“It’s Thor’s-day, but Son-day’s a-comin’!”

Though he made his Marvel Comics debut back in 1962, Thor hasn’t really gotten the play that many of the Marvel pantheon has.  Unlike Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four, Thor is in a difficult spot when it comes to making the super-hero aspects of his character interesting.  Like the Hulk (or DC’s Superman), he has the upper level powers of a god.  To further complicate matters, he actually is a god, though with those staggering powers at least comes a rich back story.

When it comes to mythmaking, or making the most out of mythic figures, a couple of scribes come to mind:  J. Michael Straczynski, author of television (Babylon 5), comics (Strange, Silver Surfer, Thor) and movies (Ninja Assassin).  Like Neil Gaiman, another versatile writer who also sprang to mind to script the movie, his work manages to bring a sense of humanity to mythic figures.

This makes Kenneth Branaugh the perfect choice to helm such a movie.  Both as an actor and director, he is closely associated with Shakespeare.  A long time comic book reader himself, he adds a fanboy’s enthusiasm to his skillset.  He stages the political-familial infighting with emotional intensity and crafts a very human tale.

“Once mankind accepted a simple truth that they were not alone in this universe.” –Odin

The Asgardians, Thor’s people who live in the eternal realm of Asgard, as depicted in the movie, are basically a race of aliens using a mixture of technology so advanced it comes across as magic or as they put it, “where science and magic are one.”  As intergalactic guardians and peace keepers, they are like the Green Lantern Corps with a lot more pomp and circumstance.  Their long time foes, the Frost Giants, of Jottenheim, are yet another alien race.

The relationship of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his (half) brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) comes across like the biblical brothers, Jacob and Esau, vying for their father’s blessing.  Thor is a hothead, impetuous, proud, vain, arrogant, reckless, and ultimately dangerous.  Loki is the prince of lies, always seeking his agenda.  Their wise yet aging father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes Thor when he leads an unauthorized and ill-advised on Jotunheim (along with his warrior buddies Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano)). Odin’s punishment: Thor is dispatched to Midgard (Earth) separated from his magical hammer, Mjolnir, which takes on an Excalibur aspect as it cannot be wielded except by one who is worthy of its power.

“A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it.” –Odin

A depowered Thor is found, well, hit with a van, by a group of scientists:  astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and her mentor, Dr. Erik Sevig (Stellan Skarsgard).  Mixing elements from both his Marvel and Ultimate universe incarnations, Thor runs around Earth for a bit which eventually leads to a confrontation with the Destroyer, a robotic piece of Asgard-tech.

“It’s not a bad thing finding out you don’t have all the answers.  Only then do you start asking the right questions.” – Erik Sevig

The idea of “gods” and “powers” may sit uncomfortably with some.  With texts like “…worship Him, all you gods” (Psalms 97:7), one does have to wrestle with the notion that the Old Testament took them as a reality.  I am reminded of what Scot McKnight wrote about Gerald McDermott, in his book God’s Rivals.  He contended that the Old Testament contained four views of the religions:

1. Some neighborly pluralism: there are some real gods; they are subordinate to YHWH; we can get along as long as they leave us alone.
2. Competitive pluralism: the gods of others rebelled against YHWH and are not worthy of honor.
3. Vehement missionary exclusivism: others are devoted to gods who are not really gods.
4. Cosmic war: religions are communities animated by powers hostile to YHWH.
These models of response are not mutually exclusive; and there is evidence in the OT for progression of thinking about the religions of others.

“There’s always a purpose to everything your Father does.” –Frigga

Also, Loki and Thor’s relationship reminded me of a parable in the New Testament:  “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’   “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.   The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.  Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”   They said, “The first.”  Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32)

“Can I come home?” –Thor

We’ve named several of the days of the week after Thor (Thursday) and his family.  Speaking of which, with only a handful of lines, Rene Russo is wasted as Odin’s wife, Frigga (Friday).  The movie dragged a bit in the middle with him being earthbound.  Thematically, it almost works as being as purposeless and drifting as Thor himself, confused about who he was, where he belonged, and which direction the movie should take.  The movie walks quite the tightrope and could easily have fallen into campy territory with the slightest misstep.  But the effects were terrific, the performances toned down, and the action gave it a sparkling vitality.  If it’s possible for a popcorn movie to have a grand yet whimsical feel, then Thor does it.