Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Image Courtesy en.wikipedia.org

You know, I’m kind of surprised that people don’t like Thor more than they do.  This is actually one of my favorite MCU solo movies, and only third after The Avengers and Iron Man in Phase 1.  It has easily the most interesting and dynamic villain and gives both the hero and villain satisfying arcs.  Plus, this movie sets an incredible tone for an entire new alien race and their society.  All this, and it brings a form of magic into the MCU (which up to this point was exclusively the domain of science.

This movie certainly has its flaws, but I still think it deserves more credit than it gets.

The primary focus of the movie is of course on the title character, Thor Odinson.  Thor is a brash young prince on the day of his coronation to become the next King of Asgard.  However, his coronation is interrupted by a small team of Frost Giants attempting to steal back the “Casket of Ancient Winters.”  The Frost Giants are quickly defeated, but the coronation is put on hold.  Thor—ever the brash one—runs off to Jotunheim with his friends to get answers about the infiltration, but his actions start a war between Asgard and Jotunheim, for which Thor is banished to Earth (Midgard).

Image Courtesy www.wired.com
Thor’s story in this movie is very much a classic “Hero’s Journey,” from the Call to Action of his banishment to the refusal of supernatural aid when he is unable to wield Mjolnir.  His time on Midgard fits in the category of “Challenges and Temptations” as he learns humility and discovers what it truly means to place the needs of others ahead of his own.  Both Jane Foster and Erik Selvig play important roles in this journey by helping him understand and (in Jane’s case) giving him someone to put ahead of himself.  The clearest example of the Hero’s Journey in this movie (and one of my favorite scenes in all of the MCU) is near the end when Sif and the Warriors Three fail to defeat the Destroyer and Thor offers his own life to turn aside Loki’s fury and save his friends’ lives.  The Destroyer literally kills him, and it is this act of self-sacrifice which actually makes him worthy of wielding Mjolnir again.  He is resurrected and completely transformed before defeating the Destroyer and returning to Asgard.  On Asgard he must make Atonement for his arrogance and hot-temperedness by saving Jotunheim from destruction—but this closes Asgard off from the rest of the realms, including Midgard.  At the end of the movie Thor is a changed man:  mature, selfless, and ready to become a hero for both Midgard and Asgard.

Now, there are some ways in which this is rushed—the whole movie (or at least the Earth-based portion of it) takes place over the space of a long weekend—but it is still complete.  Actually, I think that this is a larger part of the movie than the Christological imagery which is also prevalent throughout.  Granted, when your protagonist is a “god” who also happens to be the “son of god,” has virtually unlimited power, and protects the world from the forces of evil, it’s pretty hard to avoid allusions to the other God who is the Son of God, has unlimited power, and saves the world from evil!  Having said that, the religious imagery in Thor is much more subtle than in, say, Man of Steel, which really hammers the point home with its “god” who also happens to be the “son of god,” has virtually unlimited power, and protects the world from the forces of evil!  By contrast, Thor makes the connections in ways that fit with the plot, such as Thor and Jane serving breakfast together and Thor offering his own life in exchange for those of his friends.

Image Courtesy marvel-movies.wikia.com
In terms of the villain, Loki is easily the most complex and developed villain in the MCU so far, and I can only think of a couple who come close, and both of them lose points because we don’t really see the transformation in them, while this movie is all about Loki’s transformation from dutiful (if tricky) brother and son to full-blown genocidal villain.  Darren Cross in Ant-Man has a similar back story to Loki’s, as a protégé/surrogate son who was betrayed by his father-figure and attempted to take over the “kingdom” to make him “proud.”  However, we didn’t see any of what that relationship looked like before the falling-out.  Zemo also has a complex revenge-based motivation for his actions in Captain America: Civil War, but he also is a fully-formed villain when we meet him in that movie.

Loki is a very well done villain:  we can really see and feel the disappointment from him, knowing that he will never measure up to Thor.  And given everything that he’s been through, we can even sympathize with his desire for what amounts to his father’s approval.  His plan is actually quite well thought out, at least up until he decides to straight-up destroy a planet (something that his father would never approve of).  And considering the brokenness of his relationships with both Thor and Odin, this movie does an excellent job of setting up the family dynamics which drive part of the conflict in The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World.

On the subject of larger universe continuity, it is impressive just how self-contained this movie is, considering that it introduces both the villain and the McGuffin for The Avengers.  S.H.I.E.L.D. of course appears pretty quickly in the movie as an antagonist, but their role fits with both the movie and the organization:  if an alien object like Mjolnir landed in New Mexico, you would expect an agency like S.H.I.E.L.D. to know about it and contain it.  They don’t necessarily want to lock Thor up and dissect him, but they aren’t fans of beings powerful enough to destroy a good chunk of the planet.  Beyond S.H.I.E.L.D., the only other major universe-building element is the introduction of Loki.  Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, gets a minor cameo as a sniper watching Thor’s infiltration of the compound, and the Tesseract appears in the end-credits scene, which also shows Selvig going to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. in studying it.  Compared to Iron Man 2, there are practically no connections between this movie and the rest of the universe!

Image Courtesy www.tvtropes.org
The tone and setting of the movie is very well executed, something that only a Shakespearean-trained actor and director like Kenneth Branagh would be able to nail so well.  I love the visuals and music, both of which are very much in keeping with an alien civilization which is culturally stuck in the Middle Ages but employs a level of technology centuries ahead of our own.  The magic-as-technology aspect of this movie is a brilliant way to start incorporating those elements into the MCU, particularly when everything previous in the MCU is technologically-based.  The best example of this comes when Jane, Darcy, and Selvig are arguing at the lab and Jane mentions the Arthur C. Clarke quote that “magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet,” which gives a very broad scientific explanation for everything Asgardian (which is the main reason for having Jane be a physicist in this movie).  Darcy being a “political science major” also comes into play here as she’s the one who points out that incredibly-advanced aliens would be perceived as gods by a “primitive” culture like the Vikings.  This does make some major changes to the mythology of the comics, but this early in the MCU, I think this was the best way to work Thor and Asgard in!

All of the movie’s action scenes are very good, particularly when Thor and Loki fight at the end of the movie.  I like that the Asgardians use period weapons with a bit of a twist, including the magic/technology of the Destroyer.  The fight against the Destroyer is definitely spectacular when Sif and the Warriors Three are getting their butts handed to them.  However, what should have been the highlight of the fight—and perhaps the second-best fight after Thor/Loki—was when the resurrected Thor destroyed the Destroyer.  But that fight just felt anticlimactic:  Thor hits the Destroyer with Mjolnir and then lifts it into the air with a massive tornado, and then we just see the Destroyer’s “face” crumpled in so it explodes.  There really isn’t even any fight between them!  But considering that that’s my biggest complaint, that’s not too bad!

This movie is not without its flaws, but it is very well executed and does a great job of introducing Asgard into the MCU.  Both Thor and Loki have great character arcs in this movie, which do well to set up their future appearances in the MCU.

What do you think of Thor?  Do you think it deserves its Rotten Tomatoes score, or is it better than that?  Let me know in the comments!

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