The God That Failed
A Review of “Thor”
Heimdall by way of Detroit is not the main problem with Thor. It’s one thing to turn a heathen war god into a comic book. It’s another to turn him into a social democrat.
Kenneth Branagh’s Thor was obviously meant to be a desecration, and it’s already passé to point this out. The casting is so deliberately clumsy that it becomes ironically racist. Idris Elba as the “whitest of the gods,” Heimdall, had no purpose other than to deliberately undermine both European lore and even the comic. Elba’s defensive retort that “Elizabeth Taylor played Cleopatra” is hardly convincing. (If anything, Taylor’s casting was mistaken because she was probably far swarthier than inbred product of a blonde haired Ptolemaic ruling caste).
Beyond Elba, Branagh’s Asgard looks like some fruity multicultural Steampunk nightmare, with Thor accompanied by Asian warriors whose speech is barely comprehensible (one human even refers contemptuously to an Asian-Asgardian as “Jackie Chan.”) The movie constantly appeals to heathen lore, but then casually rips it apart. For example, Sif (Thor’s golden haired wife) is reinvented as a raven-haired grrl warrior out of G.I. Jane. Her place as Thor’s love interest is taken (inevitably) by Natalie Portman. Portman is (of course) an astrophysicist—she took the role to inspire girls to be scientists and fight stereotypes—and does her best to channel a less sexy version of Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones. As always though, Natalie Portman essentially plays Natalie Portman.
All of this is beside the point. The “color-blind casting” (i.e. deliberately put in non-Whites in White roles) that Branagh uses here and in his Shakespeare adaptations actually reinforces the institutional racism true leftists decry and movement conservatives defend (so long as they take care to note that there is no link between the culture and the people who created it). Classic Western texts and even bastardized pop culture based on Western traditions belong to everyone on Earth because they are the best that can be produced and echo universal themes, whereas non-Western religions, themes, and even pop culture are only relevant to their own peoples. Seeing the college brochure version of Asgard reminds us of the impossibility of a “color blind casting” for tales based on the likes of Baron Samedi. Filling a world based on ancient Western concepts of honor, duty, hierarchy, and tradition with random tokens is in a way a strange form of tribute.
The movie thankfully removes the idiotic premise of the comic that Thor is Dr. Donald Blake on earth, a weak but compassionate man who only transforms into Thor when he is holding his hammer, Mjolnir. Here, Thor is Thor throughout the entire movie, whether leading warriors into Jotunheim as a god or as a powerless mortal on Midgard, with the name Donald Blake, cleverly worked in as an occasional disguise. Thor is presented as a brave but brash warrior obsessed with honor and glory, who speaks with pride of his noble heritage and deeds in battle. His father Odin, rather than the god of frenzy, victory, and magic familiar to the lore, is here a paternal Santa Claus who shrugs off Jotun raids into Asgard with indifference and pursues peace at all costs. Thor disobeys his father and leads a raid into Jotunheim in the movie’s best sequence, and we see the God of Thunder cut down frost giants by the dozen with Mjolnir. Furious, Odin strips Thor of his power and banishes him to Earth, where Ása-Þórr is found by Portman’s Dr. Jane Foster.
The movie thus functions as essentially one long fish out of water tale. Thor, obsessed with strength, honor, and his noble status, is cast among the Last Women of Modernity and, in theory, hilarity ensues. Thor boasts of his strength and power and instead is hit by cars, tasered, and tranquilized for comedic effect. Proclamations of mission, identity, and destiny are met with sitcom wisecracks, as even a god must be broken to the sound of the laugh track.
Thor finally recaptures Mjolnir but finds that he cannot lift it. In despair, he sinks to his knees. Captured by government forces (but friendly government forces that are really Good Guys), he is visited by Loki and told that Odin has died and that Thor has been exiled forever. Surprisingly quickly, Thor resigns himself to life as a mortal in modern America and, for some reason, never really explained, falls in love with Natalie Portman. The god of Thunder cooks eggs (but presumably not bacon) for Natalie Portman and relinquishes dreams of glory. The pagan god thus becomes a happy, democratic, American man.
Meanwhile, in Asgard, Loki has learned that he is actually a frost giant by blood, adopted by multicultural Odin as part of his warm and fuzzy plan to unite the Aesir and the frost giants into one people through marriages and interbreeding. Infuriated and confused, Loki confronts his father, whereupon Odin falls into the Odinsleep, a time period where he must rest to recover his energies but remains vulnerable. Loki assumes the throne and begins a complicated plan to invite the frost giants into Asgard to recover a lost treasure that will restore their power. Distrusting their supposed king, Thor’s trusted warriors travel to Earth to find him and bring him back. Loki, to wipe out this threat once and for all, sends Asgard’s most feared weapon to Earth—which for some reason is a giant robot.
It is then left for Thor to redeem himself by becoming as Christ, and sacrificing himself for his friends. While Christ was crucified and died so all men might live, Thor got punched in the face by a cyborg. For some reason, this causes Odin (still asleep) to use magic that causes Mjolnir to fly to Thor, restoring him to life, giving him back his power, and allowing him to effortlessly defeat the robot. Upon returning to Asgard, we learn that Loki’s master plan was not to allow the frost giants to conquer Asgard and kill Odin, but to exterminate the frost giants altogether. Apparently, Loki is a self-hating frost giant, no doubt with some screenwriter congratulating himself for making the comparison to the Hitler-was-actually-a-Jew-and-that’s-why-he-wanted genocide motif.
The frost giants are the eternal enemies of Asgard. Within the movie itself, they tried to wipe out humankind, broke a truce, and then snuck into Asgard in order to kill Odin. Even clumsy humanization doesn’t work, as Loki himself was totally abandoned by his father to die as a baby. Nonetheless, Thor decides that genocide, even of monsters, is a Very Bad Thing because “You can’t wipe out an entire race!” Reasonably, Loki asks why, considering that at the beginning of the movie Thor would have gladly wiped out the whole group himself. The answer is, of course, that Thor fell in love with Natalie Portman and this somehow serves as the explanation—and perhaps, it does.
Loki commits the usual movie villain mistake of engaging in single combat with the guy who has wiped out hundreds of enemies by himself, loses, and is seemingly destroyed (though he returns after the credits, along with Samuel L. Jackson, for the upcoming Avengers movie). Meanwhile, the newly Christianized, or rather, democratized Thor and Portman are separated and pine tragically across the cosmos for each other. Fin.
While watching the coming attractions, which featured a multicultural remake of Conan the Barbarian, a patron commented loudly, “Jesus, they really have just run out of ideas.” Well, that’s true, but it doesn’t matter. Hollywood can still deliver the spectacular special effects and technical ability that can slap enough lipstick on just about any pig. The better movies will be those that can appeal to Western symbols and aesthetics, even as the message of the film itself undermines them. Hollywood will never really run out of ideas as far as settings, characters, and franchises for films.
However, in a deeper sense, Hollywood only has one story left. From The King’s Speech, to Thor, to Avatar, we’re just seeing the same movie over and over again. Aristocracy, identity, pride, and hierarchy must be humbled in the sacred name of equality. While conservatives bleat about the dangers of “moral relativism,” Hollywood reflects a moral absolutism so rigid and uncompromising that we know the White Hats and Black Hats, how a story will end, and What We Will All Learn barely after the movie begins. We don’t even need scriptwriters—provide the characters and the setting and in modern America, the story literally writes itself. Otherwise, it won’t even get made. The result is not just a poisonous culture, but boring movies.
So it is with Thor. The advertisements for the movie lure viewers in with the promise of a pagan badass, with Thor staring out at us with blazing eyes and mighty hammer, his grim visage overwritten with “The God of Thunder.” Instead, that image is carefully deconstructed and we are left not with a god but a Last Man who has magic powers for some reason, fighting for tolerance and Natalie Portman. Odin, the Allfather of the Indo-Europeans, is now a god of wisdom precisely because he knows becoming one with evil monsters will bring peace, even if they hate him and it means destroying the Aesir. The ultimate symbol of evil is the one who actually wants to destroy his enemies because…well, I’m not sure, but something to do with Natalie Portman (who seems to be the real focus of the movie) and probably something we learned in public school. We’ve seen it all before, and because of that, halfway through the movie we’re squirming in our seats and waiting to leave.
Of course, perhaps this was all just one giant set up for The Avengers, and I’m taking it all too seriously. It is, after all, mostly a way to sell toys. Even as our toys and other products are cheap and disposable, now even our legends are, too. The narrative is set, and the script for whatever we are going to be fed has already been written.