10 Things You Need To Know About The Marvel Universe Before Seeing Thor

With characters dating back to 1939, and decades of mythology and history, it’s pretty much an impossible task for Marvel Studios to explain every little detail in their films. If they did, the movies would be three hours long and one of the hours would be nothing but exposition. That said, with three movies released since 2008, they’ve done a pretty good job of explaining the stranger bits to those that choose not to read comics. Fortunately, we’re here to fill in some of the gaps.

Tomorrow Marvel Studio’s fourth film, Thor, hits theaters and, just as I did last summer when Iron Man 2 came out, I’ve decided to throw together a little instruction guide to help you understand the trickier details. Below you will find a list of ten items and people that/who may require a bit of explanation. Don’t know what the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is? Not entirely sure what role Hawkeye plays? Then this article is for you

WARNING: This article also contains extremely minor spoilers for Thor, but does also fully describe the post-credits Easter Egg. That section of the article is clearly marked, but if you wish to avoid spoilers all together, turn back now.

Casket of Ancient Winters

What Is It?The Casket of Ancient Winters is an artifact with great power. Controlled by the Frost Giants, the object has the power to start a new ice age. Thousands of years before, before a truce was forged, the Asgardians and the Frost Giants were at war, and when Odin led his armies to victory he took the Casket of Ancient Winters as his prize.

How Does It Fit? In addition to having a flashback to the war between the Gods of Asgard and the Frost Giants, the Casket of Ancient Winters plays an incredibly vital part in the plot of Thor. At the start of the film, Frost Giant spies attempt to sneak into Odin’s trophy room and steal the Casket back. It is when Thor retaliates that he earns the scourge of Odin and is banished to Earth.


Who Is He? While Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk may make up principal cast of The Avengers, they aren’t the only ones in the group. Much like Black Widow, who was first introduced in Iron Man 2 and played by Scarlett Johansson, Hawkeye, also known as Clint Barton, is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who’s most notable asset is his incredible skills with a bow-and-arrow. In addition to never missing his shot, Hawkeye also uses a variety of trick arrows. In the Marvel films he is portrayed by Jeremy Renner.

How Does He Fit? If you’re concerned that you’ve never heard of Hawkeye in this particular run of movies before now, don’t worry: Thor actually marks the character’s first appearance. First revealed in a clip released last month, Agent Coulson calls on Barton to try and control the situation when Thor breaks into the S.H.I.E.L.D. compound in order to retrieve Mjolnir, the hammer that can restore his powers. Situated high in a crow’s nest with his bow drawn, he awaits the call from the higher ups to let him know if he should fire.

Gamma Radiation

What Is It? For this one we have to jump out of the world of Thor and into the world of Hulk. Years ago, scientist Dr. Bruce Banner – played by Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk and set to be played by Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers - was studying the effects of gamma radiation when he decided to use himself as a guinea pig. Things end up going horribly wrong, and Banner is turned into The Hulk, a giant green, uncontrollable monster. Banner is forced to go on the run from the army and the government, who want to militarize the power inside him.

How Does It Fit? At one point in the film the government agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (more on them later) breaks into the lab run by astrophysicist Jane Foster – played by Natalie Portman – and steals all of her research, believing that she may know something about the strange cloud formations over the New Mexico desert and the mysterious hammer buried in the ground. Trying to calm her down, Foster’s associate, Dr. Erik Selvig, played by Stellan Skarsgård, tells her that he knows a fellow scientist who works in gamma radiation that has previously dealt with S.H.I.E.L.D. and tells her that she will give him a call to see if he can help.


What Is It? Odin, played by Anthony Hopikins in Thor, may be king of the Norse Gods, but even a God needs his rest. For Odin this comes in the form of Odinsleep. Once a year Odin must sleep for a period of 24 straight hours in order to regenerate his powers, but must also be protected as he is incredibly vulnerable (just as most of us are while we sleep).

How Does It Fit? Unfortunately, this isn’t spelled out very well in the film, but it is definitely important. After years of putting off the Odinsleep, Odin actually ends up falling into a sleep so deep that there’s the potential he will never wake up. Having banished Thor to Earth until he learns the humility required of a king, Loki then takes the crown which, as you can probably guess, isn’t a positive thing.

Bifröst Bridge And The Nine Worlds

What Is It? In both Norse mythology and the comics there nine worlds that make up existence. These worlds are as follows:

  • Asgard: Land of the Asgardians, including Thor, Odin and Loki
  • Midgard: Also known as Earth, where we live.
  • Jotunheim: Land of the Frost Giants
  • Alfheim: Land of the Light Elves
  • Hel: Land of the dead
  • Muspelheim: Land of the demons
  • Nidavellir: Home of the dwarves
  • Svartalfheim: Land of the Dark Elves
  • Vanaheim: Land of the Vanir, a “sister race” of the Asgardians.

Connecting all of these worlds is the Bifrost Bridge, also known as the Rainbow Bridge. Assigned with guarding this incredibly important landmark is Heimdall, who is the bridge’s sworn protector and is played by Idris Elba. Heimdall also has the ability to see into other worlds.

How Does It Fit? Lucky for you, one need not memorize all nine worlds in order to understand what’s going on in Thor, just three of them: Asgard, Midgard and Jotunheim. In the beginning of the film the Frost Giants try to retrieve the Casket of Ancient Winters from Asgard, which, in turn, leads Thor and his friends to lead an attack in Jotunheim for revenge. Because he broke the truce between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, Thor’s father, Odin, takes way Thor’s power and banishes him to Midgard until he can learn humility.


What Is It? An acronym for the clunkily-titled Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, S.H.I.E.L.D. is like the C.I.A. if not only the agents, but the organization itself was kept a secret. Headquartered in the mobile Helicarrier, a city-sized base that floats in the sky, agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deal with matters beyond most people's comprehension, from super powered individuals to extraterrestrials. Responsible for clean-up and debriefing after super powered “incidents” they have way more power in world affairs than you could possibly know, and are headed up by one of the most powerful officials in the world: Colonel Nick Fury.

How Does It Fit? After receiving word of a mysterious object in the New Mexico desert, the secret agency springs into action to isolate the object. Sending Agent Coulson (see below) in to head up the assignment, they have no idea what they’ve found, but do whatever they feel is necessary to find out.

Agent Coulson

Who Is He? Unlike most of the characters in the established thus far in the Marvel Studios films, Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, is not a character who originated in the comics. He is a high ranking member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who we first met in Iron Man after Tony calls his first press conference and is constantly trying to get an opportunity to debrief Stark and Pepper Potts about exactly what happened in Afghanistan.

How Does He Fit? Making his third appearance in a Marvel movie, the better question at this point is, “How does he not fit?” In the Easter Egg after the credits in Iron Man 2, Coulson pulls up to a large crater in the New Mexico desert. At the center of said crater? Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor. Viewing the mysterious hammer’s presence as exceedingly peculiar, Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. build a compound around it. All seems well… until Thor comes to claim what is rightfully his.

Tony Stark

Who Is He? If you don’t know who Tony Stark is, then you are not paying nearly enough attention. First introduced in 2008’s Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., Stark is the brilliant, young, brash owner of CEO of Stark Industries and a part-time superhero known as Iron Man. Along with the title character of this film, Hulk and Captain America, they form The Avengers, a group of superheroes unlike anything our world has ever seen.

How Does It Fit? Unlike in The Incredible Hulk, where Downey Jr. actually made a cameo appearance, Stark is only mentioned in passing in Thor. After Loki sends The Destroyer – an enchanted piece of armor – down to Earth, Agent Coulson and some other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents meet up with it in the desert. One of the agents turns to Coulson to inquire if the armor belongs to Tony Stark. His response? “I don't know. That guy never tells me anything.”


Nick Fury

Who Is He? Played by Samuel L. Jackson, Colonel Nick Fury is the black duster-and eye-patch-wearing director of S.H.I.E.L.D. First joining up during World War II, when he led a team called The Howling Commandos, he quickly rose in the ranks, graduating to the C.I.A. before becoming the leader of the most secretive organization in the country. Now, you may notice that he looks pretty damn good for a man in his 70s/80s. For that he can thank Dr. Berthold Sternberg, whose Infinity Formula has kept the Fury young for decades.

How Does He Fit? Remember that spoiler warning about the post-credits Easter Egg I warned you about? Well, don’t read on if you don’t want to know. After the credits roll, we see Dr. Selvig walking down into a dark basement where he is greeted by none-other-than the S.H.I.E.L.D. director himself. Fury has called on Selvig to help him understand a relic that they have found and have been protecting: the Cosmic Cube. The problem? Selvig isn’t who he appears to be.

The Cosmic Cube

What Is It? There are plenty of powerful items and people in the Marvel Universe, but only an minute few stack up against The Cosmic Cube. Its power is simple: the owner of the cube can alter anything in reality. In proper, responsible hands it can be managed, but in the hands of a supervillain it can be the most dangerous item in existence.

How Does It Fit? As mentioned above, the Cosmic Cube first appears in Thor during the Easter Egg after the credits, where it is shown by Col. Nick Fury to Dr. Selvig. What Fury is unaware of is that Selvig is, in fact, being controlled by Loki. The scene sets up the events of The Avengers, in which Loki has been confirmed as the villain.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.