Thor. Oh, Thor. To the surprise of exactly zero people in my life, Thor is my favorite Avenger (at least of the ones that have shown up in the MCU so far). I have multiple Thors on multiple desks in my life (two at work, one at home… for now). Thor is beautiful, he is strong, he is righteous, he is kind, and once he gets past that major ego situation in his first movie, he’s pretty awesome.
So it would stand to reason that the Thor movies are some of my favorite Marvel features, right?
Sorry, y’all, but they really aren’t. Thor’s movies are fun, for sure, and as far as his characterization is concerned, they are invaluable. Well, okay, the first one is invaluable. Watching Thor go from the galaxy’s biggest egocentric dudebro into someone who understands the value of friendship and teamwork is pretty important, especially considering he later becomes a part of the most famous team ever when he joins the Avengers. But all things considered, the Thor movies have been pretty weak as contributors to the MCU.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of All Things Thor. But… Consider the competition. The Iron Man films tend to act the way fireworks do at sporting events: they announce that important things are coming (if nothing else, despite all its flaws, Iron Man 2 brought us Natasha Romanoff); Guardians of the Galaxy introduced the Kree; and the Captain America films contain massive plot drivers, including the fall of SHIELD, the rise of HYDRA, and the introduction of the Winter Soldier. The ensemble films only carry this forward, giving us our first glimpse of Thanos and tying together the threads introduced in other films regarding the Infinity Stones.
But then there are the Thor films. While fun adventures in Asgard, they don’t introduce all that much as far as indespensible plot drivers go. The first film focuses very heavily on Thor’s character development, bringing him to the place he needed to be to be willing to join something like the Avengers in the first place. Let’s face it, Thor before all that growth and development wouldn’t have batted an eye at Midgard’s problems. While this is necessary and important for the inclusion of Thor himself into the Avengers, it is not actually important with regard to the overarching plot of the MCU itself. Honestly, the intrinsic value of the first Thor movie was to introduce Loki, who would prove to be a key driver of the first Avengers film. Overall, the movie is a delight, but in terms of value to the bigger picture, it’s pretty low on the list.
Thor: The Dark World isn’t quite as tragic. While Christopher Eccleston is always a joy, and his turn as Malekith was a lot of fun to watch, the plot of the film did the bare minimum toward the advancement of the MCU. We got a lot of Thor and Loki reluctantly working together; we were introduced to the recast version of Fandral (Zachary Levi, who I quite enjoyed in the role, but I know received mixed reviews); and we witnessed the death of Frigga, which was unwelcome and terrible, even if it allowed Loki a bit more character development. The only part of the film that was really valuable to the main arc of the MCU was the Aether, introduced and contained within the course of the film into one of the Infinity Stones.
Knowing that Infinity Wars is on the horizon and that the Infinity Stones (represented in the MCU so far as the Tesseract, the Aether, the yellow stone in Vision’s forehead, and the purple stone collected in Guardians of the Galaxy) are an integral part of the overall MCU plot, The Dark World has at least contributed to the advancement of the broader story, and is definitely the stronger of the two Thor films. But even still, it did so with a relatively weak story: Malekith wasn’t as scary as he was intended to be, he was pretty easily vanquished, and despite all the hopping through time and space that the characters did, the ability to do so seems to have been contained to this one film (and was often excessively convenient as far as the plot of the film was concerned). Overall, the film felt like a comedy joyride through what could have been a far more compelling story, but instead of playing with the possibilities given to us, we were given a buddy comedy with Thor and Loki.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the buddy comedy. It just doesn’t hold up all that well when compared to, say, the Winter Soldier.
Overall, as much as I hate to admit it, my favorite MCU character hasn’t contributed all that much to the MCU’s bigger picture. His films have proven as much a vehicle for his brother Loki as they have for him, and with the exception of the Aether, haven’t done that much to advance things along. I have high hopes (and lots of worries) about Thor: Ragnarok; we’ll see how this goes from where we are now. There’s one thing that can absolutely be said, however, and it’s this: considering they’re working with the story of a Norse god of thunder and the world of epic poetry from whence he came, the MCU has not been doing enough to show us just how epic the world of Asgard and its people can be. I say this as an enormous fan of Chris Hemsworth in the role, as a fan of what they’ve done so far, and as someone who overall greatly enjoys the Thor movies. It’s possible my bar is set way, way too high here, but they still haven’t quite captured what Thor can really be.