Thor has never been one of my favorite Marvel characters. Though a demigod with stupendous power, Thor’s characterization has been dull for most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, the film that introduced him to the general moviegoing public, may have provided Thor with a redemption arc (albeit a platitudinous one) for him to become the hero he’s destined to be, once that arc was complete, Thor became a bland superhero, defined solely by his superpowers.
In Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Whedon doesn’t know what to do with Thor. He provides Iron Man, The Hulk, and Captain America with narratives that progress their character arcs initiated by their standalone films, but is mystified when replicating this for Thor. The sole reason Thor is in The Avengers at all, from a narrative standpoint, is because his adoptive brother, Loki, is that film’s antagonist. In essence, without Loki, Thor is a negligent element of The Avengers. This is the case with the Loki-less Avengers: Age of Ultron. Age of Ultron utilizes Thor to merely establish plot points involving infinity stones and the introduction of Vision, whereas the other characters are once again provided with narratives that progress their character arcs. For example, Captain America’s arc, by Avengers: Age of Ultron, starts with a sickly goody-two-shoes transforming into a super soldier to fight bad and evolves to the point where he finds it difficult to distinguish between what’s good and what’s bad. This evolution of character arcs applies to all of the other members of the Avengers, yet this, somehow, eludes Thor.
Enter Thor: Ragnarok. Ragnarok isn’t my favorite MCU film, but one of Ragnarok’s unequivocal successes is how it revamps Thor’s arc, something it desperately needed. The Thor we see in Ragnarok, beneath the film’s fluff, is suffering. Odin, Thor’s father, dies and Hela, the antagonist of Ragnarok, destroys Thor’s hammer, the Mjölnir, and strands Thor on the artificial planet Sakaar as she seeks to seize control of Asgard, Thor’s home realm. The events of Ragnarok render Thor insecure and vulnerable. This, then, spurs him to take greater responsibility for his people in Asgard. Thor’s initial goal in Thor was to be the king of Asgard, but after the events of Thor and Thor: The Dark World, he has neglected this goal in favor of being in a relationship with Jane Foster on Earth. It’s only in Ragnarok when Thor finally becomes the king of Asgard, completing the arc Branagh set up for him in Thor.
Waititi’s efforts in revamping Thor ultimately pay off in Infinity War. Whereas Whedon struggled to build off Thor’s arc set up in Thor in The Avengers, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, expand upon Thor’s arc in Ragnarok. Ragnarok ended with a Thor now recognizing the gravity of and accepting the responsibility of being the king of Asgard. With Asgard destroyed, Thor wants to preserve its legacy. When Thanos intrudes on Thor’s vessel in the opening scene of Infinity War and kills almost all of its inhabitants, Thor’s objective has essentially been stolen from him. An exasperated Thor then vows revenge against Thanos, spurring a redemption arc that is one of the highlights of the blockbuster. Waititi’s emphasis on Thor’s melancholy in Ragnarok and its expansion in Infinity War recreates a character, one who we now admire for his strength and sympathize with for his loss. 19 films into the MCU and I can finally say that Thor is one of my favorite Marvel characters.