Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thor: The Dark World - my not-a-review

I like to relate most things I talk about here on Dark Dimension to my life or my philosophy of life, such as it is. "Philosophy of life" seems really pretentious, I know, but it's the best term I can come up with for the various ruminations and epiphanies I've managed to glean from being alive as long as I have been. I suppose you could call it "a bunch of things I've managed to learn by falling back-asswards into them," but it doesn't hold the same cachet, does it? Whatever you want to call it, let's get to the subject: Thor: The Dark World.

First, let me get the particulars out of the way: I liked the movie. It was fun. Big, loud, chaotic, bombastic, and with more than a dollop of lunacy. I don't go to the movies much these days, and when I do, I look for spectacle. Thor: The Dark World certainly has its share of that.The plot is properly comic-book-ish, with huge battles and daring escapes and interdimensional travel. It was a stronger film than the first one, and is a solid entry in Marvel's continuing effort to construct an interconnected film franchise the likes of which has never been seen before. Oh, and Loki stole the show. Seriously.

Loki is not that far off from the source material, to boot.
Now for what it all means to me. Because that's why you're here, right?*

Oddly enough, I was a fan of Thor, so to speak, before I became familiar with his comic book avatar. I remember being fascinated by tales from Norse mythology when I was very young. That Thor didn't seem very approachable, really, but somehow my impression of him was positive. Something about those tales, with Thor and the Asgardians fighting giants and causing general mayhem seemed to contain a kernel of...something positive. At the least, the Asgardians were a little less capricious than the Greek gods, at least it seemed to me. That's not saying much, I know, but for me, back then, it was enough.

I love when Thor does stuff like this.
As a kid, I was troubled by the source material of most of the mythological figures who were imbedded in our culture. I had a hard time reconciling comic characters like Thor or (especially) Hercules with their mythical forebears. Those myths and legends often showed those characters as being nothing short of psychotic killers, while their comic counterparts were noble, brave, and true. It was, and is, hard to see how those character got from there to here.

Cultural drift accounts for the changes, of course, as each successive generation takes what they already have in their cultural lexicon, and morphs and adds to it all to suit their own sensibilities. But that doesn't explain why we choose to keep and alter certain characters. Why Thor (or Hercules)? What about such a character keeps him relevant, or has such appeal that a culture retains or adds him to their mythology? I don't know, exactly, except to point to their basic humanity; those characters, though gods, were flawed, yet still somehow relatable. Somewhere along the way, their rough edges were sanded down smooth to make them even more palatable. Those "rough edges" were egregious atrocities in the cases of some characters, like Hercules, or Jason of Argonauts fame (and Jason was a doozy when it came to rehabilitating his image for modern sensibilities, but that's a whole 'nother story).

Interestingly enough, while blunting the sharp edges on a character like Thor to make him a virtuous, friendly hero, our culture also likes to create anti-heroes, rough edges and all. I think, though, that in our hearts, as a culture, we long even more for the shining knight to save the day. Sure, the cynical among us may eschew those paragons in favor of the character with bigger flaws and more shadowed soul, but I still believe that in most of us, maybe buried deep, is the hope that someone we can truly root for will come along. We certainly seem to, with the adoration given to superheroes in pop culture, and the adulation given first responders and military personnel. We long for a true superhero to come along, but maybe it's the certain knowledge that we are all on our own, that no titan-strengthed hero will appear to make things right, that makes some shun or react against the very idea of heroism...or which makes some dig down deep to try to save the day.

So, yeah...I haven't said a lot about Thor for a while, have I? I think what has drawn me to Thor in recent years is much the same reason that I've always been a Superman fan - both are imbued with godlike powers that render them effectively immortal, yet they are, in essence, decent, responsible people. Maybe they came about that decency and responsible nature in different ways - Superman by way of a solid, caring upbringing, Thor by way of hard experience and self-scrutiny engendering humility - but they both manifest those qualities in similar ways. Characters like Thor and Superman (especially) are notoriously difficult to write, because their physical invulnerabilities means that the only recourse is to explore their vulnerabilities - those basic, innate qualities of decency and responsibility that make them admirable to us. Thor: The Dark World does, indeed, explore those vulnerabilities; all the flash and thunder aside, all the pitched battles and spectacular set pieces notwithstanding, the real conflict is Thor's sense of duty to those who could use his help...humanity. A kernel of that quality can be found in the source material, which may be what drew me to the character and his latter-day incarnations.

Plus, he has a flying hammer. How cool is that?

* Psst: that's sarcasm.

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