First dates are essentially scams. You sit down to dinner with someone you don’t know, and try to pretend that you’re someone else. Someone charming, and succesful, and definitely not into doing weird things with fish. No sir. Not you. The second and third dates are more or less the same. But by the time the fourth date rolls around you need to start being honest. That’s where you take your date on a long walk and say “Look. I really like you. I like where this is going. But if we’re going to have something together I’m going to have to tell you just how much of a freak I actually am.”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has essentially been a long, meticulous romancing of the mainstream. Thor is the part of the relationship where Marvel finally says “I’m glad you like the snarky businessman in the robot suit and the scientist who turns into a green monster. Now here’s where we get nuts.” As a title, The Mighty Thor has always been an unapologetically melodramatic, ridiculous, camp, epic, nonsensical, glorious, mess. In short, it is one of the purest comic books ever written. It’s huge men with long flowing hair and fabulous capes yelling cod-Shakespearean insults at each other and not understanding the difference between “thee” and “thou”.
It, quite simply, does not give a fuck.
But first, a little history.
The character of Thor was created early in the first millennium by the Germanic peoples inhabiting what is now Scandinavia. Some stuff happened. Then, in 1962, the character was introduced into the Marvel universe by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby in the pages of Tales to Astonish. There’s a little bit of confusion as to who actually came up with the idea (aside from the ancient Vikings, I mean). Stan Lee claims that the idea came to him when he realised that the only way to create a character stronger than the Hulk would be to make him a god, and that rather than go with the more well-known Greek or Roman deities he decided to delve into Norse mythology.
Jack Kirby, on the other hand, claims that he created the character because of his love of Norse mythology and to be honest, I think the evidence is on Kirby’s side. Kirby had already created not one but two versions of Thor for DC in the golden age, so he clearly had an interest in the character. Not only that, but “comic book characters as post-industrial mythology” was kind of Jack Kirby’s whole deal. Thor’s sales have never exactly set the world on fire but this is nonetheless a character with some serious cred. There are many who consider Lee and Kirby’s run on the character the finest work of either men in the sixties (damn high praise) and he’s also had some celebrated runs, none greater than Walt Simonson’s glorious, batshit insane epic in the eighties.
He’s also been a very consistent presence in the Marvel universe, showing up in almost everyone else’s books at one time or another and, if there’s a team of Avengers that Thor’s not on, it’s probably only because he’s dead again. He’s always been one of the company’s “faces”, one of their most visible and iconic characters. And yet, Thor has always struggled outside of comics. His live action appearances before 2011 was just a single episode of The Incredible Hulk, and he hasn’t headlined his own cartoon series since the frickin’ sixties (compare that to Spider-man, who gets a new cartoon show every time Stan Lee sneezes). Same Raimi originally pitched a Thor movie to Marvel all the way back in 1990 and from there it was dropped, picked up again, briefly re-conceived as a TV show starring Tyler Mane before bouncing to Sony, then to Paramount before finally arriving back at Marvel. The decision to nominate Kenneth Branagh to direct was surprising but also kind of inspired. Branagh is famous as an interpreter of Shakespeare for the masses, and Stan Lee is of course one of the biggest Shakespeare fanboys out there.
Branagh was the perfect candidate to make the overblown, melodramatic bluster of Thor work for a mainstream audience. Just, for the love of God, don’t subject yourself to his commentary on the DVD.
Marvel knew going in that compared to Iron Man and Hulk, this movie was the real test. This is where they’d learn if a mainstream audience could really accept all the comic book nuttiness they were about to bring. It was time to see if this relationship had legs.