Whenever I’ve looked at this gifset in the past, I always first noticed the way Thor is not just holding his own with the Hulk, but he is pushing back against the Hulk, despite that that wasn’t just a love tap the Hulk did, it was a full force smashing down, he really put his weight into it, yet Thor stops it with his left hand and then pushes back. Like, seriously, holy shit.
But when I’m looking at it now, different thoughts are going through my head. One of the things that I often find in fandom, is the idea that Thor is suddenly hesitant all the time now, that he eschews any kind of fighting, that he’s lost his sheer presence in a room. And part of me kind of frowns and tells myself not to say anything because, yeah, how can I really say much about it when the way Joss wrote the character in this story did a huge disservice to him by making him stand around in the background a lot? How can I complain when Thor didn’t really have a lot to do in a movie where he should have been a central figure? How can I argue when I intensely feel that the writers of the movies don’t know what to do with this character?
And yet, despite that, I feel like too often that’s used as an excuse not to take note of Thor’s character. How he balances not wanting to fight with Banner because of his newfound maturity (trying to get the Hulk to remember that they’re his friends, that they don’t want to fight) with how he really fucking enjoys a good fight (the smirk when the Hulk draws blood and how Thor is like AW YISS IMMA ENJOY THE SHIT OUT OF THIS), that both are part of Thor now, not just one or the other.
Thor doesn’t want to fight these Midgardians, because he wants to protect them. He feels responsible for them. And there is an element of seeing himself above them (which, in a lot of senses, he is, being Aesir/Asgardian and over a thousand years old and stronger than nearly all of them, he’s CONSTANTLY HOLDING BACK, any fights he get into, even when his temper’s at its worst, like in the forest fight, he’s still holding back, because if he weren’t, if he has the strength to push back the Hulk, you can believe he would have smashed those little shits to pieces, no problem), which he works on. He’s sincere when he tells Loki that he’s missing the point of ruling—it’s not that you’re better, it’s that you know how to lead.
This Thor is still figuring out how to lead, but he has the natural instincts for it, that’s why Sif+W3 are so loyal to him, that’s why Thor makes friends with the Avengers (not so much in the MCU, but it’s a core part of his character in 616 and you can count on that being a major influence of the writers who create these movies), but he struggles with not seeing himself above them. This is why he says they’re so “tiny and petty” when the scepter influences him, because that’s part of what he’s still working through.
It’s not that Thor thinks he’s better precisely, because he truly believes in the potential of humans, but that they don’t always live up to it, and it’s a lot easier to see that when you’re a thousand years old. He’s older than all of them combined, he’s from a city that acts as steward of the Nine realms, of course he’s going to see himself as their protector and that they’re going to seem pretty tiny and petty to him at times. That doesn’t negate that he genuinely thinks they’re great, that he’s impressed by them, that they’re a great catalyst for change, in a way that’s probably fascinating, after how stagnant Asgard can get.
Anyway, the point I was originally rolling my way around towards is that Thor isn’t on the extreme of either end of this—he’s not impossibly hot-headed anymore, but neither is he entirely hesitant or a shadow of who he used to be. His first instinct is probably to still go in swinging, but he stops himself and thinks about a situation, he reins his temper back in. But it’s still there and he’s not going to back down from a fight in a situation like this.
He’s at a point in his life where he’s realized what war really costs—he feels new a new sort of direct responsibility for the people of Midgard, in a way that he probably only vaguely felt before. Now these people are much more real to him, they have faces and names and individual personalities, now he feels responsible for what he brought to their planet (not that he’s responsible for Loki, but of course there’s going to be SOME guilt there from Thor), so he knows that, yeah, okay, war’s not so great. War takes people away from you, war hurts innocent people, war makes you lose the people you love. Sometimes they die, sometimes they go mad and you can’t reach them anymore. War sucks.
But that doesn’t mean Thor’s not going to do what he has to do. He knows right from wrong and Loki has crossed into wrong, so Thor’s going to put a stop to him, because Loki. Is. Wrong. He still holds back (there is no way he’s fighting at full strength against Loki, even in New York, not even when he’s sick of Loki’s shit and slams him on the ground), he still tries to reason with Loki, but Thor will do what he feels is right.
And he knows the cost of that. When he looks down at his hand before picking Mjolnir up in that field, it’s because he knows what the cost of this is going to be, that he has to be willing to truly hurt his brother to stop him. It doesn’t read as hesitation to me, in the sense of being unsure about what to do, but instead that moment where you take a deep breath and brace yourself, that moment you take to stop and realize how far you’ve come, how totally fucked up everything is. Thor gets that.
Despite that he recognizes how fucked up all of this is, he will always keep trying, though, not because he’s naive or blindly hopeful, because he’s really not. Chris Hemsworth has this great quote about Thor 2, where he doesn’t want the character to come across as being gullible to Loki’s tricks, that it’s not about, “Oh, Thor, did you fall for that AGAIN?” but instead it’s about that Thor knows the risks and decides to try to believe in Loki again. He knows that it likely will fail, but he chooses to do it anyway.
Which is exactly what Thor is for me. He’s angry at Loki (he has every fucking right to be angry at Loki, too) and he would be perfectly justified in walking away at this point, especially given how Loki is not one bit sorry about his actions or showing any kind of open remorse or even trying to change. Thor’s not under obligation to keep trying with someone like that. He knows that Loki isn’t giving anything good back (yet, fingers crossed!), he understands that. But he decides he’s going to try anyway.
And, of course, this all how I see Thor, these are my Thor feelings I’m barfing up, despite that the post is written in a very “this is objective fact” sort of tone. Feel free to see the character differently or whatever, I’m not actually trying to talk over anyone else’s feelings on the characters. Instead, this is about how I have strong feelings and, well, here they are.
I spent so much of my early time in fandom focusing on Loki and I spend not enough time focusing on Thor, despite that he’s my favorite and he’s far and away a better person than Loki is, so this is my trying to balance that out a little better.