Hear Me Out: Kenneth Branagh's Thor Is Better Than The Dark World

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:

Personally, I would take 100 of these types of scenes versus another montage of CGI-soaked action sequences, no matter how cool they might look. Branagh knew how best to use Tom Hiddleston, Hemsworth and Hopkins (who is comatose in the new Thor sequel). There’s more weight to the characters’ actions in Branagh’s Thor, more consequence. I think this argument could be made of all three of the Marvel origin stories so far. The sequels are having a hard time living up to the first steps in their subsequent franchises.

This, also, is the final reason why I prefer Thor over Thor: The Dark World. Branagh’s film arrived before The Avengers, before the bar on Marvel output was raised to ridiculous heights. Is it unfair to compare Marvel’s sequels to what has become its signature franchise? Maybe. But Iron Man 3 and, now, Thor: The Dark World currently exist underneath the shadow of Joss Whedon’s massive accomplishment. I find myself exiting the Marvel movies that have come after The Avengers and thinking, "Well, yeah, but it wasn’t The Avengers." And many only Age of Ultron will finally shake me out of that Marvel doldrum. Or possibly Guardians of the Galaxy, which has the potential to be so original it can’t help but stand apart from the current Marvel crowd.

Of course, it’s all a matter of preference. And there are parts of Taylor’s The Dark World that I prefer. The scope of Asgard is much larger in this sequel, and Taylor brings an authentic feel to the universe (which Branagh covered up with shiny, cold visuals). When we skip down to Earth in The Dark World, we get London battles versus a tiny New Mexico town. In those aspects, Dark World is an improvement. But the overall dramatic tone of Branagh’s film is, I thought, more in tune with the classic vibe of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s iconic hero. Do you agree?

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Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.