Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #21

Re: Thor (2011)

First, thank you for this site and all your work. It’s a pleasure to read your stuff. However, I disagree that Thor is lacking in moral lessons. [Spoilers follow.]

The scene where Loki visits Thor on earth (taken together with his failure to lift his hammer, I guess) was the turning point of Thor’s character. Loki tells him that he’s remaining powerless and exiled forever as a prerequisite for keeping the peace between Asgard and their enemies. Loki also lies to Thor that Odin died from the stress he caused, and that their mother hates him for this.

So Thor, already shocked into silence by his failure to lift his hammer, is made to believe that he’s lost practically everything for good. He thanks his brother for coming and apologizes. At the start of the movie, Thor isn’t one to apologize. He shouts back at his father, trashes his room, is easily provoked, and starts a war. Learning to let go of his pride and say sorry for his actions was a big step towards becoming a true “hero.”

Now I think the film could have spent more time on Thor reevaluating himself as a mortal. But someone else in a discussion elsewhere pointed out that the morning after Loki’s visit, he’s helping cook breakfast for his human acquaintances who took him in. Not a prince-like gesture, perhaps. And at the end, Thor offering himself to the Destroyer animated armor to spare the lives of innocent humans certainly resonated with me. I did feel that he’s a changed person at the end.

I’m not saying Thor doesn’t improve over the course of the film. I’m saying his redemption doesn’t seem really earned. Specifically, he’s never really confronted with his need for improvement — never really forced to face up to the consequences of his faults. There is never a moment of truth when Thor has to face the fact that he is on the wrong path.

Not being able to lift the hammer was only a token of Odin’s disapproval. Being shocked and humbled by Loki’s lies as a redemptive mechanism is unsatisfying, to say the least. Thor’s “moment of truth” is a lie?

The bottom line is this: The movie wants us to believe that when Thor goes to lift the hammer, he’s unworthy, and that later after the confrontation with the Destroyer, he’s suddenly worthy. I find that unsatisfying. Are we even really expected to believe that the Thor of the first act lacked the heroism to lay down his life to save the helpless? Really? I kind of doubt that. I kind of think that first-act Thor would be just as willing to die in battle to save the helpless as third-act Thor. I don’t see that he’s really grown much, and a shocked apology, elicited by a lie, doesn’t convince me otherwise.

It might be enough redemption for a 22-minute Saturday morning cartoon — the comparison was Suz’s, based on my description the night I came home from the screening — but a big-screen popcorn epic should give us more than that.

As for Thor vs. Iron Man, I’m pretty sure I’d rate both Iron Man films higher, not just the original. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Thor is sort of like Iron Man 2 with Scarlett Johanssen but not Gwyneth Paltrow, and with Sam Rockwell but not Mickey Rourke.

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