I’ve let my thoughts on Loki run tl;dr a few times, but let’s not actually talk about Loki in this post. Let’s talk about Thor for a minute. Specifically, let’s talk about Thor’s first appearance on Earth in The Avengers.
Thor’s first scene is clearly meant to establish that Thor is a super-cool, bad-ass, butt-kicking sort of guy. He’s strong. He’s mad. He’s strongmad. He’s pissed off and looking to share the pain. He’s here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and he’s all out of fucks to give! And also bubblegum.
So, let’s ignore for the moment the entire first Thor movie wherein Thor started out as a bloodthirsty, hairtrigger-temper bully but was supposed to grow into a better, more mature man - an actual hero - by the end. Let’s actually examine Thor’s actions in his establishing scene.
People have already pointed out, multiple times, the cognitive dissonance of Thor’s fight against Iron Man and Captain America. See, Thor had absolutely no way of knowing that Steve’s adamantium shield would protect him from Mjolnir. Had absolutely no way of knowing that Steve is enhanced by the super-soldier serum and can survive things that would kill an ordinary man. As far as Thor knows, he just brought the entire might of Mjolnir down on an ordinary mortal man with an ordinary metal shield. Which would have killed almost anybody else on Midgard.
Okay, but Thor is in the heat of battle here. He’s raging, his blood is high, he’s not thinking clearly. Steve just attacked him (sort of) and made himself a target. If someone’s pointing a weapon at you, you’re allowed to hit back, right? Busting into someone else’s home dimension, breaking into restricted paramilitary property and then attacking their security when they come after you is a completely reasonable response, right?
Of course right.
Thor probably felt really bad about it later, when he calmed down a bit and realized he just tried to straight-up murder a respected soldier on an alien realm that he’s trespassing on without invitation. Gee, it’s almost as if Thor didn’t learn anything at all from his last movie.
But let’s back up a bit before that.
In Thor’s first scene, he lands on the plane that the Avengers are using to transport Loki from Germany to the US. He enters the cabin, grabs Loki by the throat, and pulls them both out of the plane. They hit the ground below, Loki on his back and Thor on his feet, and Thor starts threatening him.
This scene actually got me curious as to how high, exactly, they are off the ground at this point. The movie doesn’t indicate it at all. So I went to everybody’s trusty source, Wikipedia, to research common flight altitudes. Apparently, most commercial aircraft fly at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet above ground. (Military flights are higher, going up to 60k or even 80k feet.) The shorter the flight, the lower the airplane is able to fly; long flights take higher altitudes to avoid crossing paths with shorter flights. Transatlantic flights usually fly at about 35,000 feet. If they’re traveling between Germany and America, they’re probably at least 30,000 feet up, unless they’re blatantly ignoring air safety laws (which we sure hope they’re not, since they’re outside of the US and in a country where SHIELD has no jurisdiction.) So, they’re pretty high up. At an absolute minimum they have to be at least 10,000 feet up (the minimum safe distance for avoiding terrain variation,) and since the terminal velocity for a human-shaped object is achieved after only 2,000 feet, the difference between 10 and 30 thousand is pretty irrelevant.
So, to recap: Thor breaks into the plane and immediately puts Loki in a painful, dangerous hold. Note that at this point, Loki has surrendered to SHIELD and is not resisting in any way. In fact, not only is he not resisting, he’s actually in restraints. His ability to fight back or defend himself in any way — even if he wasn’t perfectly aware how much stronger than him Thor is — is effectively nil. Then he threw him out of a very high drop onto solid ground — let’s remember that Thor can fly, while Loki in this universe has shown no indication that he’s able to do so.
Wow, Thor, is that how people roll in Asgard? Beating up unresisting prisoners? Super classy. Can you imagine the public reaction if, say, a member of the NYPD was caught on tape grabbing a restrained, nonviolent suspect, lifting them by the throat and throwing them out of a second-story window?
But when Thor does it it’s okay, because he’s a hero.
Besides, they’re Asgardians. They’re practically physical gods. A little thing like a drop from a plane isn’t going to hurt them. Well, apart from the fact that it obviously did hurt Loki, since we see that he’s limping and in pain throughout the next scene. But overall they’re fine, just a little bruised. Clearly this scene is meant to show us that Thor and Loki are especially tough and can’t be harmed by something as minor as a….
….thirty thousand feet straight down drop from a plane?
So, putting this sequence of events side by side, what Loki does to Thor in this scene is the exact same thing that Thor already did to him half an hour ago in this very movie. It’s different because the movie says it’s different, that’s all. When Loki does it, it’s a blatant murder attempt meant to show how far Loki has descended into villainy. When Thor does it, it’s just to show how darn awesome he is. And then never mentioned again.
Because it’s okay for heroes to do these things, as long as you do them to villains, who deserve it.
You know, it’s kind of impressive that Joss Whedon, who deconstructed the idea of the might-makes-right bully hero in the character of Captain Hammer in Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog would manage to play the same trope so unironically straight in The Avengers.
The similarities between the quinjet scene and the helicarrier scene didn’t occur to me until I read this post, and yeah, that’s…a pretty good point. I mean, I think Thor was hanging onto Loki (by the shoulders, too, I believe—he does change his grip right before he jumps) until pretty much right before they hit the ground, so it could be argued that the method and intention behind the falls was totally different. But particularly considering Loki’s first fall into the Void and then Thor here grabbing him by the throat and jumping out of a plane, that kind of puts a real different spin on the scene in the helicarrier. Bit more of “well Thor let’s see how you like it” really.