It’s time to finish up our look at the superhumans of Marvel’s The Avengers with a look at Thor. While Bruce Banner was our starting point mostly because I found him to be the least understood character, and Tony Stark and Steve Rogers followed him because their stories felt related, but Thor is the logical place to wrap up our superhero overview because he’s the final superhero in the film to show up.
Thor presents us with an interesting one because, while he’s probably the most powerful of the Avengers in absolute terms, he’s actually the most normal of them emotionally and relationally.
Yes, Thor doesn’t age, wields a weapon that easily puts out four times the power of Tony’s arc reactor and takes hits from The Hulk without appreciable harm, but he’s also got affectionate parents, friends who share his life and goals and a brother.
That last bit is the sticky part.
Point is, if you ignore the scale of his life, Thor is actually the most well adjusted, emotionally grounded and mentally stable of the four superheroes on the team. He has no suppressed anger, overactive ego or severe trauma. His greatest personal problem is a lack of familiarity with Earth culture. This both lets the audience see Loki from another angle and sets up his personal conflict.
Basically, Loki got jealous of his adoptive brother and arranged for him to be exiled to Earth, where Thor learned to be less of a Jerk. The material point is that Thor had to stop Loki’s scheming to take the throne of Asgard but in the process discovered his brother was adopted and full of discontent. Although Thor ended the matter by foiling Loki and accidentally sending him into the unknown depths of space he regrets the way they parted and clearly wants to make things right.
Thor’s personal conflict is character vs. characters. Yes, as in multiple characters. For the majority of his time in the film Thor is not personally in conflict with Loki per se, rather he’s in conflict with the rest of the Avengers over what should be done about Loki. Thor still sees his brother as someone to be reformed and brought back into the fold. The rest of the Avengers see him as a threat to be dealt with via any means necessary. Thor wants to reconcile with his brother. The Avengers want Loki gone any way they can get it.
These goals aren’t necessarily contradictory but they will keep Thor and the Avengers working at crosspurposes even as Loki approaches his endgame.
We Meet Thor
“What’s the matter, scared of a little lightning?” – Captain Steve Rogers
For all his self-satisfied preening and condescension towards the other Avengers, when Thor arrives Loki gets nervous. We never see him show any trepidation towards anything else, he never flinches from his brother in person, but Thor beat Loki once and he doesn’t seem to have been in Loki’s calculations this time around – their dialog on first meeting suggests Loki expected his father to keep Thor at home. Thor is a weakness in Loki’s plans and a figure with enough personal power to shake Loki’s seemingly boundless self-confidence.
And then he steals Loki out from the noses of the Black Widow, Iron Man and Captain America.
Points for intimidation factor. Points for style. Nothing more to see here. Move along.
Loki – First Confrontation
“I’m not overly fond of what follows…” – Loki
As Loki’s brother, Thor is given the unique privilege of confronting Loki multiple times through the film. Each of these confrontations marks a distinct point in Thor’s character progression and so the very first thing Thor has to do is drag Loki out for a little chat.
This initial conversation is not very long, courtesy of Tony Stark, but it clearly shows Thor’s priorities. Yes, Earth is under Thor’s protection and yes, he’s very concerned about what’s happening to it. But he’s really hurting because his brother has turned into something he doesn’t recognize and Thor can’t grasp why. Now this is in no small part because Thor is not particularly bright, he mostly gets by on being very earnest and normally this is one of his strengths. But the same forthrightness that makes Thor trustworthy and keeps his life simple also keeps him from ever fully grasping Loki’s ambition and need for validation.
When Loki mentions how much energy it must have taken Odin to send Thor to Earth we have to understand that Loki is seeing an expression of how much Odin is willing to do to keep him from happiness. All Thor sees is how much his father loves Loki and wants him to come home.
This scene is a perfect illustration of how Thor’s perspective is different from everyone else’s. The fact that it ends with Iron Man tackling him and throwing him into a pitched melee with two of the other Avengers only serves to show the logical outcome of Thor’s skewed perspective – it leaves him at odds with everyone else in the group.
A Battle of Worldviews
“This is beyond you, metal man. Loki will face Asgardian justice.” – Thor
Just about everything that happens with Thor from the end of his first brief conversation with Loki until Loki’s bid for freedom on the Helicarrier serves to illustrate the tension between him and the rest of the Avengers over what Loki is and what he’s there for. Most telling is when Thor tells Fury Loki isn’t out for power but vengeance. And not just any revenge, revenge against Thor specifically. Thor is still thinking of this as a personal problem between himself and his brother and he winds up fighting all three other superheroes in the Avengers before he starts coming to terms with things.
That’s right, as the most forthright of the Avengers Thor winds up physically fighting with Iron Man, Captain America and even the Hulk as an outward expression of his inward resistance to seeing Loki as they do. He just can’t accept Loki as an enemy to be defeated. He still wants Loki to be the brother he can save.
Loki – Second Confrontation
“Are you never not going to fall for that?” – Loki
The moment Loki locks Thor into the Hulk cage is short, sweet and revealing… for Thor. Loki has never directly played his hand against his adoptive brother, mainly because the trickster knows he can’t overpower thunder. But the prison that used to hold him gives Loki a new card to play against Thor and for the first time there’s no masks between the two. Loki doesn’t just try and keep Thor out of the fight, he tries to kill him. It’s the same as burning the bridges between them.
While Thor escapes the death trap he’s also reached a turning point. After crash-landing in a field somewhere on the East Coast Thor brushes himself off and turns to reach for the hammer. This is an interesting moment. Although no dialog is said the image is reminiscent of the moment in Thor’s first stand-alone film, when he reached for Mjolnir and was found unworthy.
Now Thor finds he’s misjudged his brother, seen only a personal problem when Loki was all too willing to ignore Thor to pursue his bigger plans. Maybe he’s wondering if that lapse of judgment makes him unworthy to wield the hammer again. More likely he realizes the moment he takes up that hammer again he’ll have to turn it against his brother. But he takes it anyways, and it marks the turning point of his character.
Loki – Third Confrontation and Character Resolution
“Loki, turn off the tesseract or I will destroy it!” – Thor
Thor is too much of an earnest guy not to give Loki a chance at formal surrender before pounding him but this time around he’s not pleading with Loki, he’s offering an ultimatum. When Loki turns him down Thor stops playing nice and fights for real. While Thor doesn’t have the insight of Banner, capable of seeing through Loki’s illusions and immune to his semantics, once Thor turns his hand against his brother Loki’s no match for him.
People have said that Thor’s sudden reconciliation with the rest of the team is very abrupt but really, when you realize that his conflict with them was rooted in the different ways they saw Loki, it begins to make a great deal more sense. As soon as that difference of opinion is gone there’s nothing more to fight about.
There’s not as much of an arc to Thor’s character as the other three characters we’ve examined so far and perhaps that’s not surprising. After all, he is the best adjusted of them already and maybe his character didn’t need as much growth as some of the others. And to be fair, Thor is the first character to score a clean win over Loki, sending him running into the arms of the Chitauri after their confrontation at Stark Tower. That’s no small feat considering the only other character with a clear win over Loki is the Hulk – the other characters in the film never do more than stall Loki and frequently play into his hands.
Sadly, no one does that more than the core human members of the cast – so we’ll examine them next. Coming up in March, we look at Agents Romanoff and Barton. See you then!