Blog: Ashley – Learning to be a leader – Thor’s journey in the MCU

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – Thor’s character journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

As you rank MCU characters, where does Thor fit in?

There really aren’t any Avengers that I dislike. They all bring something unique and special to the MCU, and I love seeing them interact as a group. It was a thrill to watch them fighting side-by-side for the first time in the original team-up movie, “The Avengers.”

That being said, as much as I love Chris Hemsworth (it would be a blast to hang out with him for a day), Thor falls on the lower end of my favorite MCU characters list.

There’s not really anything that I dislike about him; I just like many of the other Avengers more. Maybe it’s because, for whatever reason, his story doesn’t resonate with me as much. While I enjoy the Thor movies, they’re on the lower end of my MCU film rankings, as well.

Despite all that, Thor plays a very important role in the MCU, and his character arc provides plenty of opportunities for us to dig deeper into some fascinating themes and issues.

So, let’s dive in!

Walking through his journey movie by movie, how would you sum up the guiding themes for Thor?

In some ways, Thor in the first “Thor” film is a little like Tony Stark. He’s pretty arrogant and entitled (although he’s a little more clueless than Tony is). His father, Odin, is concerned about Thor’s spoiled tendencies and realizes his son is not prepared to take over the throne. So, he banishes his son to Earth, hoping that Thor will learn to become a wiser leader before it’s too late.

While the experience is quite a shock for Thor at first (nobody on this planet cares about catering to his whims!), he does learn some important lessons about humility and self-sacrifice. He continues to grow as a character throughout the next few films, learning to be a “team player” as part of the Avengers and helping to protect the Earth and the rest of the galaxy from increasingly serious threats.

With the arrival of Hela in “Ragnarok,” Thor learns that his family’s legacy isn’t as spotless as he once assumed, and he ends up having to unfairly pay for his father’s sins. Hela even smashes his hammer, destroying what he believes to be a key part of his identity and the symbol of his status as a superhero.

However, Thor shows that he truly has become a better man by fighting — at great risk to himself — to save Asgard, and proving that he doesn’t need his hammer to be a hero. (Plus, seeing Thor channel lightning without the hammer for the first time is just an awesome scene.)

Thor’s arc in “Infinity War” is particularly devastating because by this point he’s pretty much lost everyone close to him. It’s difficult to blame him for turning to revenge as motivation, even though his anger and overconfidence cloud his judgement and leave the door open for Thanos to wipe out half the universe.

It’s easy to argue that Thor really should have “gone for the head,” but watching a movie about characters with no flaws would be pretty boring. Thor hasn’t yet completed his arc, and I can’t wait to see what his role in “Endgame” will be.

Why does Thor connect so strongly to Jane Foster? And why do you think he would choose her over Lady Sif?

This is another way Thor is sort-of similar to Tony Stark. Like Pepper Potts, Jane Foster provides an important reality check. She isn’t overly awed by Thor’s power and status, and it’s good for Thor to have someone who treats him like a regular person and doesn’t puff up his ego. As in any good relationship, Jane challenges him to become a better person and to think about the needs of others.

It’s a shame that we may not see Jane Foster in the MCU anymore, because I really liked Natalie Portman’s portrayal and watching the relationship between her and Thor develop. There is a lot of speculation surrounding why Jane’s character was somewhat abruptly dropped from the MCU, but I’d love to see a cameo appearance in “Endgame.”

Why do you think Thor stays with the Avengers after Loki is defeated? What does he get from his time on Earth that he doesn’t get in Asgard?

I feel like Thor is fascinated by Earth and the fact it has a completely different culture from his own. When he is banished from Asgard, he comes to care for humans like Jane Foster, and because of this he feels invested in the safety of this planet. This is a place where he can use his powers to do real good and to help people in need.

Also, he probably feels responsible for the damage Loki did, and helping the Avengers is Thor’s way to atone for his brother’s crimes and help repair the planet after Loki caused so much death and destruction.

It’s also tragic because after the fall of Asgard, Earth is the only home Thor has left, and it makes sense that he would fight desperately to save it from Thanos.

Throughout the MCU, Thor has lots of people he cares about, and he loses nearly all of them. Let’s talk about each of these characters, how their relationship with Thor affects him, and how losing them impacted him…

Early on in the MCU, Thor seems like one of the more carefree characters. He doesn’t seem to have the emotional weight of characters like Tony or Steve, whose internal struggles we get to see more of.

Yet by the time “Infinity War” arrives, Thor is carrying some very heavy burdens. He has experienced so much trauma and death, and there’s a darkness to his character that wasn’t there before.

Thor’s parents, Odin and Frigga, were an anchor for him, symbolizing stability, tradition, and power. Now that they are gone, it’s up to Thor to carry on their legacy. Even though it is not his fault, Asgard is destroyed while under his watch, and he blames himself for the loss of this rich history.

Heimdall and the Warriors Three are another lost link to his past. His friends, who were always reliable and supportive, can no longer help him, and this makes him feel even more alone.

As for Loki, he and Thor’s relationship has always been complicated (and, admittedly, often hostile). Yet even after everything that’s happened between them, we still get the sense that the brothers genuinely care about each other.

Despite Loki’s tricks and betrayals, his death really is a blow to Thor. It sets the tone for “Infinity War,” letting us know that this movie isn’t going to be pulling any punches.

Looking back, Thor has actually had one of the most tragic arcs in the MCU, and his meditations on loss are one of the most heartbreaking parts of “Infinity War.”

Thor says to Rocket, “You know, I’m 1,500 years old. I’ve killed twice as many enemies as that. And every one of them would have rather killed me than not succeeded. I’m only alive because fate wants me alive. Thanos is just the latest of a long line of bastards, and he’ll be the latest to feel my vengeance — fate wills it so.” What does such an acquiescence to fate say about someone who refers to themselves as a god? Why do you think he uses the term “vengeance”?

It’s interesting that Thor starts the MCU as a somewhat prideful character, who feels pretty darn confident in his skills. However, his experiences in “Ragnarok” and “Infinity War” break him in a way that he never guessed he’d be broken. He’s learned that he’s neither infallible nor bullet-proof.

His sense of fatalism in “Infinity War” is driven by his despair and feelings of powerlessness; the universe has thrown so many seemingly insurmountable tragedies at him that he’s now convinced he’s just a pawn, incapable of changing his fate.

By the end of “Endgame,” I am hopeful that his confidence will be restored, and he will realize that he can still be a powerful force for good. He’s not actually helpless, especially when he’s got his friends from the Avengers team backing him up.

As a side note, I do find it interesting that he chooses the word “vengeance.” To me, the word vengeance has a more “righteous” connotation than, say, the word revenge. In the end, I don’t think that vengeance and revenge are really that different, because both involve trying to make another person hurt as payment for a wrong they have done.

Thor clearly does feel justified in his quest, and the use of a solemn word like vengeance signifies how seriously he takes this mission. Still, while stopping Thanos is a worthy cause, a desire for revenge too often leads a person down a dark path. When motivated by anger and hate, you risk becoming a villain yourself.

We’ll likely continue to see Thor struggling with this darkness in “Endgame,” which actually leads into our final question…

As we look forward to “Avengers: Endgame,” what do you think is in store for Thor?

I have a feeling Thor will survive “Endgame.” Just from a business standpoint, “Thor: Ragnarok” seemed to be a big hit with fans overall (even though it wasn’t my personal favorite), and I don’t think the MCU will be ready to retire the character.

On the other hand, Thor sacrificing himself to save his friends — the only family he has left — would be such a gut punch of a plot twist. “Endgame” is the epic culmination of 20+ films, and I can’t see the Russo Brothers ending this stage of the MCU without a major sacrifice.

As much as I don’t want to say goodbye to these characters, “Endgame” is going to feel hollow if stopping Thanos does not come at a steep price.

Whatever Thor’s ultimate fate may be, I want the same thing for him that I want for all the original Avengers team members: a satisfying, nuanced story arc that feels true to the character and the overarching narrative. In case this is the last time we see Thor’s character on film, I hope he’s able to find peace.

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