The MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE Knockout: Round 1 THOR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

It's time for our fourth match-up in Round 1 of our great Marvel Cinematic Universe movie knock-out. As you probably know by now, each of the initial articles in Round 1 will focus on one character or team, like Captain America, Spider-Man or The Avengers, and we will look at all their solo Marvel Cinematic Universe films, with only the best release moving onto the next stage. Characters with only one solo movie outing, like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange, get a pass through this round, but we won't go easy on them in Round 2 as they will be immediately pitted against each other, and if they don't match up to their opponent they're out of the running.

In the first bout we eliminated Iron Man 2 and 3, leaving the original 2008 offering, the debut movie in the MCU, to go forward to Round 2. Bout 2 saw Vol 1 of Guardians of the Galaxy eliminated, in favour of Vol 2. Last time, Ant-Man and The Wasp lost out to the 2015 original, and today it's time to decide which of the, tongue-twister that is, 'three Thor films' is worthy for a spot in Round 2. Spoilers will feature from the off.

Let's just get this out of the way right now, shall we? Clearly it's not going to be Thor: The Dark World going through to Round 2. This film would, most likely, sit at the bottom of any total rankings of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe features to date (and, quite possibly, of those to come too) for probably 99% of you. The finished product is an utter mess. Probably because the production itself was an utter mess. Patty Jenkins was lined up to direct, she left the project citing "creative differences" with Marvel, this pissed of Natalie Portman who was looking forward to working with her and very much liked her story idea (more a Shakespearean 'Romeo & Juliet' vibe, apparently).

Now, Marvel have form with things like this. Big directors all lined up only to be replaced at the eleventh hour (Ant-Man and Edgar Wright for example), but somehow they always get away with it - except this time they really, really didn't.

Alan Taylor was the director eventually hired to helm Thor: The Dark World (he'd go on to direct Terminator Genisys, so there's your level of quality!). He had a vision, clearly, I'm just not sure even he knew what it was as multiple re-writes happened during filming. Six months after principal photography wrapped, re-shoots took place with even more rewrites (by Joss Whedon this time). Christopher Eccleston apparently had no idea what was going on - and it showed - to the point that, in an interview with The Guardian, he said that during Thor: The Dark World he wanted to put a gun in his mouth! Cripes!! Natalie Portman remained pissed throughout. Post-production changed the film round yet again, much to Alan Taylor's disgust, as he stated...
"The Marvel experience was particularly wrenching because I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in [post-production] it turned into a different movie. So, that is something I hope never to repeat and don't wish upon anybody else."
Strong words indeed (although it does beg the question, what was your excuse for Terminator: Genisys Alan? Hmmm??), so when the director's even disassociating himself from it, and the star of the film goes on to describe it as "meh", then you know you're in trouble! And, indeed, the finished product is just all over the place.

All this being said, it's certainly not an awful waste of time. There's the fantastic 'bromance' of Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Tom Hiddleston's Loki for one thing, but as Marvel set such a high-bar, when something like Thor: The Dark World comes along the cracks really do show.

So, without wasting any more words on Thor: The Dark World, we have two Thor films to pick from, the 2011 original and 2017's Thor: Ragnorok...

Wow! What a difference a director makes, eh? Taika Waititi is, of course, an incredibly talented individual, both behind and in-front of the camera, but he's not the only reason Thor: Ragnarok was a huge success and breathed new life into the franchise.

Hemsworth himself stated that he had become "a bit bored" with the character, and wanted to take some risks and experiment. So experiment they did. Dumping all the Earth restraints and characters (minus the Hulk) was, in my opinion, the absolute best thing they could've done (which may be why I have reservations about the upcoming Thor: Love And Thunder). Destroying Mjolnir was a brilliant play ("are you Thor, God of hammers?"). Thor Losing an eye felt edgy, and made this god more human and showed physical vulnerability. Injecting some humor, to counteract the machismo of the previous film, worked perfectly. And, of course, casting Jeff Goldblum in anything is always going to elevate your picture to greatness.

Thor: Ragnarok is the kind of film that brings you so much joy you instantly want to watch it again, but that's not to say it's a shoe-in to make it through to Round 2 of our Marvel Cinematic Universe knock-out, as we still have the son of Asgard's debut adventure to consider...

Here's another one of those Marvel films that had a director attached, one who worked on the script only to be released from his contract before it went before the cameras. Matthew Vaughn was the man who was cut-loose on this particular MCU film, to be replaced by Kenneth Branagh. It was a wise move bringing in the experienced Shakespearean actor and director as Thor, at the time, was quite an outlandish prospect to bring to the screen.

Unlike Ragnarok, where jettisoning the Earth constraints was absolutely the right idea, here they were vital. The MCU audience had seen three very Earth-bound stories with two very Earth-bound superheroes. Ordinary humans (albeit with either a lot of money or a tendency to dabble in scientific experiments) in the form of Iron Man (twice) and the Hulk. How would the audience react to a literal god from another planet? Keeping him on Earth for the majority of the film was definitely a wise move, but it would need more than that, as Kevin Feige was quoted as saying,
"This is the single most difficult tonal challenge for us, to make this movie work in itself and fit into this larger universe."
He's not wrong, Thor absolutely is a pivotal moment in the creation of the MCU. Before this film it really didn't exist. The brief scene at the end of The Incredible Hulk felt totally tagged on, and sure Iron Man 2 introduced S.H.I.E.L.D. into the mixture, but a man in a tin suit, an unstable scientist and a Russian ex-spy did not exactly equate to a formidable team of superheroes.

But the larger MCU aside, this film would only work if everyone in it made it's whole outlandish premise entirely believable. It would need a stellar cast of experienced actors, but, at a time when an offer of a part in a Marvel film didn't mean you automatically answered the phone, how would you get such a cast to appear in a kooky superhero film.

Step forward Mr. Branagh.

Anthony Hopkins stated he knew nothing of the comic, but was approached directly by Branagh who said to him, "It's a superhero movie, but with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in", which was enough for him to sign on as Odin. Idris Elba stated "[Branagh] called me up personally and said, 'I know this isn't a big role, but I would really love to see you play it.' It's Kenneth Branagh. I was like, 'Definitely'". Stellan Skarsgård remarked, I "chose Thor because of Kenneth Branagh." Natalie Portman said, "I just thought it sounded like a weird idea because Kenneth Branagh's directing it, so I was just like, 'Kenneth Branagh doing Thor is super-weird, I've gotta do it.'"

You can not under estimate Branagh's influence on the whole Thor franchise to date, from the casting to how he wanted the characters played, as Tom Hiddleston revealed,
"Ken wants Loki to have a lean and hungry look, like Cassius in Julius Caesar. [He] said to look at Peter O'Toole in two specific films, The Lion in Winter and Lawrence of Arabia."
The finished product is a delight to watch, thanks to Branagh's competent direction, the excellent performances from a first class cast and a solid screenplay. Thor is simply a very entertaining movie, but does it beat Ragnarok to go through to Round 2 of our Marvel Cinematic Universe knockout?

Ooh, not quite. 

It's unfair really, as it's such a shift in tone between the first and third Thor film that it's almost doesn't feel right to judge them together, but we have to and the latter takes the prize methinks.

On top of that, although I still believe that Thor stands up in its own right, eight years on, there are some things about it which irk me a bit. Minor points like Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye introduction which feels poorly scripted, and ventures into that forced territory that Iron Man 2 suffered from throughout.

Ragnarok, though, is not only an absolutely joyful experience to watch, it remains true to what has passed while reinventing the franchise and propelling the character forward, all at the same time. No mean feat. And we'll discuss more of the reasons why Thor: Ragnarok reigns supreme as the (current) ultimate Thor film when we get to Round 2 of our Marvel Cinematic Universe knockout.

Next time it's the turn of the two MCU Spider-Man movies. Only one will make it through to Round 2.

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