The Story Geeks blogger Anthony Holdier 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!
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As you rank MCU characters, where does Thor fit in?
Wherever he very well pleases, I should think!
Thor is a character who has grown on me. After Phase One, I technically ranked him last on the Avengers roster; after Phase Two, I definitely ranked him last (but that’s thanks to the developmental hell that The Dark World went through); and here at the end of Phase Three…I actually really loved Ragnarok. And Thor’s entrance with Groot and Rocket in Wakanda will forever remain one of the single most satisfying moments in the MCU.
So, I’ll flesh this out more in what follows, but I think that nobody – including Chris Hemsworth – really knew what to do with Thor until Taiki Waititi came along and let Hemsworth really have fun with the role. And what we have now is so very much worth the wait.
Walking through his journey movie by movie, how would you sum up the guiding themes for Thor?
There’s a lot of overlap between Thor and Iron Man in the early parts of their arcs – I mean, if I say “powerful guy with daddy issues loses almost everything, but then learns how to fight for what really matters and becomes super-powerful again,” which guy am I talking about. (As far as whether this also describes T’Challa, Peter Quill, Superman, or half of the other superheroes on the silver screen….no comment.)
But what really makes Thor interesting is that once the MCU decided to let the whole ‘hubris-and-pride’ thing belong to Tony, they turned Thor into a family story (thanks in no small part to the HUGE fan reaction to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki). Certainly, there were seeds of it in the first Thor, but the one shining piece that survived The Dark World was the difficult connection Thor had with his parents and, especially, his brother – a tension that took center stage in Ragnarok (and was utterly destroyed in the first ten minutes of Infinity War). It took a bit to get going, but once everyone realized that Thor plays better with others, he has turned into one of the richest characters in the MCU (which is, I would argue, the real reason why people loved Ragnarok – it was finally using Thor to his fullest potential).
Why does Thor connect so strongly to Jane Foster? And why do you think he would choose her over Lady Sif?
Oh yeah, that.
I have yet to see a role that Natalie Portman has failed to knock out of the park, but (feeding off of my last comments) this was a role that felt unnecessarily awkward from the jump. I get that Hollywood often thinks that the “big strong hero” needs his love interest (see also: Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, whatever Hawkeye’s wife’s name is…), but seemed so very cliche with Thor in particular. I mean, apart from the fact that the trope demands it, there really isn’t a good reason to have Thor fall for Jane – the love story I’m more interested in with Thor is between him and Loki (which, just to be clear, is not a romantic love story, but the one about family I’ve already mentioned).
Additionally, the relationships between Thor and his friends are way more interesting to me than his romantic storylines (see: Hulk, the Warriors Three, the other Avengers). I mean, the depth of character development built into the little exchange between Thor and Cap in the Battle of Wakanda about their respective facial hair styles is a brilliant piece of dialogue.
So, whether Thor picks Jane Foster or Lady Sif….is some middle-school gossipy nonsense that I really struggle to care about!
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?
So, after my last few answers, this should be unexpected: Thor has friends on Earth. The scene that particularly comes to mind is at the beginning of Age of Ultron when everyone is trying to lift Mjolnir (and Cap almost does – I’m STILL hoping that’ll get a call back in Endgame, by the way). It’s true that Thor has friends on Asgard, but he’s very much the man-who-will-be-king there and his privilege shadows over all of his relationships. On Earth, he’s free to simply be who he is and treated, in a sense, like normal.
Plus, Earth has coffee. (“ANOTHER!”)
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…
So, this is Ragnarok, right? I mean, yes, he loses his mom in The Dark World, but that movie is a veritable mess (so, the less said about it, the better). Between grappling with the loss of his father in Ragnarok and his brother (and Heimdall and everyone else) in Infinity War, we’ve seen Thor brought to a point that is hardly recognizable from where he began in 2011 – he cares about others. Finally, Thor learns the lesson that his father wanted to teach him – he gains the right to be called the king of Asgard – and Thanos lays waste to his people in one fell swoop.
This is why his words to Rocket in Infinity War carry the weight that they do – let’s move on to them…
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”?
Vengeance requires a personal stake in what was lost; as I’ve been singing throughout this article, that has been the essence of Thor’s arc – not just learning how to care about other people in the abstract sense, but learning how to care about these specific people – his people. That’s what makes their loss so much more painful – they were, quite literally, Thor’s responsibility.
There really hasn’t been much significant focus in the MCU on the nature of the afterlife or what sort of god might exist (though Cap does seem pretty sure about God’s choice of uniform), but I suspect that Thor doesn’t really consider himself as a deity. On Asgard, the only people who did seem to think of themselves as such were Odin, Hela, and Loki (at first, but he eventually lost that attitude) – and that’s not exactly a group that I’d feel comfortable placing Thor into. No, I think he’s just “really really strong” – so, looking towards fate, particularly when he needs something hopeful to cling to, is perfectly understandable.
As we look forward to “Avengers: Endgame,” what do you think is in store for Thor?
I think Thor will survive provided that Loki (or at least some of the other Asgardians) comes back to life. It remains to be seen just how much of Thanos’ Snap will be undone (and, perhaps importantly, most of Asgard + Loki died prior to the Snap), but so much of Thor’s arc has been about him finding a home – if his main story in the MCU ends with Thor mainly alone, that would be unavoidably tragic (in a manner that would seem uncharacteristic for how Marvel tends to do things).
I could see Thor making a heroic sacrifice and thereby joining his people in Valhalla (or wherever Asgardians go when they die), but that still seems more of a bittersweet ending than Thor’s ever done well.
Plus, since Captain America is OBVIOUSLY GOING TO DIE I WILL FIGHT YOU OVER THIS, I’d be surprised if they kill off Thor as well. But, we’ll see – very soon!!