September 3, 2011

Summer of the Super Hero - Part 2: Hero in Two Worlds

by John-Brian Paprock

Here is a review of one of this summer's crop of super hero movies that is now available on DVD/Blue Ray.

Released May 6, 2011 Runtime: 115 min
Rated PG-13
DVD/Blue Ray release September 13, 2011

There are many hero stories in mythology that have striking similarities.  Joseph Campbell's popular book, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" explores the human need for heros and hero story-telling. One of the highest accollades of a hero is in his (yes, most of the heroes are male) capacity to save us.  These saviors' stories are told over and over again emphasizing the deeds and the drama of their saving and heroic deeds.

Where heroes come from in mythology is as diverse as the cultures from which herioes are born, but supernatural ability is always godly and, therefore, in a world of limited technologies (like ours only a few hundred years ago), these ablities must come from a divine source.  The divine ones, the gods, have always resided either symbolically or literally "above" us - in a mythical country or world (Asgaard or Valhalla among the Vikings), or atop mountain (Mount Olympus of the Greeks).  These are also drawn in the night skies with constellations of stars. Anyone coming from "above" or having an ability to communicate with that heavenly abode was at least touched with divinity, blessed and sanctified as bridges to the people of the stories and their interpretations.

In this modern world, with its rational sciences, we do not hold the same things in awe and wonder, but we still look to the heavens for heroic figures to come to our aid in times of distress, in times of turmoil, in times of great need; especially and particularly if the threats to our well-being happen due to a war among the divine ones; between the good and the evil; the benevolent ones and the malevolent ones.  From our mere mortal standing, the good come to our rescue in opposition to the evil that wishes to destroy us.  

In 21st Century film-making, the grand story-tellers of our contemporary society, utilizing the complexities brewed in comic books, the modern re-interpretation of mythology reflects our underlying insecurities even as we have advanced in scientific knowledge and skill.  We still want and need a hero.  And why not choose one proven in another world, another place - a mythological world that is actually a world with humanoid aliens?  And why not take a hero from that world and make him a hero in ours?  Well, why not?    

Thor is an origin story movie of an alien hero from a world that apparently inspired the Norse and Viking mythology.  He who literally crashes into our present world becomes a hero in two worlds.  It does seem that when times are difficult and we cannot seem to save ourselves, hero stories give us hope by having a hero literally drop out of the sky.  And so Thor, waking up after falling into the middle of the southwest desert in America, asks, "Oh, no... this is Earth... isn't it?"

Initially, he is reluctant to help us, obsessed with his own predicament, and, from his perspective, our problems are insignificant. Although, it is not clear we have any real problems except that some scientists don't have enough money for their research. Thor, as an alien, presents some problems for the powers that be, whether they be of a government, a corporation or a shadow government.  They obviously want to exploit, control and gain from this alien.  The <sigh> normal scientists, including one very attractive woman, only want to understand how he may fit into their research and study of deep space.

But Thor comes from an advanced noble race that is lead by Thor's father, Odin the king. This a throne that Thor has been born and bred for. Throughout the beginning of the movie, we are shown how Thor's morality is shaped by his father's ethics and standards, his spirituality. At one point Odin has harsh words for Thor's immaturity as a leader: "I have sacrificed much to achieve peace. So too must a new generation sacrifice to maintain that peace. Responsibility! Duty! Honour! These are not mere virtues to which we must aspire! They are essential to every soldier, to every king!"

Thor truly becomes a superhero for Earth and humanity when he protects us from a mechanical destroyer sent to hurt those humans that were helping him.  That seems rather self serving on the surface, but, as he is beginning to fight this powerful robot, he says to those that sent it, "Forgive me for whatever I did to you. But these lives are innocent, taking their lives will change nothing. So take mine. "  In this statement, Thor echoes the heroes of times past, especially the hero-martyr-saints of the Early Christian Church like Saint George and Saint Demetrios. 

As if to emphasize a spiritual understanding of superheroes, expecially those drawn from historic mythologies, there is a re-separation of our hero from our planet.  But with the advanced technology of Thor's homeworld, he is able to gaze upon the Earth from the distance without a sure way to return (I assure you this is not a spoiler).  As he is looking out toward the chasm of interstellar space separating he from our world, Thor says to his companion, Heimdall:

Thor: So Earth is lost to us...
Heimdall: No. There is always hope.

... And so there is ...

Thor is a delightful excursion into Marvel superherodom and adds excitement as another prequel for the highly anticipated "Avengers" movie that is due in 2012.  "Avengers" is a team of superheros that are brought together to save us from great cosmic and domestic threats that no ONE superhero can defeat.  Thor also stands alone as a decent movie about a fantastic story of mythology come to life with a hero of two worlds.

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