Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Of gods and men
I saw the movie Thor this past weekend, and really enjoyed it. It had well-drawn characters, good action, and imaginative production design. I also liked the way that it was sit-up-and-take-notice epic yet also surprisingly intimate. The characters genuinely mattered here, which always makes a summer blockbuster better. With the big summer movies, it's not all about the special effects, and never has been.
One thing made me smile, though. In the old Thor comics, which debuted in the early 1960's, Marvel's story conceit was that, hey, you know what-- Thor, Loki, and all the other mythical Norse gods were actually real, and here are new stories about them! And the comic book took off, still being published to this day. To my knowledge, no one at Marvel worried, at least with any fervor, that certain groups of people (like Catholics, southern Baptists, devout Jews etc.) might be offended by the notion that the Judeo-Christian God was apparenly being rejected, by a kid's comic book no less, as the only true God out there.
Oh, one thing Marvel did eventually do was insert a scene like this into the comic book every fifty or sixty issues or so:
Catholic priest: Thor, thank you for rescuing all our students from their burning school. You're a true hero, even though your very existence flies in the face of the Christian beliefs I hold so dear in my heart!
Thor: Verily, thou should not allow thy heart to be troubled, good Father! Thor and his compatriots in noble Asgard have never claimed to be the ultimate forces in the universe. The noble idea of your own Christian God watching us all from above is one that indeeds comforts the denizens of Asgard.
Catholic priest: (walking away, faith restored) God bless you, Thor!
So, you see? At least Marvel threw a small bone to traditional religion by noting that even though the Norse gods were real in Marvel's comic book universe, they didn't claim ultimate supremacy. And that seemed to placate the occasional Marvel editor who presumably was concerned about some kind of backlash from traditional religious quarters, a backlash that never really occured as far as I know.
So, what made me smile in the movie? It seems, almost fifty years after Thor's debut in the comics, now there was some genuine worry about offending people with the notion of pagan gods being presented as real, or at least as wholesome movie heroes. The movie, you see, goes out of its way to convert the comic book's mystical, magical realm of Asgard, the home of Thor and the Norse gods, into a realm of technological, scientific wonderment, with Thor and his compatriots being presented as simply noble, scientifically advanced, long-lived beings from another world who were only perceived as gods when they visited the ancient Norsemen on Earth centuries ago.
I mean, it all still works in the movie, and in some ways things are more interesting than they were in the comic book. For example, in the original comics, Bifrost, the majestic Rainbow Bridge that connects Asgard to the physical universe, was just that: a rainbow. Epic, but kind of bland. In the movie, the rainbow bridge is a mightly engineering achievement, crackling with powerful electricity under its ever-churning rainbow coloration, and which connects to a sharp-looking, golden transport chamber, which can shoot Thor and his fellow warriors to any point in the universe. Much more fun.
But, yeah, it made me smile that it was probably Hollywood cynicism and fear that for once resulted in better, more interesting story and production elements in the final film. That's not something you see every day.
Anyway, Thor is worth a trip to the movies. Its epic grandeur and entertaining, charismatic characters are definitely worth catching on the big screen.