Summer 2011 Film Review: Thor

It’s official! We live in the superhero movie era. In case you were wondering whether movies based off of comic book heroes was going to be a short-lived fad, the fact that movie makers made the difficult adaptation of Thor is evidence that we’ll buy tickets even for the more obscure heroes. Three more major heroes are still on slate for this summer: X-Men First Class, Green Lantern, and Captain America. At least four more are slated for next summer. Many of these movies have had the biggest budgets and box office returns over the past few years.

People are not as familiar with Thor’s story as they are with Superman, Batman, or Spiderman. His origins lie in Northern European Mythology, and how many people have read that? The Marvel comic book series draws the mythological “the god of thunder” into modern times; tying those two worlds together in a two-hour story is no easy task for a filmmaker.  After leaving the film, I can’t imagine them doing a better job.

There were some weaknesses that one would expect. The love story between Thor and the mortal human scientist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) wasn’t given the time it needed to develop in a believable way. Thor’s character arc develops a little too quickly to seem natural. Those shortcomings are understandable with how much is going on in the movie. You have tension between mythological father and son, between brothers, between one planet and earth, and then add to that an interplanetary love story. Oh yeah, there’s one more thing: a subplot building up to next summer’s superhero pantheon, The Avengers.

For a superhero flick, the acting is superb under the directing of Kenneth Branagh, who is known for his film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Anthony Hopkins plays Odin, the father of Thor, who is lovingly concerned about the direction his sons are taking in life. Loki, the trickster god and brother of Thor, is played brilliantly by Tom Hiddleston. It would have been easy to make a heavy handed depiction of him as a liar, but his lies are told with such sincerity that he makes it difficult to perceive what is actually going on in his character. Chris Hemsworth, the main actor, depicts Thor’s self-confidence quite well.

Every hero has a heroic arc. Most comic-book-movies show how normal everyday people learn to use new found super powers. Thor’s heroic arc is the oppisite. He is a god in the mythological sense. He has incredible powers that have been granted to him by his father, highlighted in his mighty hammer, mjolnir. Nonetheless, Thor’s heroic journey does not begin with the gaining of power, but with the loss of his powers when he is banished to live as a mortal on earth.

Thor’s heroic journey is about developing the character of a hero without heroic powers. What are the character traits of a hero that Thor has to develop? He needs to develop humility, wisdom, but most importantly love. Thor presents the moral that character is more important than power. Only with the right character will we wield our hammer of power correctly.

Thor is certainly not a direct Christ-figure. He struggles with pride, arrogance, and selfishness. But, like all heroic models, Thor points to the heroic arc and work of Jesus. Some scenes in Thor has some pretty overt messianic references.

Thor has already done quite well at the box office, joining the other recent string of successes. It’s interesting to ask why superhero movies do so well. Perhaps, it’s because we live in a pretty cynical age. Most of our movies depict antiheroes and tragedies. But, these stories give us heroes and tales of triumph and victory.

The Biblical story has both elements within its concepts of the fall and the victory in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps, these superhero movies keep open the dialogue about whether it is crazy to believe in a hero and to hope for happily ever after. Maybe, these movies will wear out their welcome, but for now, I’m glad for movies like Thor.

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About Ryan Wampler

Much of my thinking is trying to connect the dots between the Bible, the lens through which I see the world, and the way I actually live my life. I’m a Mizzou grad, and got a theological education at a post-grad school in St. Louis. My particular areas of interest are: reflecting on books and films and connecting theology and culture.
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