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It is strange to think that a little over 10 years ago there were serious doubts about the viability and longevity of comic book movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was just an idea and the notion of seeing characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen was still ridiculous. So, as we head into Avengers: Infinity War in less than a month, where Thor is expected to have a lot of screen time and an important role, it is interesting to note that even the God of Thunder once seemed like a bridge too far into Marvel canon. Zak Penn, the screenwriter on this weekend's Ready Player One and 2012's The Avengers spoke about his initial doubts about Thor and how that influenced his approach to the story, saying:
Originally I was trying to reduce how much Thor was in the movie. Once it was clear that, no, this is going to work and they were excited about it, then I did not [reduce Thor in the script]. I stopped doing that.
This seems so silly now but when Zak Penn was initially brought on to write The Avengers, the MCU was in its nascent stages and Thor had not yet proven himself on the big screen. The idea of audiences buying a long-haired, hammer-wielding superhero who also happened to be a Norse God and an alien must have been laughable. So, as he told The Hollywood Reporter, Zak Penn focused more on the other characters in the beginning, playing down the more comic book-y character. Looking at the final product, we can see how much this movie wouldn't have worked with its current story if Thor's role had been reduced. Simply having Loki as the villain necessitates Thor's presence as a protagonist and someone to explain the cosmic side of things.
Fortunately, 2011's Thor showed that Chris Hemsworth truly was Thor and audiences would accept the character. Therefore, Zak Penn didn't have to worry about reducing Thor's role in the movie and ultimately we wound up with The Avengers that we have today, the fifth-highest grossing movie of all time worldwide. Thor himself has proven to be one of the MCU's most popular characters too, even if his cinematic outings didn't always live up to Hemsworth's portrayal. With last November's Thor: Ragnarok, Thor finally got the movie he deserved, a weird and wild cosmic romp that would have been inconceivable when The Avengers was being written.
That is what is fascinating about the MCU, each step of the way wider audiences who don't read comic books have been given gateway drugs, pushing the bounds of what they'll accept further and further each time. Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange each seemed risky in their respective times and last year no one batted an eyelash at Ego the living planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Now we have a future with Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and the Wasp and who knows what other weirdness, and there are few doubts anymore.