth, it was Canadian wrestler Tyler Mane (who’d previously played the undemanding role of Sabretooth in X-Men) whose name was most closely linked to the part. It scarcely bares thinking about.
It's hard to imagine those other mooted names having the A to Z acting skills required to make this Norse God a believable, rounded character. With Hemsworth, Marvel had someone with a GSOH and a twinkle in his eye, not just wowsome pecs and a mane of flowing blond hair.
Kenneth Branagh was the surprise choice to direct Thor, after Matthew Vaughn bailed (not for the first time on a Marvel superhero movie). Maybe it was Sir Ken’s Shakespearian background and his fondness for back-slapping bluster that appealed to Marvel (there’s definitely something of the Bard in Thor’s Asgard scenes), but certainly action and special effects were new to K-Bran’s repertoire.
Not that you’d ever believe it watching the movie though. Branagh (who actually might have made a good Thor himself in his blond-locked youth) proved a deft hand at not only the drama and the comedy, but also the big action set-pieces, so much so that his next Hollywood film after Thor was the uber-action-y Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Marvel, get him back!
We’re tempted to say Chris Hemsworth here, but – hey – does anybody come away from Thor talking about anybody other than Tom Hiddleston? He’s clearly having a ball as the dastardly Loki, and he’s still Marvel’s most successful big screen baddie.
One of the benefits of having a director like Kenneth Branagh in charge of a movie is that you can raid his phone contacts. Casting his old mate Anthony Hopkins as Odin was a masterstroke, with Sir Ant bringing gravitas rather than ham to the role of Thor’s one-eyed pa.
When Thor gets his powers – and his hammer – back at the end of the movie is a proper punch-the-air moment. You go, Thor!
Thor: "You’re big. I’ve fought bigger."
When Thor is given clothes to wear, the name tag on the shirt reads 'Donald Blake M.D.' This is a reference to Thor's ‘alter-ego’ on Earth in the comic books.
There is a billboard in the town Thor lands in advertising holidays with the slogan ‘Journey into Mystery!’ The comic that Thor was first introduced in was Journey into Mystery #83.
Stan Lee cameo
Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, lands on Earth, and when it’s discovered it won’t budge, a festival atmosphere ensues where people come and try to pry it loose. One of those attempting to move the legendary hammer is our Stan, who tries to pull Mjolnir out with his pickup truck, only to see the entire back end ripped off!
Post credits sequence
Seeds of the story for Avengers Assemble were sown in Thor’s post-credits scene as Stellan Skarsgård’s Erik Selvig is asked by Nick Fury to head up the research for the Tesseract (not knowing that Selvig is under the control of Loki).
Did You Know?
Chris Hemsworth wasn’t the only Hemsworth to audition for Thor. His brother Liam, better known as Gale Hawthorne in The Hunger Games, also tried out for the lead role.
Sam Raimi, the director of Spider-Man and The Evil Dead, originally planned to make a Thor movie in the early 1990s.
Story writer (and creator of cult sci-fi series Babylon 5) J. Michael Straczynski cameos as the first person to try to lift Mjölnir.
Where have I seen him before?
Chris Hemsworth wasn’t the first actor to play a live-action Thor. That honour goes to Canadian Eric Allan Kramer who donned the Asgardian get-up for the 1988 TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. NBC planned to use the film as a ‘backdoor pilot’ to a potential Thor TV series, but sadly (or not) that never happened.
Those with longer memories may also remember a rather rickety Thor cartoon series from the mid-1960s. Check it out here, if you dare.
What the critics said
“What Thor lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in bombast – but Kenneth Branagh deserves credit for putting his own personal touch on this superhero epic.” The Guardian
“Hemsworth — the Australian actor who impressed so much with his one-scene cameo in Star Trek as Kirk’s doomed dad — comes into his own, adding new layers of humility and humour to his blustering God Of Thunder.” Empire
“For anyone looking for a spot of mindless holiday fluff, Thor remains an endearing throwback to simpler times: when men were men, gods were gods and heroes looked like bodybuilders who’d just raided the dress-up box.” Time Out
“Chris Hemsworth makes an imposing, good-humoured Thor, learning humility when tased by a grad student or smashing his coffee cup to call for a refill, but the motor of the film is Tom Hiddleston’s complex, conflicted Loki.” Sight & Sound
“There is so much to like here, and so little to quibble about, that a new superhero franchise has almost certainly been born.” Daily Mail
Next time: Captain America: The First Avenger