Warning: major plot spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok ahead
After a full decade of groundwork, Avengers: Infinity War finally delivered the culmination of Marvel fans’ hopes and dreams: a massive meetup of dozens of popular heroes united against the ultimate threat. With a seemingly endless cast and a finite amount of screen time, it was imperative that characters be efficient with the moments they were given. To my complete surprise, it was in the midst of this claustrophobic onrush of characters that Thor shined brighter than he ever has before.
After watching Infinity War twice, I firmly believe that this film handles Thor’s character better than any Marvel movie before it. In fact, I might even go so far as to claim that scene for scene, he is presented better in this film than any other hero. To explain what I mean, we first have to take a brief look back at where Thor has been.
The god of thunder has never exactly been the most compelling Avenger as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has progressed. If you read my MCU movie rankings leading up to Infinity War, then you know that I found Thor to be little more than a handsome stick of meat in his first two solo outings.
Sure, he’s brash, great with a hammer, and attractive, but if he tried to be anything else it would fall flat. Most attempts at growth, vulnerability, and especially romance in his first two films were either awkward or nonsensical, and sometimes both. His humor didn’t really rise past the standard misunderstanding-of-American-customs shtick that he shares with Captain America. At the time I didn’t know whether to blame Chris Hemsworth or the writing, but now I’m more convinced it was the latter.
To be fair, Thor’s narrow set of qualities worked pretty well when portrayed on screen with the other Avengers. As part of a whole, he was more than passable. But until Taika Waititi‘s Thor: Ragnarok, our hammer-swinging friend just wasn’t very entertaining in his own titles.
With Ragnarok, Waititi boldly attempted to give Thor and his series a makeover from top to bottom. I believe he went a little overboard. While Ragnarok just might be the funniest film in MCU history, it became so by often portraying Thor as a completely different person for no explainable reason. Watch his exchange with Surtur in the opening scene and tell me that’s actually Thor.
As a character, most of Thor’s developments in Ragnarok don’t really make sense. Odin, after not saying anything useful in life, suddenly invades his son’s thoughts during the climax to completely retcon the purpose of Mjolnir and suddenly inspire Thor to victory? Despite being undeniably hilarious, the whole tone of this film supposedly set around a doomsday event left a strange taste in my mouth. Ragnarok made Thor interesting at the cost of his identity.
In the weeks leading up to Infinity War, I underwent a mental struggle about Thor. I didn’t like how Ragnarok changed him, but I also thought his old portrayals in previous solo movies were dull. Should I embrace Ragnarok like everyone else? Was the solution I wanted even possible: to make Thor compelling and funny without turning him into someone else?
Enter Infinity War. From the first scene, we see the whimsical hilarity of Ragnarok disappear in an instant, leaving Thor mourning, swearing vengeance, and struggling against a superior enemy. Hardly new territory for him, but from the outset, we establish that Waititi’s Thor is gone. From there on in, it just kept getting better.
Let’s start with Thor’s humor in Infinity War. Some of the funniest scenes and lines in this movie surprisingly belong to Hemsworth’s god of thunder. In each one, however, Thor is still himself. From flexing on Star-Lord to lingering in Gamora’s personal space, these funny moments present simply a more enjoyable version of classic Thor.
The best example of Thor’s newfound humor that aligns with his character is a line on Nidavellir as he attempts to gain a new weapon. Peter Dinklage (as a massive Dwarven blacksmith) tells Thor that a full blast from a star will kill him.
“Only if I die,” he stoically replies.
“Yes,” the Dwarf replies, along with the thoughts of the audience. “That’s what… killing you means.”
THAT is what Thor is. He doesn’t have to be some flashy, quick-witted Tony Stark to be entertaining. I tip my hat to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for finding this perfect pocket of Thor hilarity after they largely failed to do so in Thor: The Dark World.
Perhaps even more impressive than Thor’s funny moments in Infinity War were his serious ones. At this point, this Asgardian royal has lost pretty much everything. A powerful scene with Rocket Racoon of all people finally allows Thor to show some vulnerability after all he’s been through, while still attempting to maintain a sturdy facade. Classic Thor, but improved.
Of course, once the humor and tenderness have been squared away, Thor caps it all off with an immensely gratifying battle sequence on Wakanda, as he lights up the world with a brand new weapon and proves to be the only Avenger to actually hurt Thanos in any significant way. His entrance into that battle remains one of my favorite moments.
Line for line, scene for scene, Thor’s time on screen in Avengers: Infinity War was as entertaining and meaningful as anyone else’s. He was certainly funnier than in his first two outings, and he retained more of his core self than in Ragnarok. Thor has always been one of my least favorite Avengers, but now I’m looking forward to see where next year’s conclusion takes him.