I’m warning you, this is another geeky one. A really geeky one. Please avoid reading if you couldn’t care less about superhero films.
Still here? Great. We didn’t need them anyway…
Ask your average connoisseur of all things superheroic to rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe films according to preference, and it’s likely that the first Thor will be pretty low down on the list.
I re-watched it recently, and it’s not that it’s bad, per se, but stacked against the higher quality output of other Marvel Studios productions, it’s certainly lacking a certain something.
What we can probably all agree to be positive points are the star-making turn from Tom Hiddleston as Loki, a beautifully realised Asgard, and an appropriately muscular performance from Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero. Things to be slightly less enthused about include a lack of dirt, Chris Hemsworth’s bleached eyebrows, and a rushed end to the second act that crammed Thor falling in love, finding redemption and turning The Destroyer into scrap into about 5 minutes.
It’s this final point that I’d like to take the opportunity to address, because I feel that with the benefit of just a few extra scenes, the film could have been elevated from “okay” to one of Marvel’s best.
Received wisdom states that origin stories are tricky to pull off because there’s so much stuff to cram in before our protagonist becomes a hero capable of kicking ass. However, I’m not sure I agree. I like origin stories – always have – because watching the journey from ordinary Joe (or in this case, petulant God) to fully formed hero is often more engaging and interesting than 120 minutes of CGI smack downs.
It seems that the creative minds behind Thor – and Kenneth Branagh’s director’s commentary essentially confirms this – were in a hurry to restore Thor’s powers and get him back to Asgard for his showdown with Loki as quickly as possible. Fair enough, I suppose; at 115 minutes, the film isn’t exactly short. But by rushing arguably the two most important parts of Thor’s origin – his love for a mortal woman and his newfound humility – that climactic fight has a little less weight, and our hero’s eventual success feels a little hollow.
“OK, wiseass, so what would you have done,” I don’t hear you cry, but will imagine for the benefit of this blog.
I’m glad you asked.
Now I’m no screenwriter – a postulation that will no doubt be met with resounding agreement by those who make it to the end of this piece – but indulge me a while as I pitch a sequence of events for inclusion in the original Thor that weren’t filmed, but probably should have been.
The film plays out as we remember, right up until the part where Thor has failed to pick up his hammer. You’ll recall that following his release from SHIELD, he gets drunk with Stellan Skarsgard and then pops round Jane Foster’s place for a chat on her rooftop, during which time he somehow learns humility and falls in love. We know this because he makes everyone breakfast the next day.
Now lets imagine that instead of being at the bar with just Erik, he’s there with Jane and Darcy too. He’s both upset by what Loki has told him and confused as to why he couldn’t retrieve Mjolnir. He still gives the whole “I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to do” speech, but this time he’s rudely interrupted by a biker dude accidentally spilling his drink over Jane. Thor is indignant that the object of his affection has been slighted in this way and demands an apology, but the biker inelegantly declines. Jane interjects and firmly lets Thor know that it’s fine and to leave things be. Thor, quickly defaulting into pig-headed mode – and perhaps looking for some blessed relief from his woes – ignores her completely and starts a mass brawl between him and the dude’s biker brethren.
Despite frequent protestations from Jane and considerable structural damage to the establishment, Thor takes out his frustrations on the poor biker gang and emerges victorious from a 10-on-1 fight. He turns smugly to bathe in the adoration of his new friends and… sees Jane and Erik lying over an unconscious Darcy, their colleague bleeding from the head.
Jane is upset and furious. Between her calls for an ambulance she yells at Thor to bugger off. Back at SHIELD HQ, where they’re monitoring the situation, we hear an agent tell Coulson that the cops are en route. Coulson, keen to keep the big Norse lunk under tabs, tells the agent to cancel the police response but to fast track the paramedics.
At the hospital, Thor has wangled his way in. He hears that Darcy is still unconscious and that the doctors don’t know when she’ll wake up. Jane won’t even look at him and ejects him from the recovery room telling him where to go.
Thor is devastated. His dad is (apparently) dead, his powers are gone, and by giving into the impulses that got him banished in the first place he’s injured an innocent girl and ostracised himself from the only people that offered him kindness in this mortal realm, including a woman with whom he is smitten.
Selvig sidles over for a chat, and has a similar conversation to the one he has in the actual film: leave town, leave Jane alone. It’s not that he thinks he’s a bad guy, he’s just not… “Worthy,” interrupts Thor, perhaps finally twigging why he’s in this mess. “Well I was going to say ‘normal’, but ok,” replies Selvig.
Thor stays at the hospital all night having a good old think. Long after Jane and Erik have gone to get some shuteye, Thor remains, watching over Darcy and reciting some Asgardian words of comfort. As dawn breaks, he wanders into town and sees the owner of the joint he trashed trying to reconstruct the bar with some amateur carpentry. He’s not best pleased to see Thor, and makes it clear that if it wasn’t for the compensation and quiet words from the men in black suits, his ass would be in jail. Then Thor does something he’s probably never done in his life: he absorbs the insults and offers a genuine, humble and heartfelt apology. He offers to help the man repair the damage asking for nothing in return but his forgiveness. The bar owner is taken aback by the apparent remorse and gladly accepts the offer.
“You any good with a hammer?” he asks, motioning towards his tools.
Time for a montage! We see the passage of days, maybe even weeks, as Thor divides his time between repairing his mess and visiting Darcy in the hospital. He’s even at her bedside when she wakes up. Her first words upon seeing the blonde hunk sat at her bedside: “Did you win?”
He is touched by the kindness of the townsfolk as he receives offers of food and shelter in return for his manual labour skills. He keeps a respectful distance from Jane, but she observes his penance from afar and can’t help but melt when she sees him (especially because he’s usually sweaty and not wearing a shirt). He truly is sorry, and his efforts to make amends make him even more adorable.
Darcy gets discharged, everyone’s delighted, Thor finally gets invited to spend the night on Jane’s rooftop, and we’re back on track.
Now granted, this sequence of events would have added a sizable chunk to Thor’s running time, but I’d argue that this part of the story needed far more attention than it was given and that cuts should have been made elsewhere to allow for it. When The Destroyer starts carving up the town, Thor needs a much better reason to surrender himself to Loki’s rage than the ones the film provides. “These people are innocent,” would have rung much truer had he not only spent a little more time among the townsfolk, but also seen first-hand the damage his conflicts can inflict. And while my suggestions may not be Oscar worthy, they at least address a missing component that I think stopped a good film from being great.
And yes, Mr Feige, I am accepting calls. I’ve got this great idea for how you can do Planet Hulk…