Tuesday, August 30, 2011


What’s the problem with the recent superhero movie ‘Thor’? Easy answer: The problem is the hero is not only ‘super’, he is also a god and immortal, and he really doesn’t want to make Earth his home. I mean, throughout the movie, he doesn’t do anything special so that we, mere mortals, should root for him.

Superhero movies, especially those inspired by comic book, specifically the Marvel universe, created by Stan Lee and others, is a problematic situation. In the comic book universe, anything goes. But, when you adapt the tales into a feature film, you’ll have to create characters and locales which are at least credulous, so that we can willingly suspend our disbelieve. The belief becomes a major issue with Thor.

If you know the Norse mythology, you know who Thor is; he is a Viking God, son of Odin “Allfather”, brother of mischievous Loki. (Have you wondered about Hollywood’s new-found obsessions with Pagan Gods: There was ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’; there was the retelling ‘Clash of the Titans,’ and so on...?). In the Marvel universe, most of Thor’s adventures are set in Asgard, the Norse heaven (or is the Valhalla, which is heaven?) Anyway, there are some mumbo-jumbo about the enemy of Asgard, the Frost Giants, a rainbow bridge that connects the nine realms (thankfully, our Earth is one of the nine...), and there’s divine guardian, Heimdall. It’s a classic plot, one king and two sons, who will ascend the throne (If you know your Mughal history, you know the situation.). So, Loki, the smart one, tricks his elder brother Thor, a mighty warrior but not really intelligent, to disobey Odin, and the old king, in a fit of rage, banishes his firstborn to earth as punishment.

This is where the problem starts. Thor lands in New Mexico, and meets a scientists in the shape of Natalie Portman, first behaves very badly and gradually learns life’s lessons, and falls in love, before, it’s back to Asgard to foil his evil brother’s plot, and reclaim his throne. Happy ending.

The film alternates between the earth and Asgard, and this transition is really, really jarring. The CGI Asgard looks good; looks like an alien colony, but does not make sense. The earth scenes are not enough, and Thor’s interactions with the humans are never convincing, and before all these can lead to somewhere, we are treated with obligatory action sequences.

The problem is, we really don’t care about the Gods as we care about the human, and in Thor, the human characters are mercilessly sidelined.

When the film was under production, there was a mounting criticism about casting Idris Elba as Norse god Heimdall; Elba being black. After the film was released, nobody complained, since in the perplexed universe the film creates, race is not the major issue, believability is.

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