‘Civil War’ Post-Mortem: But What About Thor?


Character progression in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been a big part of what has made the Marvel Studios’ films so successful, and has set them apart from the competition.  We don’t just get the same character every time out – they evolve, they mature, and as seen in the recently released Captain America: Civil War, they drop their shield, effectively abandoning their very identity (more on that in a moment).  However, with Thor, this progression hasn’t extended to all of the primary protagonists.

We’ve seen Tony Stark/Iron Man go from being a cocky, arrogant, billionaire who saw first-hand how he was profiteering off of misery in Iron Man, to a man dying from the very thing that saved him in Iron Man 2, to him suffering from post-traumatic stress from the events of Marvel’s The Avengers and asking the question “does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit” in Iron Man 3.  That doesn’t even touch on his Avengers progression – from the guy who doesn’t play well with others constantly, poking at Captain America, then deferring to Captain America’s leadership after the iconic circle shot of the team coming together, and later ostensibly sacrificing himself to save Manhattan by carrying a nuke through a worm hole.  In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see a man who carries the weight of global security on his shoulders launching an ill-fated attempt at permanently saving the world.  A weight that his suit alone, can’t carry.  Civil War gave us a Tony Stark, still suffering from post-traumatic stress, and the guilt from seeing his best intentions still causing so much death and destruction.

Now let’s talk about Steve Rogers/Captain America.  When first introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, he was a scrawny little guy, desperate to serve his country, volunteering for an experimental procedure just for the chance to do what many more able-bodied men were being forced to do – serve.  Unsure of himself, and what he was capable of, Captain America went up against the Red Skull, not because he was the world’s first superhero, but because of his character, his morals, and his unwillingness to give up, no matter how daunting the odds.  In Avengers, we see a Captain America, freshly thawed, surrounded by a world he doesn’t know, yet is still compelled to do what he can to protect it.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows a more seasoned, more skeptical Captain America, catching up to a world he doesn’t know, yet continues to defend.  We find him in a similar position in Ultron, but by the end, when asked by Tony if he was alright, he replies, “I’m home,” with the Avengers and their new facility, having found his place in what is to him, a new world.  Civil War takes this stability and turns it on its head, with Cap’s resistance to the Sokovia Accords, and the ensuing, very personal, struggle between him and Tony – two men who just want to do what’s best, but with very different approaches (see my recent editorial on why neither of them are wrong, philosophically). Of course, the schism grows deeper by the end (if you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give it away here, but what’s wrong with you?) when Cap lays down his shield, effectively abandoning the mantle of ‘Captain America’ in favor of his lifelong best, albeit lost, friend Bucky.

These two have had the greatest arcs so far in the MCU. Understandable considering Downey and Evans have been Marvel’s biggest stars and money makers to date.  Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk has gotten significant character development, though limited to Avengers and Ultron, which he rightfully deserves. We have seen significant progression in Natasha Ramanoff/Black Widow, from the cold, calculating spy, to a woman ready to give it all up for the man she loves, back to being a dominant force. Hell, in a relative guest-starring role, T’Challa/Black Panther developed from the politically reluctant son of King T’Chakka of Wakanda, to a warrior out for vengeance over the death of his father, to abandoning this rage while becoming the Warrior/King, understanding his new responsibilities, and the mantle he has to carry. And this was all done with, what, 25 minutes of screen time? Even Clint Barton/Hawkeye was given a wife and kids!

Thor is the only central character that has not received the same attention to overall character progression.  Sure, we saw an arrogant, immature man-child progress to a god and warrior in Thor.  In Avengers we saw him “get stronger” and more sure of himself and his abilities, he battles the Hulk, but still serves as a punchline (both literally and figuratively).  Thor: The Dark World hits the ground running but then stumbles, faltering into a half fulfilled love story and a lack luster climax.  By the time Thor is on the scene for Ultron, he is mostly used again as a punchline, with one-liners, and gag jokes (it’s all in the swing after all).

At this point in the expanding MCU, Disney/Marvel has launched into Phase 3 with a bang as Civil War is approaching $1 Billion at the box office (if it hasn’t already by the time this publishes). This will be followed later this year by Doctor Strange, in his big screen debut, which by all accounts is going to dazzle and amaze by opening our minds.  On the horizon Marvel also is giving the fans the Spider-Man we deserve within the MCU (and they’re off to a “spectacular” start with that), and Black Panther that will undoubtedly pick up where the post-credits Civil War scene left off.  All this means that more characters are being added.  This is a good thing – developing more characters through their own arcs.

But, again, what about Thor?

The story that leaves questions and hopes floating in the ether (or is that Aether?) for its central protagonist is the third adventure for our Asgardian hero in Thor: Ragnarok.  One of the biggest questions being; Is Marvel going to take this chance to truly give this character the portrayal that is worthy of the God of Thunder?

Thor is a character that can be perceived as lame or simply comic relief.  You’d be forgiven if this is your view given his cinematic portrayal thus far.  Being relegated to using his lightening to bottle neck the worm hole in the Avengers, his face sliding along the glass of a skyscraper in London in The Dark World, and running out of things to say while distracting Ultron, by many viewers having gained their knowledge of the character solely through the MCU, this makes Thor a lackluster character.  That’s ok, because the general audience is needed to feed the comic book movie engine.  We need the new fans to get excited and get involved.  But there is so much more to this character than what we’ve seen on screen, and for which these newer fans will undoubtedly love.

Casting has been nothing short of impressive, as with most of Marvel/Disney’s casting choices, and the supporting cast has been magnificent.  But we’ve yet to see Thor be the dominant character that he can be.  Thor has been portrayed as either a brawler who can take out a rock giant with a single swing of his hammer, or a god amongst men, out of place on Midgard (Earth to Asgardians). In Thor we saw him stand tall against an onslaught of Frost Giants but since then he has been overshadowed by the more popular members of the Avengers – namely Captain America and Iron Man.  We’ve seen Thor stand toe to toe with the Hulk and then have to dive out of the way of gun fire from an F-35, but this god is supposed to be impervious to bullets.  He’s also barely flinched at a strike from a marauder, but was unable to defeat Malekith’s cursed crony when the soldiers of his grandfather’s time had taken them out once before.  Further, likely the most disappointing to Thor fans, we’ve seen Iron Man fight him to a virtual draw in the Avengers (and by draw, I mean he super-charged Iron Man’s suit . . . really?).

Thor is a character that has been portrayed inconsistently, but there is a chance to rectify this in Ragnarok, given the apocalyptic theme that the title carries.

Let’s take you on a little crash course of Thor, a Thor 101, if you will.  It’s by no means everything you need to know, nor is it even truly scratching the surface.  But hopefully someone will want to go pick up some graphic novels and get caught up on who the God of Thunder truly is.

For Thor fans we’re still waiting to see the power house from the comic books. In the comic books, and this isn’t going back that far, we’ve seen Thor stand against extra-dimensional fire demons like Surtur, destroy Doctor Doom (sadly, we won’t get this. . . thanks Fox), kick his super-powerful grandfather Bor’s ass, and defend Asgard virtually on his own from Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers with their muscle Sentry/The Void (that would be a dark and twisted Marvel version of a different guy with an “S” on his chest).   Then in Thor Volume 3 we saw Thor come back from the dead and confront a former ally about the excesses of his hubris, frying the suit that makes him a super hero.  But cinematically, super charging the Iron Man suit?  Really?  What comic fans know and MCU fans don’t is that Thor could turn Tony into the tin man without an oil can at will.

But that’s not all, Thor is a character that the MCU fans have yet to see truly BE Thor, he can use the hammer to deflect bullet’s, his body is much denser, nigh impenetrable.  He has strength beyond that which can make the Hulk bleed, and other abilities that haven’t been properly explored in the MCU (super human speed, agility and the mind of a god, the elements that come from the Prose Adda and the other texts of Norse mythology have a lot to contribute to the true essence of the character).  The love story between Thor and Sif, though hinted at, was never properly explored, and may never be given Jaimie Alexander’s uncertainty of her appearance in Ragnarok; however, I am still holding out hope given Natalie Portman’s confirmed absence.  With Ragnarok, we will achieve the Hollywood standard of a trilogy being the end of that characters stand-alone arc.

One of the greatest discrepancies between the comic books and the presentation of the character on the silver screen is that he is just as heavy a hitter for the Avengers as the Hulk.  Thor rivals other comic book super heroes who have been compared to gods, whose colors are Blue and Red like him, but there is one important, significant distinction – Thor IS a god.

No matter how much Coulson wants to call them aliens, Thor is a mythological god, the son of Odin and Gaea (oh, did you not know that Frigga was his adoptive mother).  Thor has some fundamental earth based abilities as well (granted those are from an older time, but still something that can be played with).  The biggest element of Thor and his abilities that hasn’t been explored would be to use the Godforce – an ability that allows him to channel everything through Mjolnir and release a blast of energy that can kill even immortals.  Gee, I wonder when that neat little trick might come in handy… Perhaps against a certain looming Mad Titan…

Perhaps we’ll finally be shown that Thor is holding back when he is playing with the Avengers, akin to an adult playing with children.  Perhaps we’ll see an all-out brawl between Hulk and Thor and see that Thor doesn’t need a hammer or an up-armored, specially designed suit to knock out one of Hulks teeth.  I understand Marvel’s desire to put the guy who made it all possible front and center in their stories, and let’s face it who doesn’t love Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark?  But let’s give Thor his due.  As excited as I am for the Hulk to be joining Thor in Ragnarok, I sincerely hope it isn’t because Thor needs Hulk’s strength, as if he can’t do it on his own.  He undoubtedly can.  We’ve seen it in the comics.  Hopefully, we will see them as a one-two punch, not a punchline, for a change.  Though I expect these moments too.  I like them.  They’re funny and provide a great rivalry-dynamic between these two supremely powerful characters in a constant one-upmanship game of might.

Thor hasn’t been portrayed as great as he should be in the MCU, and some of those abilities listed above aren’t that much of a stretch from where the character currently is.  Showing him whooping Thanos’ purple butt all over the cosmos is likely not on the table either, given that it appears as though Thanos and the threat he will pose is what’s going to bring the currently fractured Avengers back together again.  (But yeah, in Thor 21-25, Thor destroys Thanos… On his own…)

It’s time Disney/Marvel.  We need this Thor.  We need THE Thor.  With Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (pending re-title) two years away, and Ragnarok serving as a lead in, we need to see Thor reach his full potential.  We need to see Thor as he is supposed to be, The God of Thunder.

Directed by Taika Watiti and starring Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston and Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters November 3, 2017.

Heroic Staff

Heroic Staff

Heroic Special Activities Division Agent Trainee Program