The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown and changed a great deal since its launch back in 2008, and the story of Thor within that is no exception. The series is one of the originals within the larger franchise, and we have seen the god-like hero and his core supporting characters go through a hell of a lot not only over the course of two solo movies, but in Avengers titles as well. As a result, there's quite a bit to catch up on before the arrival of the latest big screen adventure, director Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok, but it's within that realm that we are here to help.
Just in case you don't have time to watch hours of Marvel movies before going to see Thor: Ragnarok in theaters this weekend, we've thrown together this handy SPOILER-FREE guide to provide all of the information you will need. Where have Thor and Hulk been the last few years? What's Loki's deal? Who is that guy doing all those weird magic tricks? We have the answers to all those questions and more below and on the next few pages, so read on!
Most of the Avengers came together to square off in Captain America: Civil War, but Chris Hemsworth's Thor was a notable exception. Instead, we haven't seen the God of Thunder since the final sequence of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where he found himself discussing the magic of Mjolnir with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) at the brand new Avengers facility. He departed the scene with his hammer lifted high in the air, telling his comrades that he would be leaving to search the galaxy for more information about the fabled Infinity Stones. Ultimately this doesn't have a huge impact on the events of Thor: Ragnarok, for reasons best discovered while actually watching the movie, but what is key to know/remember is the base history of the titular hero and where he comes from.
While he's rarely identified with the title, Thor is actually a prince in his home world, Asgard. As the oldest son of the king, Anthony Hopkins' Odin (more on him in a bit), he grew up as the heir apparent to the throne -- but found trouble just as he was first about to be anointed. A petulant and foolish man, he nearly broke a peace treaty and started a war, leading Odin to punish him. Thor was deemed unworthy of Mjolnir -- which gives him the ability to harness lightning and fly -- and he was banished to Earth until he could become humble. It wound up being an opportunity for great growth, and he returned to Asgard as a better hero.
Later, after saving Earth during The Avengers and the whole of the universe during Thor: The Dark World, Thor was once again given the opportunity to rule Asgard as king -- but it was an offer that was turned down. What the God of Thunder didn't realize at the time, however, was that it wasn't actually Odin who was giving him the offer...
Portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, Loki has been a thorn in Thor's side for as long as we've known him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- setting a whole new standard for insane sibling rivalry in the process. He tricked his brother into trying to start a war; attempted to usurp his father's throne after discovering that he was adopted; invaded Midgard a.k.a. Earth because it's the home of Thor's love; and then faked his own death just so that he could take the Asgardian crown without notice. The first three of those didn't wind up working out so well for him, but the last one went quite well.
During a battle with Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) on the Dark Elf planet Svartalfheim, Loki tricked Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) into thinking he was dead -- leading them to leave his body as they searched for a way back to Earth. When Asgardian soldiers later came to retrieve Loki he hid, and while it wasn't shown, he presumably killed them and stole their ship to return home. He disguised himself as one of the soldiers to deliver the news to Odin, but then mysterious got rid of his father so that he could finally take the throne for himself behind a glamour.
Appearing as Odin, Loki has been ruling Asgard since we last left him in Thor: The Dark World, and Thor: Ragnarok will address what has happened to him and the realm in the time since.
It took centuries of work, but as the leader of Asgard, Odin was able to bring peace to the nine worlds that are united by the cosmic tree Yggdrasil. During that time, he raised a family with his wife, Frigga (Rene Russo), and brought up Thor and Loki as brothers. In the long view, though there have been some pretty massive incidents, he has been viewed as one of the greatest kings to ever rule Asgard... though, as noted, he hasn't been ruling as the king of Asgard for the last few years.
Marvel fans haven't seen the real Odin since Loki visited him in disguise towards the end of Thor: The Dark World, and one of the key questions that has lingered for years has been in regard to exactly what the God of Mischief did to his father. Did he get locked up in the same dungeons where Loki was kept for a good long spell? Was he banished to another world, or perhaps a realm between worlds? At long last, Thor: Ragnarok brings the answer to the query.
Like Thor, Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner a.k.a. Hulk hasn't been on the big screen since The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but his situation is a bit different. While we knew that the God of Thunder was off to search the universe looking for Infinity Stones, the Hulk didn't exactly make his destination entirely clear when we last saw him.
For what should be obvious reasons, Bruce Banner has always had a complicated relationship with his giant, green alter ego, as more often than not it gets him in serious trouble. While he has been able to demonstrate degrees of control in the past, such as when Loki and his Chitauri army were invading New York in The Avengers, Hulk rages have also resulted in a lot of deaths and destruction. Being under the influence of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and seeing the wreckage he caused in South Africa during The Avengers: Age of Ultron proved to be too much for him, and while he had finally started a new relationship with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a part of him understood that he couldn't stick around
At the end of the Joss Whedon film, Black Widow tried to calm the Hulk down and turn him back into Bruce Banner as he was flying around Sokovia in a Quinjet, but this didn't really work out. Hulk shut down the communication between him and his girlfriend, and flew the vessel to parts unknown. Of course, that material is covered when we next see him in Thor: Ragnarok.
In 2016, audiences were introduced to a very different side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the bulk of the franchise has been rooted in science-fiction, Doctor Strange introduced a more fantastical, magical side of the world. Of course, the man at the head of it is the titular sorcerer, who fans got to see transform from an arrogant surgeon into a student of the mystical arts in Scott Derrickson's comic book movie.
We were introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange as a hotshot brain surgeon known for taking on risky and complex procedures, but his life was thrown into a tailspin when he was involved in a high-speed car accident. His hands thrusting through the dashboard resulted in permanent nerve damage, though Strange refused to let his old life day. Spending all of his money on experimental surgeries that didn't end up working, he was forced to face his last resort in Nepal, hearing stories about a healer known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).
What Strange had actually learned about was the Kamar-Taj, a school where he would not fix his hands with medicine, but instead learn the ways of magic and channeling interdimensional energy. He proves to be a fast-learning student, and after helping save our world from the terrifying Dormammu, he is tasked with overseeing the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York and helping protect the world from mystical threats. Loki can certainly be categorized in this manner, so when he returns to Earth in Thor: Ragnarok, Strange feels the need to become involved.
Introduced in the first Thor, Heimdall (Idris Elba) has one of the most important jobs in all of Asgard, as he is basically the man responsible for the safety of the realm. He is the guardian of the Bifrost Bridge -- which is essentially the transport device that allows individuals to travel between the aforementioned Nine Realms connected by the cosmic tree Yggdrasil. Not only does Heimdall protect this bridge and the giant sword that activates it, but he also has the incredible ability of all-sight and all-hearing, allowing him to constantly sense any kind of distress going on at any time in any part of the known universe.
Naturally, some have a few issues with this power, and one of them is Loki. Heimdall has long had an uneasy relationship with the God of Mischief, who always seems to play around on the edges of his great sight, and there isn't exactly a tremendous amount of trust between them. As you can imagine then, when Loki winds up taking the throne of Asgard he finds himself none too interested in keeping Heimdall around, which winds up being important ground that is covered in Thor: Ragnarok.
Sif And The Warriors Three
Thor has long seen himself as a sworn protector of the Asgardian realm, but it's not a job that he has always performed alone. Rather, he has always had the support of four of his best friends: Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the trio of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogan (Tadanobu Asano), also known as The Warriors Three. They aren't all Asgardian natives, as Hogan originally hails from the planet Vanaheim, but they have sworn allegiances to protect their home against any threat.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sif and the Warriors Three have come to Thor's aid a couple of times. Following his banishment from Asgard, they traveled to Earth to help protect the God of Thunder from his vengeful brother and the deadly Destroyer; and then they actually had to commit treason against the crown so that they could help Thor and Loki stop the invasion of the Dark Elves. And while Sif won't be around for the action in Thor: Ragnarok, the three others will have quite a lot to deal with when Hela (Cate Blanchett) arrives in the royal realm in the new movie.
Thor has demonstrated a strong affinity for Earth in the past, and it's not just because the people have historically treated him like a god whenever he flashes some lightning across the sky. Rather, it's because the planet is the home of his true love, astrophysicist Jane Foster, whom Thor first met when Odin banished him from Asgard and he was getting his legendary lesson in humility. While he opened her mind to the vastness of the universe, she taught him the values of humbleness and nobility, and they fell for each other as a result.
That said, their relationship has never really been on the most stable ground. Thor totally disappeared for months after first meeting and falling in love with Jane; and then when he did finally return, she was infected with the power of an Infinity Stone and thrust into the center of a plot with universe-ending implications. This kind of stress isn't good for any kind of romantic engagement, and that is very much represented in the status of the Thor/Jane bond when we catch up with the eponymous hero in Thor: Ragnarok.