Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thor (or Kenneth Branagh's Mashup of The Greatest Story Ever Told, Excalibur, Henry V, King Lear and Superman)

Initially, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is, for lack of a better word, a bit of a douche. He's arrogant, irresponsible and hot-headed. He's not exactly the sort of person you'd think would make a promising king, sort of like Henry in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V in the flashbacks derived from Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2.

One of his friends, Volstagg, even sort of resembles Bardolph from Henry V.

Despite his douchiness, he does love his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), as much as his mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), but he lacks his trickster brother's silver tongue. In fact, he lacks any sort of verbal filter and what he thinks at the moment pretty much ends up coming out of his mouth and he manages to get himself banished to Midgard (Earth) after expressing himself with the sort of bluntness that got Cordelia (or Saburo, if you prefer your Shakespeare served up in Japanese) disinherited in King Lear (or Akira Kurosawa's Ran).

So Thor is exiled from his homeworld of Asgard, bereft of Mjolnir, his hammer, which results in him being pretty much stripped of his godlike powers. Mjolnir ends up on Earth as well, although stuck in a rock, ready to be pulled forth and brandished by whomever it deems worthy, sort of like Excalibur in the eponymous film.

A bunch of rednecks show up and discover they are not worthy.

At least one pickup truck is destroyed during this process.

Eventually, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents arrive and cordon off the area (and Mjolnir).

Thor sneaks through this cordon and tries to free Mjolnir from the rock but, much to his surprise, finds he isn't worthy! Loki, who turns out to be a bit of a douche himself but in a Machiavellian way, also tries to pull the hammer free and finds he isn't worthy either. In case you're wondering, Loki is on Earth to basically fuck with Thor's head. You see, he is responsible for orchestrating Thor's exile, having manipulated him into defying Odin so that he, Loki, can be king and not Thor, who would have ascended to the throne were it not for his tendency to put his foot in his mouth and start unnecessary wars.

Thor finally becomes hammer-worthy when he willingly sacrifices himself to save a small town that's about to become collateral damage in Loki's quest to kill him. Thor dies after being bitchslapped by the Destroyer, a sort of bipedal unmanned drone under Loki's command, but rises from the dead when Mjolnir, sensing that he is, at last, worthy, flies out of the rock in which it is embedded and lands in Thor's outstretched hand, resurrecting him, returning his godhead and prompting a spontaneous costume change of the sort that usually happens when Clark Kent runs into a phone booth.

With Mjolnir in hand, Thor proceeds to dish out some serious whoopass against those who have wronged him.

He starts off by dismantling the Destroyer and then moves on to his brother.

Now, despite the rather flippant tone with which I've pointed out all the various influences that were thrown into Thor, I actually liked Thor, mainly because each of these influences strongly resonated with me.

However, despite how much I liked Thor, I felt it highlighted the problem with superhero films in general, which is that the story of a superhero's origin is often the most interesting (and usually the only) story regarding that superhero worth telling.

After all, it is in the origin story that we see the transformation of a zero into a hero (or in the case of Thor, of a superbeing into a superhero).

How can you top that?

At the end of Thor, Thor is a changed man, more subdued and self-aware and no longer desirous of the throne despite now having the demeanor one would expect of a king.

After this transformation, what other avenues of growth are left?

How can a superhero develop in a way that can compete with the transformation undergone during his origin story?

One need only look at Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight for inspiration.

Batman Begins showed the transformation of Bruce Wayne into Batman.

The Dark Knight showed how Bruce/Batman deals with the terrible repercussions of his crusade against crime.

Other superhero franchises would do well to follow The Dark Knight's example.

Because without further character development, you're just left with the spectacle of a bunch of guys in strange costumes beating the snot out of each other.

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