Now that Thor: The Dark World is in theaters, Marvel’s Phase Two officially is in full swing. The standalone heroes who helped launch this current age of Marvel movies are enjoying their subsequent sequels – from Iron Man 3 to the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And now that a few more of Marvel’s cards are on the proverbial table, fans have begun the fun but frivolous exercise of ranking the films that are at our fingertips … knowing full well that there are PLENTY more Marvel movies to come.

It was during said exercise for a podcast on another site that I came to realize something: I prefer ALL of the Marvel origin movies to their sequels … and that trend continues with Thor. Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man certainly trumps its two sequels. The Winter Soldier will have to move mountains if it’s going to surpass The First Avenger. And now that I’ve see The Dark World, it’s my second favorite Thor movie behind Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 introduction to the character.

Why? What is it about Branagh’s approach to the material that worked better than Alan Taylor’s?

The main reason I tend to favor the origin movies in the Marvel franchise – so far – is because the sequels have not been able to match the pure excitement of seeing these classic heroes on screen for the first time. The casting for Marvel’s Phase One has been brilliant, with Chris Hemsworth so capably filling the boots of this legendary Asgardian, it’s near impossible to separate him from his hammer-wielding hero when I see him in movies like Rush or Cabin in the Woods. Sequels are supposed to ramp up the action, to increase the stakes. But over the past few years, I have found myself preferring the first chapters in Hollywood’s superhero sagas to their sequels. Give me Batman Begins over The Dark Knight (and certainly to Rises), or Iron Man instead of the bloated and confusing 2 and 3. Same goes for Thor.

There’s something else Branagh was able to bring to the initial Thor film, which I prefer. I mentioned it briefly in my review for the site, but want to elaborate here. Branagh tapped into the Shakespearean tragedies that are inherent in the Thor-Loki relationship, particularly in the ways that they try in vain to please their father, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins). Branagh took what he learned helming adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, and filtered it through Marvel’s scope. Listen to the way he coaches his actors in these dialogue scene from the original Thor. This is dramatic tension, pathos and regret:

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