Thor was a difficult movie to make. It’s about gods and men, some of whom speak like Shakespeare. Sort of. It might be difficult to relate to that. So Marvel thought, “You know who makes Shakespeare relatable? Kenneth Branagh. Let’s just hire him.”
So a Shakespearean actor and director. A superhero character. Humans on earth. Gods in the heavenly Asgard. It’s Superman in the Lord of the Rings with a little bit of a romantic comedy thrown in for good measure.
It could be a huge mess. But it’s not. Instead, it’s a small mess. But it works, mostly.
The Asgard scenes are beautifully designed. The battles are exciting and stylistic. The characters are likeable. Nick Fury doesn’t show up, but Agent Coulson does, just as he said he would back in Iron Man 2.
So the Lord of the Rings stuff works; the Superman stuff works. Just like peanut butter and chocolate, they go together just fine. But that’s mainly because this movie is a “fish out of water” story about a Norse god cast down to earth to learn a lesson. He fights against creatures from his realm and soldiers from ours. It doesn’t feel like it is cut from the came cloth as the other Marvel movies.
But taking this movie on its own merits, for fans of superheroes, it is worth watching. Because of the mash-up of genres, it’s not for everyone, and if you don’t like Lord of the Rings or mythology, you won’t like it. But if you think Clash of the Titans would have been much better if only they’d have some fights in a small southwest town and some romantic comedy silliness, it’s perfect for you. And pretty good for everyone else.
Of all the movies, this one was needed the most when it came to setting up a character to let him interact with the universe they’d created. Iron Man is a genius in a high tech suit of armor. Captain America was turned into the perfect human specimen by Iron Man’s genius dad. Hulk is a scientist who unlocks the ultimate human potential, but also unlocks a petty bad downside.
Thor is a Norse god. His connection to science is that he has a crush on a cute scientist. “One of these things is not like the other.”
So, this chapter of the series comes along to set up a world where magic is actually super-science, and characters throw around sci-fi clichés about “to a primitive, science would seem like magic” and “what if gods actually were aliens?” and “everyone knows that rainbow bridges could actually be wormholes.”
But if they are going to use Thor in the line up for the Avengers team, then they have to figure out a way to make him fit. And so, this two hours of digital FX.
As far as moving the plot forward, it lets us in on where the tesseract comes from and shows us that Loki is interested in it (in the bonus scene). And Thor promises that if we should ever need him, he will help protect us.
Because of all this, this one is almost as easy as Iron Man to take out of the series and just watch it as its own thing. Yes, it does make references to the other movies (one scientist talks vaguely about Bruce Banner; Agent Coulson shows up and refers to some other events) and it introduces the final member of the Avengers team, Hawkeye, who makes his first appearance by talking about maybe shooting an arrow. This one walks to tightrope best between setting up a bigger movie, but also being a complete movie itself.
The thing I like about this movie the most is that, honestly, this is the character who actually has some growth. Tony Stark has to overcome his selfishness, but doesn’t quite commit to the change in the movies. Bruce Banner has to overcome his anger issues, but doesn’t quite make it because conquering that problem could possibly mean the character becomes less interesting. Steve Rogers’ biggest problem was he wanted something that his body wouldn’t let him have, but he got the magic vita-rays to take care of that.
Thor’s story is all about being something better in a spiritual sense. He has power and skill and status, but also pride and arrogance and recklessness. So his father sends him down to earth to learn a lesson or two.
Now, the lesson, as it plays out, could have been more dramatic, but it is there. And if, as my friend Steve says in his thoughts about Captain America, Steve Rogers is an image of what the Christian life should be (somewhat) Thor becomes an image of what the Christian life IS. A struggle to overcome human foibles and to turn away from our inward selfishness and turn toward an outward focus. It is sacrifice and humility that he must learn, and only when he lets himself be struck down and, for all intents and purposes, be killed, does he finally earn the right to be worthy enough to wield the hammer.
Indeed, he illustrates the idea (if not the finality) we find in Jesus words that “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” and in Jesus’ example when he actually “laid down his life for us” and then in the extortion to us that we follow his example and “lay down your life for your brothers.”
No, the character is not a perfect example, but for a secular film about Norse gods, it gives us a look at a vital Christian character trait through muddy waters.
UPDATE: The sibling rivalry is very present in The Avengers, and I was glad to see that Thor is still a bit impetuous. The only bad thing is that The Avengers sort of softens the implications of the ending of Thor. But that seems to be the only way it could be done. However, it was nice to see Thor really, truly caring about his brother. Even at the end, he sought some redemption for his brother, while the sky was almost literally falling around them because of Loki’s actions.
Next review: THE AVENGERSLinks to other Avengers reviews: IRON MAN and IRON MAN 2 THE INCREDIBLE HULK CAPTAIN AMERICA THE AVENGERS