Jan 24, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Thor

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped. The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series. Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order. Next up is a property that very easily could have gone terribly wrong.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War

Thor was released on May 6, 2011 and made $65 million on its opening weekend. It ended its theatrical run at $249 million in the United States and $449 million total worldwide. A modest hit by current Marvel standards, but pretty amazing considering the subject matter.

DUY: For whatever it’s worth, this is the first superhero movie, ever, that made me go “Holy crap, they finally got it!” And by “it,” I mean the joy, the fun, the grandeur, all that stuff, without any indication of being embarrassed by the source material.

BEN: Reportedly, when Chris Hemsworth and Sir Anthony Hopkins first saw each other in full costume, Hopkins said, “God, there’s no acting required here, is there?” That, in a nutshell, sort of encapsulates how easily this could have gone wrong and become something goofy.

MAX: I was struck by how uncomfortable Hemsworth looked throughout. I actually found it more melodramatic this time around.

DUY: I remember thinking the margin for error for this was very slim. Play it way too straight and it’ll look funny. Play it satirically and you get.. well, you get Ragnarok, but Ragnarok doesn’t work without these first two movies establishing a serious baseline.

JD: I named my cats Loki and Laufey because of this movie.

TRAVIS: This is the first one where I felt like I could watch any of the cast without being eager to get back to someone else. And, it begins the great use signs and diegetic text, that Thor: The Dark World blows up into a full theme.

JEFF: I had forgotten that Odin lost his eye in the fight against the Frost Giants. Hemsworth and Hiddleston were perfect choices, like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. I can’t see someone else doing a better job in the roles. I love how Asgard looks, the backdrops, the towers, the Bifrost. They did a great job creating the realm eternal.

MATTHEW: It’s a really fun movie. Overall, as far as personal preference goes, I’d put it above the other Marvel solo movies, with the exception of the first two Cap movies and Ragnarok.

MATT: I think, perhaps, this was the biggest risk of Phase 1 (after deciding to do the thing in the first place). Thor was not a top tier character in the public eye, at the time, and the only actors people know are supporting actors (and very good in it) but they managed to pull off an effective movie and create a great villain for use later on.

JEFF: I’d forgotten he was tasered in this movie, the shocks he got in Ragnarok are even funnier now.

TRAVIS: There’s a whole movie (to be had) of the three of them tooling around New Mexico, tasering weird beefcake and chasing stars like the three wise men.

This is the first superhero movie, ever, that made me go “Holy crap, they finally got it!” -Duy

DUY: The thing that makes this movie less watchable as time goes on is the long middle with powerless Thor. I know I pretty much do a bunch of fast-forwarding when I put this movie on.

BEN: You know I have a distaste for powerless superheroes in movies. It’s always better in theory than in execution. Losing powers works in contrast to years and years of published comics. A character only gets a movie so many times, and making them undynamic in one is a complete waste.

TRAVIS: I think it was a pretty smooth transition here, and I like the three wise men getting used to cocksurejesus. He’s not amazing to them because he can fly and has a hammer. He’s just exceptionally charming and dumb and handsome and eager. Anti–Tony Stark way more than MCU Cap, in that respect. Maybe how cute you find Thor depends on whether or not that section lags?

LAMAR: Best thing about this movie is the way the Destroyer armor came to life onscreen: no stupid cosmetic changes, everything came right of the comic page.

DUY: Underrated music: “Thor kills the Destroyer” is an awesome score, and would be up there in the Movie Score Hall of Fame if they just, you know, used it more.

BEN: Including Walt Simonson and JMS in the movie shows how true to the comics they tried to keep it.

DUY: Again, this movie takes place the same week as Iron Man 2 and Incredible Hulk. So the entire time this is all happening, Tony and Rhodey are fighting Justin Hammer.

It’s not like the quotes in this movie are so great, but for whatever reason we somehow quote it a lot! “This mortal form needs sustenance! Brother, please. Another!” -Peter

JD: Hiddleston was so good in this. It’s easy to see why he’s such a fan favorite.

LAMAR: He was so dope in this that if he was standing on the corner-not as Loki, but as himself- I wouldn’t trust his ass to tell me “good morning” without using Snopes to verify it.

JD: When Loki confronts Thor and that tear runs down his cheek, that might be my second favorite moment in all the MCU.

LAMAR: What’s #1?

JD: Steve Rogers jumping on the grenade.

BEN: The pain and hate in his voice when he says to Thor, “Is it madness…is it… is it?!” I’ve always remembered that.

JD: Yes!! That’s the moment!

PETER: Agree so much. We still jokingly use that line around the house when my wife and I ask each other questions. First time I used it, my wife immediately knew what I was referencing.

DUY: That and “Tell meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

MAX: It’s kinda crazy Hiddleston was struggling for years in L.A. before this. Hemsworth’s career was a more straightforward success trajectory.

BEN: Well, Hemsworth is the perfect man. I remember when I first saw a video of him being funny, I thought, “wait, that’s not fair! He can’t be funny too!”

MAX: I thought that was Jason Momoa? But Hemsworth beats him in comedic timing.

DUY: Chris Hemsworth is the first celebrity to make me go, “Well, that’s not fair” in the same way I assume most women feel when it comes to female celebrities.

MATTHEW: I love the scene where he walks into the pet store looking for a horse.

JD: Personally, “Another!” is my most used quote from the MCU, lol.

SAMANTHA: My sister and I use it frequently too, so glad we’re not the only ones, lol.

PETER: It’s not like the quotes in this movie are so great, but for whatever reason we somehow quote it a lot! “This mortal form needs sustenance! Brother, please. Another!”

DUY: This and Ragnarok are insanely quotable “Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!”

SAMANTHA: “He’s fine! We drank, we fought – he made his ancestors proud.” Shit-faced’ Stellan Skarsgard is my favorite Skarsgard, btw. Lol.

KATHERINE: “You are a vain, selfish, cruel boy!” and “And you are an old man and a fool!” is also a favorite between me and my sister when we piss each other off.

DUY: I do think we have to note Hiddleston doesn’t really break out until The Avengers.

TRAVIS: I think he’s better here, but more memorable in Avengers.

MAX: I was thinking the same thing, Travis.

JD: I don’t agree about Hiddleston. If he didn’t nail it here, he isn’t in The Avengers.

MAX: I think what Duy is saying is that he did nail it in Thor, but just that he didn’t become huge in pop culture until The Avengers. That’s the one people still talk about.

DUY: Yeah, I meant in terms of fan appeal and recognition, not performance and skill level. Having said that, that’s probably a function of the fact that way more people saw The Avengers.

MAX: I feel like he did ham it up a notch more in Avengers than he did in Thor. Both approaches worked for the material.

KATHERINE: He’s also a more angry, damaged character in The Avengers. Thor is his origin story where he’s mostly confused and working out his dual nature, he’s not a full-blown villain yet. So I didn’t see it as a hamming it up, it was his evolution.

DUY: An understated line is when Odin tells his kids, “Both of you were born to be kings” and the thing is, Loki is in the right for a lot of the movie. Odin banishes Thor, so when he does down, Loki is next in line and is the rightful heir to the throne. You have to reveal he’s the one who let the Frost Giants into Asgard in the first place, or he’d have too much sympathy.

KATHERINE: There are multiple cut scenes that give Loki even more sympathy, so I totally get why they were cut, but as a Loki fan I would’ve loved to see even more of that character complexity.

JEFF: I think Loki in The Avengers was the plan regardless. If not, then who’s the villain? Hulk? Kang?

BEN: Why haven’t they done Kang yet? I love Kang.

TRAVIS: Kang is a big leap, I’d think, especially to have gone that way so early. Even in The Avengers, the big bad’s power set isn’t all that radical.

JEFF: I hope they don’t waste Kang on something like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

(Loki)’s also a more angry, damaged character in The Avengers. Thor is his origin story where he’s mostly confused and working out his dual nature, he’s not a full-blown villain yet. So I didn’t see it as a hamming it up, it was his evolution. -Katherine

JD: I think the villain in Avengers was going to break out no matter what.

DUY: I dunno… could have easily been a Steppenwolf.

JEFF: Or something like Ultimates vs Hulk.

JD: Nah, The Avengers was a great flick that made a bajillion bucks and didn’t have the terrible baggage that the DCEU has following everything they do. Justice League was almost doomed to fail.

DUY: Okay, wait, could have easily been Ultron. Or Ronan.

MAX: I think a badly cast actor as villain could still have been the weak link in an otherwise great film.

JD: I just think Hiddleston had fans right away. Especially the ladies.

MAX: Thor does a good job of supplying two very different male sex symbols.

JD: It does, doesn’t it. They are quite the opposites. Never really thought about it like that.

BEN: Hiddleston did not really take off until The Avengers.

KATHERINE: He definitely had a burgeoning passionate following after Thor, but maybe didn’t explode mainstream until after The Avengers. I just know because I was one of them. My immediate thought while leaving the theater was “who the eff played Loki cuz that guy blew me away” and when I looked him up, found that there were many others thinking the exact same thing.

DUY: What does everyone think of Hemsworth and Portman? Back then a criticism was that they had no chemistry, but I found them pretty charming.

BEN: I don’t know why fans criticize Natalie Portman so much. I thought she was so charming in this, and really portrayed smitten believably well.

TRAVIS: She seems to have a huge crush on him, and he seems like he’s pretty much up for anyone.

MAX: Well, he had his wife stand in for Portman on set! OK, I know it was because Portman couldn’t shoot that day, but… clickbait!

JD: I never had any problem. To me, falling for a demigod who is also tied to your life’s work seems a pretty natural thing to happen.

MAX: I didn’t have a problem at the time, but now that I’ve seen the energy between Hemsworth and (Tessa) Thompson, despite the characters not being explicitly romantic, I have to say… it could have been better. Portman can be fiery, but they chose a fairly straight performance for Jane.

The aliens thing didn’t kill the magic. Personally, it made sense. -Max

DUY: Another point of contention: the idea that the Asgardians are aliens, and not gods, which is an idea introduced by Warren Ellis in his ‘90s story, Worldengine. Does this kill some of the magic for you?

TRAVIS: They can be aliens without being gods, but they can’t be god without also being aliens. They can be high tech, without being magic, but they can’t be magic (that works) without being high tech. Working magic has to be considered a working technology, and gods from another realm are alien just as anything “from another realm” would be.

DUY: Personally, I feel that Jane and company are scientists and thus will try to explain such phenomena according to their line of work. We could easily tell a story about how some religious people think Thor and Loki are legitimate gods.

JD: It lines up with Earth X, so I loved that they used that take. And it’s an easier sell to audiences, I think.

TRAVIS: Earth X comes after Warren’s Thor run, but the idea had been expressed by ignorant people in the comics, beforehand, and is only presented in that run as someone’s "idea" from afar, in one of the many books the cop gets to research.

MAX: Maybe because I was a mythology nut as a kid, but Marvel and DC’s gods always came off as superheroes with a different name, rather than gods to me. The aliens thing didn’t kill the magic. Personally, it made sense. But then, I also saw Galactus as simultaneously a god and an alien too.

DUY: It’s my big issue with the New Gods as they’re usually presented. There’s really nothing that differentiates them from superheroes, but that’s completely digressing.

TRAVIS: I don’t think the MCU alien/gods fall into that trap, so much. Loki is still stupid powerful. By the time of Dr. Strange, even if I don’t care for the movie, the gods are still massively godlike. Even Ego.

DUY: True, and a big part of that is that most of the characters presented in the MCU actually don’t have any powers, and those who do are like Spider-Man. Dr. Strange is the big exception.

MAX: I just want to clarify that I don’t think making them superheroes is a bad thing at all, just that it was the big reason why I’m not bothered by the alien thing.

DUY: I do think if they’re gonna be “gods,” there should be some distinction. Thor should be stronger than everyone who isn’t the Hulk. But the Asgardians being “gods” have always been kinda weird. It’s like they just call themselves gods the way we are humans. They only difference is here, anyone can be an accountant. Over on Asgard, one guy becomes an accountant and he’d be called the “god of transactions,” or something.

MAX: That would actually be fun. If human concepts started bleeding into Asgard and gods found themselves reimagined as “the god of accountants” or “the seer of social media.”

TRAVIS: Have we talked yet about how well this movie does the Christ theme, compared to… every other superhero story that’s tried?

DUY: You mean a God showing up on Earth, mingling with people, and then dying to save them, and then coming back to life because of his actions, is better than doing random crucifix poses?

BEN: It’s much better to bludgeon the audience over the head with Christ imagery.

KATHERINE: I think I was so accustomed to it being super obvious that I don’t think the allegory even occurred to me until months later someone (Duy maybe?) pointed it out. It was like “oh yeah… of course.” But I had so much extra appreciation for it because they had been pretty (comparatively) subtle about it.

Have we talked yet about how well this movie does the Christ theme, compared to… every other superhero story that’s tried? -Travis

BEN: The role of Thor eventually came down to brothers Chris Hemsworth and Liam Hemsworth, with Chris getting the part, obviously. Daniel Craig had been their first choice. Alexander Skarsgard, Channing Tatum, Triple H, Charlie Hunnam, and Tom Hiddleston had been in the running as well. Kevin McKidd was considered for the part of Dr. Donald Blake, before it was written out of the movie. Future Daredevil, Charlie Cox, auditioned for the role of Loki. Jim Carrey and Josh Hartnett were also rumored for the part. Jessica Biel and Diora Baird were rumored for Sif. Mel Gibson turned down the role of Odin (thankfully).

DUY: Jesus Christ, I remember being so scared Triple H was gonna get it.

PETER: Mel Gibson as Odin and Rene Russo as Freya! Lethal Weapon reunion! I like it!

JD: Odin needed to be someone more wise looking. Mel would have looked great though.

JEFF: Rene Russo and Stellan Skarsgard are two most casting choices I really like. Russo was better used in the Dark World and Skarsgard is one of the better character actors around.

MAX: I’m always impressed/grateful to hear about castings that throw a wide net and cast “against type,” like getting Hiddleston to read for Thor. I’m surprised they didn’t audition Russell Crowe for Thor.

BEN: Crowe as Odin is interesting, but it’s hard to see anyone but Hopkins now.

DUY: Of course, Crowe ended up being Jor-El.

MAX: Trying to imagine Harnett or Carrey as Loki. I think one would play it too straight and the other too “mustache twirly.” Hiddleston was the sweet spot.

JD: Yes. Loki needs a bit of subtlety. Carrey’s not going to do that in a superhero flick. God, could you imagine him in The Avengers?

MAX: Yeah, trying to do the Loki crowd speech? Can’t see it working. I still found his serious acting in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind too wacky and lacking that subtlety.

LAMAR: I think every movie should have a “people of note that auditioned for these parts, and almost got them but for last minute smarts” lists.

JD: This is probably Kenneth Branagh’s best movie in my opinion. His Shakespearian sensibilities really elevated everything.

BEN: He was the best choice to get the franchise started.

LAMAR: Branagh would’ve made a great Aquaman 20 years ago, but that’s for another talk.

MAX: Yeah, I remember thinking he was the perfect choice when they announced him as director, but I do think some of his stuff like Much Ado and Hamlet are better. Not ‘cos it’s Shakespeare, just that his love of that material shines through. He’s like a megafan.

DUY: I believe this also had the MCU’s first racebend in Heimdall, who is played by Idris Elba when he is traditionally portrayed as Caucasian in the comics (and is assumed white in mythology). Thoughts?

JD: Casting Idris Elba is always the right choice.

MAX: My stance is that you can always explain that away easily (the whole Asgardians are aliens shaped by human thought or the fact that Vikings came in contact with may ethnicities back in the day) in-universe, if you absolutely need to, but my personal feel on the matter is, once you throw historical accuracy out the window with blonde Thor you might as well go the whole way.

BEN: Who wins for Best Supporting Actor, and who wins the “Val Kilmer” award for dominating the movie? I ask both because I suspect the answer is Hiddleston for both.

MATTHEW: Yeah, definitely Hiddleston. Honestly, he would carry these awards throughout the MCU as a whole.

LAMAR: Probably so, not counting the Destroyer.

DUY: Hiddleston wins best supporting, easily, but I’m actually gonna give the Kilmer award to Hemsworth. There’s a lot on his shoulders, and the way he goes from superserious Thor to someone who isn’t afraid to make fun of himself once he’s on Earth is important, and opens the door for what would eventually be Ragnarok.

TRAVIS: This whole cast were on fire. They all dominated. Hemsworth’s abs dominated.

MAX: That’s six extra cast members.

DUY: Which comics would you recommend to anyone who liked the movie? I am gonna go with the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run, which the fight scenes in this one kinda distilled. I'm going to save Walt Simonson's run for the next one, although I guess I just named it.

TRAVIS: Worldengine. Ellis, Deodato, Javins. Birthplace of shirtless Thor. Heroic piece of fiction. Quick entry, does its job, sees you gently out the other side.

MATTHEW: Astonishing Thor.

PETER: JMS. Just kidding

DUY: Loath as I am to say it, he did have a writing credit in this movie.

BEN: Your favorite movie is written by JMS!

DUY: That's just something I'm gonna have to live with.

JD: I liked the beginning of JMS’s Thor where it was the gods interacting with normal folks. Then it got superheroey and went to poop.

MATTHEW: JMS is good in theory, and the ideas all seem sound on paper… and then you read them.

PETER: I haven’t really read Thor the Mighty Avenger but it’s drawn by Samnee and I remember it getting good reviews.

BEN: It’s worth recommending.

DUY: I actually did buy that one soon after the movie, and shared it with my niece. That’s what made Thor her favorite Avenger.

BEN: It’s the perfect “here’s Thor in 12 issues” to give to someone. As great as Kirby and Simonson are, they are big commitments.

JEFF: I’d recommend Worldengine too, Thor by Jurgens volume 1, and Avengers Disassembled: Thor.

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