The gods walk among us, or in the case of Thor, the space aliens we have always considered gods walk among the very few citizens of remote towns in New Mexico.
The latest in the long line of super hero movies focuses on that hammer wielding Norse deity Thor. No, this film isn’t based on Scandinavian mythology. It is based on the Marvel comic book based on Scandinavian mythology. I think that makes Thor the Scary Movie of superhero movies (because Scary Movie was based on Scream which was based on other slasher films).
Of course, Thor isn’t played for laughs. This is not a parody. Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, and the other cast members play Thor with all the gravitas of a Shakespearian tragedy (to borrow an adjective from the marketing campaign). The studio even got Kenneth Branagh of Hamlet fame to direct.
Thor takes place mostly on the planet of Asgard where Thor’s father Odin reigns supreme. Thor is all set to have the mantle of leadership bestowed upon him by his father when the enemies of the Asgardians attack. Thor, true to superhero origin story form, impulsively counter-attacks, thrusting the kingdom into open war and garnering the wrath of his father who banishes him (and his magical hammer) to earth.
On earth, Thor meets a cute physicist (Natalie Portman) and her crew who then begin to investigate their strange new companion. Meanwhile, Thor’s magical hammer has become embedded in a rock at the center of a crater and is proving to be quite a vexing problem for the U.S. government. Thor, of course, wants his hammer back, and he can have it if he “proves himself worthy.”
On Asgard, Thor’s disgruntled brother Loki sets about trying to establish himself as his father’s heir in his brother’s absence. He even dispatches a fire-breathing, metal giant to earth to dispense with his brother once and for all.
That’s kind of an involved plot set-up/summary for a mostly simple movie. It’s sounds complicated because the tension in this movie is centered on the relationships between Odin and his two sons. In that conflict, Thor is a very strong movie. Unlike other superhero movies which tend to focus on external adversaries for the sources of conflict, Thor centers on its hero’s need to learn selflessness and reconcile with his father and brother. I enjoyed watching these three gods wrestle relationally with one another.
I did not enjoy as much watching them wrestle physically with one another. Thor is as CGI-heavy a film as I have seen, and the CGI is mediocre at best. Granted, Asgard does not exist, and it would be impossible to film “on location,” but considering that 3/4 of the movie takes place on Asgard, I would have liked to see something a little less obviously fake framing our heroes and villains.
Nothing in Thor wowed me either. This is no Iron Man or Spider-Man. For a film so effects-laden, I would have expected at least one scene to stick in my mind. Nothing has stuck. I’ve always found the climactic battle in Iron Man to be less than exciting, but the scenes in Tony Stark’s workshop, and Robert Downey Jr.’s general charm save the movie. Thor doesn’t contain anyone as charismatic as Robert Downey Jr. or anything as fun as the robotic arm that repeatedly sprays Tony Stark with a fire hydrant.
Thor is decent, don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed it. Will I see it again on dvd or otherwise? Probably not.
Now, SPOILER ALERT from this point on, because the themes and ideas about life presented by this movie are bound up in the fate of our hero and his main antagonist.
There will be the temptation for some to call Thor a “Christ figure.” They will do this because the key plot point involves him willing giving up his mortal life to save others followed by his resurrection into his former god-like glory. To call Thor a “Christ figure” though would be to incorrectly equate Thor’s sacrifice with Christ’s and to oversimplify Christ’s work.
First of all, Thor does not die for the same reasons as Christ. Thor dies to learn selflessness and prove his ability and right to lead his people. There are a lot of perspectives on the Atonement, but none of them have to do with Jesus being a foolhardy, wayward son in need of a good dose of humility. Thor’s death is part of his process of sanctification. Christ didn’t need to be sanctified.
Secondly, Christ did so much more than die and rise again. A death and resurrection does not a Christ figure make. A Christ figure is a character whose role in the story is to redeem everything else, to inspire hope in the hopeless, to show the rest of the characters a better way to live. Sometime that is done by sacrificing one’s life. Other times a simple act of forgiveness (Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas) or an affirming word (Tony Hale in HappyThankYouMorePlease) or a belly full of boiled eggs (Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke) accomplishes that redeeming work.
Christ redeems the world. Thor’s death does nothing to create a better world. He simply gets his hammer back.
Ultimately, Thor is a moderately entertaining superhero flick that serves as a good character introduction for the forthcoming Avenger’s movie. It is nothing more, but it’s nothing less either.