Thor: Ragnarok is currently rocking the box office. We know that in Thor’s mind, he is unquestionably the strongest Avenger. But can the God of Thunder proudly boast that his trilogy of films is the best of his fellow Avengers? Even with Marvel’s gigantic slate of superhero films, a trilogy has been an uncommon feat for the studio. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is one of only three of Marvel’s mightiest heroes to achieve the trifecta as a headliner of his own Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. (The Avengers collectively will hit the magic number next May with Avengers: Infinity War and the Guardians of the Galaxy will follow suit in the MCU’s Phase 4.) Stacked up against the franchises helmed by Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans), does Thor’s trilogy win, easily? (That doesn’t sound right.)
The Marvel shared universe is a different animal than your normal movie franchise trilogies like The Dark Knight, Back to the Future, or even Star Wars, and Marvel’s trilogies also function differently. There’s a burden inherent to Marvel of not only telling a complete and satisfying story in each movie, but also servicing the needs of the shared universe and weaving in ties (both subtle and overt) to the greater MCU. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron are two examples of films fans take to task for having their narratives disrupted in a detrimental way by the requirement of having to set up other Marvel films to come. However, there are tremendous benefits to the Marvel method as well: guest stars and team ups with fellow Marvel heroes are proven to boost the all-around fun factor of the films.
Like the first Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, the inaugural Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh was a compact and largely self-contained adventure. Branagh’s task was to introduce what was then a risky concept to the burgeoning MCU: the mythology of the alien gods of Asgard and their central hero, the mighty, proud, arrogant, magic hammer-wielding God of Thunder. Branagh had to make Thor relatable to audiences, and that meant juggling two tried and true movie tropes: a Fish Out of Water scenario and a love story. Thor was depowered and banished to a tiny New Mexico town where the then-unknown but gruffly charismatic Chris Hemsworth was paired with Oscar winner Natalie Portman as physicist Jane Foster. Thor and Jane’s meet cute made for a pleasing rom com that anchored some largely forgettable mythological action involving Frost Giants and a giant robot called the Destroyer sent to kill Thor.
The most memorable things in the first Thor was Thor smashing silverware in a diner and the introduction of the God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who remains the finest villain in the MCU. Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a brief walk on which marks his debut in the MCU and satisfies the studio’s requirement to set up the forthcoming Avengers movie. While missing the mark as a sweeping epic fantasy, Branagh’s Thor is a tidy and fun little Marvel movie and its virtues hold up favorably upon rewatch. But it’s no Iron Man (which still ranks among most fans’ top three of all the Marvel movies), and the spectacle of Asgard overall feels slight and isn’t as intriguing as The First Avenger‘s depiction of the Marvel version of World War II.
Related: Where Is The Final Infinity Stone?
Thor: The Dark World tends to orbit somewhere towards the bottom of most fans’ lists of their favorite Marvel movies, which makes it a lot like Iron Man 2. Directed by Alan Parker (Terminator: Genisys), The Dark World had a lot of MCU business to take care of by introducing the Aether, which was revealed to be the Reality Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones. The Dark World pulled a switcheroo on the original Thor‘s Fish Out of Water formula by having Thor bring Jane to Asgard to meet his parents. Despite a grander scope to Asgard and much more spectacle on display – including what was by now a Marvel movie trope of something terrible coming from the sky destroying an Earth city in the third act – the most memorable and crowd-pleasing moment in The Dark World was a tiny comedy bit where Thor enters Jane’s London flat and politely hangs his hammer on a coat hook. (This welcome laugh in an otherwise earnestly serious superhero fantasy adventure would herald the overall direction of the third Thor film.)
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