I knew next-to-nothing about the superhero Thor upon entering the theater this past weekend. I knew him as the Norse god of thunder, but had read no Thor comics nor did any research before seeing the film. As my brother-in-law put it, “he has a hammer and pretty hair.” That about summed up my knowledge. So I found myself delighted to experience what might be the best superhero film since The Dark Knight, and possibly the most entertaining film of the summer season.
For those as ignorant as myself about the mythology behind Thor, director Kenneth Branagh–most known for his Shakespearian films, not superhero flicks–graciously opens his film with the backstory behind this new superhero. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) resides in the fantastic realm of Asgard, the son of the king, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The realm is currently experiencing a season of peace after a long and bitter war with the Frost Giants, a frightening and dangerous race of monsters. After his brash arrogance leads him to confront the Frost Giants against his father’s will, Thor finds himself cast out of Asgard and in the middle of the New Mexico desert. A small group of physicists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) find Thor, leading him to experience both love and humility as he navigates this new realm of Earth. When evil from his realm threatens both Asgard and his newfound love, Thor must give up everything to save both worlds.
Surprisingly funny and full of heart, Thor has a tongue-in-cheek humor about its mythical elements, as well as a dramatic narrative on par with Greek tragedies. While Kenneth Branagh seemed a strange director choice at first, the family dynamics between Thor, Odin, and half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) have clear Shakespearian and biblical undertones. It’s the story of Jacob and Esau told with flying hammers and elaborate fight scenes. The actors fully embrace their roles, with Hemsworth being particularly noteworthy. This guy carries the film on his gigantic shoulders, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in more leading roles. Portman, Hopkins, and the supporting cast are all solid, with the only weakness being Kat Dennings in a role clearly designed for comic relief; her dialogue consists entirely of witty one-liners, a problem with the script more than Dennings’ performance.
While this isn’t normally my focus in film reviews, I have to make this observation: this was the cleanest superhero film I’ve ever seen. The action sequences are intense and exciting, but not over-the-top with violence, and zero gore. There is also zero sexuality–apart from the innocent budding romance between Thor and Jane–and very little in the way of language. I was delighted to have taken a large group of high school students with me to see the film, and it was cause for great discussion afterwards. The visuals are also stunning, especially the sequences traveling between realms and the other-worldly landscapes of Asgard. I found my jaw agape numerous times during those two hours. Thor has its darker elements, but overall manages to not take itself too seriously. In a word, it was fun, a great way to kick off the summer movie season.
Thor and Jesus have a number of similarities. They are both the son of God and the true King of their universes. They both come to earth from their heavenly realms (though Jesus comes willingly and lovingly, while Thor is banished due to pride). They both sacrifice their own desires for the sake of saving others. They both love Natalie Portman (hey, Jesus loves everyone, right?). They both have well-groomed beards (okay, I’m stretching it now). But this is where the parallels end, and the spiritual lessons of Thor are more connected with fallen humanity. Thor’s pride literally comes before his fall; his self-reliance and disobedience to his father cause him to be banished from his home and community. When he realizes that apart from his father he does not have the power he once did, Thor must come to grips with his own arrogance, humbling himself and embracing a new way of life. While his transformation from pride to humility is not entirely new or dramatic, it’s a truth that needs continual reminders–that we are nothing apart from the Father, that our own pride has separated us from God and others, that only through humility, repentance, and the grace of God can we experience true life in God’s kingdom.
While Thor was the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year, I also left with a sober reminder: where do I find my self-worth and strength? Is it in my own talents and abilities, much like Thor relies on his hammer? Or do I view those as gracious gifts from the Father? Am I living and leading from my own strength, or am I leaning into the strength of the One who grants me life? A complex mix of diversion and depth, entertainment and enlightenment, Thor doesn’t disappoint.