When I first watched Infinity War, I was blown away that it was still unified by one story and goal with a number of distinct locations, variety of characters, and complex web of relationships. However, a casual MCU fan stumped me by asking, “Who was the main character of the movie?” I quickly answered, “Thanos,” but this pushed me to answer which Avenger carries the story, and that took more thought. One could easily argue that the film is Tony Stark’s as he is the MCU’s figurative patriarch. After all, Thanos knew him and seemed to fear him. One could say it belongs to the Guardians of the Galaxy since Gamora is dealing with her father while Peter spent the first film dealing with mother issues, the second with father issues, and now father-in-law issues in Infinity War. However, there is a robust sense that the film belongs to Thor.
Infinity War opens as a direct sequel to Ragnarok with Thanos destroying half of the life on Asgard’s escape vessel after the destruction of their planet. One of the final scenes in Infinity War is Thor dropping from the sky to deliver what should have been a fatal blow to Thanos. The Russo brothers said that this was meant to be a red herring. We were led to believe that Thor’s entrance to Wakanda signaled a turning of the tide, but it was not to be. Everyone had their own reasons to stop Thanos. Perhaps no one felt it more than Thor.
Thor has undergone an epic and painful journey over the past decade. His films have each had different tones. He suffered great personal loss time and time again despite being one of the most powerful characters in the MCU. In his first film, he is exiled from his home planet; in The Avengers, he leads a war against his own brother Loki; in Dark World, Thor is unable to prevent his mother’s murder; in Ragnarok, he watches his father die and destroys his home in order to kill his dangerous sister; within the first five minutes of Infinity War, he watches Loki die again, except this time, it seems permanent.
If I had a friend who had to watch his family die one at a time and then be forced to destroy the homeland he was charged to protect, my only question for him would be, “How do you get out of bed in the morning?” What drives Thor to action and growth? A wise outlook on pride, loyalty, honor, and glory.
When we first meet him, his hubris gets him into trouble. He is humbled by exile and learns not only to care for his people, but also those on Earth. Pride is an ever-present feature of his character, but it has been refined as a chastened kind—one that can accept self-referential and deprecating humor. After the physical and emotional battering he has taken over several films, the pride is somewhat warranted and is, ironically, humble. He possesses a quiet, still confidence that does not need to demonstrate itself through the bragging or gaudy sort he has shed over time.
Thor’s loyalty is evident in his ability to keep Loki in his life. In Dark World, he concludes that Loki cannot be trusted and would kill him at the drop of a hat, yet he does not burn that bridge. Whatever good lays dormant in Loki, Thor is determined to forgive him and give his redeeming qualities a chance to shine. Thor is like a leader that everyone needs but doesn’t deserve. He may not seem to have a robust philosophical motivation, but there is something impressive about the steadfast nature of his actions. Thor has never been broken in his fidelity to family, people, and his allies. The only possible chance for this would have been in Civil War, where he was not present (spawning a hilarious series of viral videos). Perhaps this was because it would have been difficult to choose which side an alien would take in a human conflict. Maybe he would have seen his options as whether to side or not to side, but in an interview with Fandango, Ragnarok director Taika Waititi said, “I feel Thor would have started his own team. He wouldn’t have liked the idea of those teams.” While he evaded that test of loyalty, his relationship with Loki gave Thor ample opportunity to turn his back on him—yet he remains fiercely loyal.
Honor and glory are not surprising attributes for the Norse god of lightning. Honor befits a king. Yet Thor’s journey has been riddled with exile, being stripped of power, betrayal, the death of family, and losing his status in being forced into enslavement to fight as a gladiator. Honor is bestowed and glory is earned through acts of greatness. Thor was given honor by way of royal birth, but he finds that true glory lies in his quest to secure his people’s flourishing, protect the people of earth, avenge the fallen, and make good on his pledge to kill Thanos. Honor is when he dines in the royal palace; glory is when he risks his own life to save his friends. Honor is when he is offered the throne of Asgard; glory is when he declines it because he knows his purpose. Honor is when he becomes king; glory is when he destroys his home to save his people. In each film, he has found a way to earn his own glory, but even in great acts, his ultimate purposes are unfulfilled.
What does Endgame hold for Thor? One can only hope that he has the opportunity to find the peace he has so long fought for. The Russo Brothers have said that the reason the Avengers failed in Infinity War is because they were fighting and acting separately. As we see our heroes walking in their uniform white suits in Endgame, we know that they will function as one. Perhaps this is the opportunity for all of Thor’s strengths to work together and carry him and the Avengers to victory.