Wednesday, 1 November 2017


This is not a film review. My 'review' of Thor: Ragnarok basically boils down to one paragraph:

So funny, so colourful! Valkyrie is f*ck*wesome, I want to be Hela when I grow up, I need a Fenris of my own immediately - and none of these problems would ever have happened if Frigga and Odin weren't such (God)awful parents, GOOD GRIEF. But anyway, go see it. Also the soundtrack is awesome.

But. For a mostly comedic odd-couple roadtrip buddy movie iiiin spaaace... it sure did leave me with some deep thinky thoughts. And they are as follows (read on at your own peril).

Watching Thor: Ragnarok so soon after re-watching Wonder Woman on DVD has made me consider the contrasting ways the two films deal with immortal characters.

Wonder Woman posits that a 5,000 year old warrior who has fought and loved and lost would have a kind of timeless serenity, an immense and awe-inspiring depth of character quite apart from their Godlike power, simply by virtue of having experienced so much.

T:R on the other hand, finally crystallises Marvel's viewpoint on such characters, which has been hinted at in previous Thor films and in the treatment of other characters such as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy. Broadly: far from accumulating any kind of wisdom or ageless perspective during their eternal lives, immortals - without exception! - remain perpetual children. 

Whether this is in-born - ie., something true of all such characters from the beginnings of their existence - or in fact they start out just as capable of emotional development and maturity as any human, and their regression to childhood is something that begins after a certain number of centuries (in order to survive the sheer weight of immortal experience, or the constant attrition of anyone and anything they might care for perhaps)... that's another question.

We're offered a set of variations on this theme in T:R, ranging from Thor's heroic yet essentially self-centred morality (he does display empathy for others, but it's always in an effort to force them to follow his agenda and validate his image of himself as a 'hero' - witness his treatment of Bruce Banner in this film) to Hela and Loki's sociopathy, which allows them to act as if the one right and true and good thing in the universe is their own desires - and anyone going against them must and should be removed.

Loki repeats the same betrayals over and over, apparently still finding them amusing after thousands of years - and still equally ready to throw a tantrum when other people don't laugh at his jokes. Thor watches his Father die and, after the briestest burst of emotion, quickly goes back to quipping and bolstering his own ego. Hela walks out of her prison after millenia of solitary confinement without having experienced a single iota of maturation or self-examination, ready and willing to get back to the super important work of conquering stuff - not due to any real sense of injustice or need for revenge but just because, you know, her dad told her she was the Goodess of Death and that's what she DOES, d'uh.

This is even more evident in the minor characters: Valkyrie, the elite warrior who watched her comrades die by the thousand at Hela's hands has apparently been weeping into her beer on Planet Hulk for longer than Thor's been alive, making a living by enslaving people - classy! - angry at no one in particular and never questioning her own venal existence until Thor came along. The great Odin, King of the Nine Realms, who made it official policy to deal with his problems by sweeping them under the rug and pretending they never existed. Great conflict resolution, Sire. And the Grand Master, a being who probably came into being at the time of the Big Bang, who is... well. Jeff Goldblum. Enough said.

The world of T:R is spectacular. It's colourful and grand and MASSIVE, an endless multiplicity of worlds and dimensions and realms. What grounds us in it is the little-ness of these characters, their essential selfishness, their childish, petty ways. Thor laughed at the mortal characters in Avengers: Assemble for being small and petty, yet every human character in that film displayed more real depth and capacity for growth and self-sacrifice than any immortal character in T:R. They're all kids who haven't grasped the concept that they are not the centre of the universe.

And I think that is so interesting and different. I actually love it. 

I love Wonder Woman too. I love the idea that a person with all the qualities of humanity - love, fear, hatred, the occasional drop of selfishness and stupidity - could be burnished by the years into a being of supreme, even divine kindness, perception and nobility. But I also love this take on the cost of immortality as well. It reminds me of actual mythology in which the Gods use the lives of mortals like pieces in a chess game NOT because they are so different from us - not because they're wiser or better or less petty - but merely because they lack the ability to percieve the worth of any lives except their own. They're made utterly inhuman by the qualities many would label the most human - selfishness, obliviousness, short-sightedness, lack of empathy.

And this, in turn, leads beautifully into the revelation that Thor never actually needed Mjolnir - that the whole issue of 'worthiness' was actually a trick. Which may seem like a bold claim, considering how much various films have made of this, even to the extent of allowing Steve, generally considered the most 'moral' Avenger, to jiggle it for a moment. But that's what this film tells us, straight up! And once you're shown it, it seems so obvious.
Consider: what exactly WAS Odin's definition of worthiness? Odin the world-conquerer, the thief and liar, the serial user and banisher of children? And even given such a lax version of worthiness, how did Thor ever meet any real definition of it, back when he was totally into the concept of the wholescale slaughter of another race just so long as they were blue and chilly? The hammer didn't reject him during his attempt to start a war on Jotunheim, an action arguably as violent as Loki's assault on earth. And remember Odin's wording during his exile of Thor: 'Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.'

Not the power of Mjolnir. The power of THOR.

The hammer never gave Thor power. It certainly never gave Thor power based on his worthiness. Odin just told him it did, and used his own magic to ensure Thor believed it, in the same way that Loki used HIS magic to bind Odin's powers and exile his adopted Father to earth. Odin bound Thor's powers to Mjolnir - forced him to access those abilities only through Mjolnir - in order to limit them.

Why would Odin do this?

To control his son. To make sure that this boy - who he in this film admitted had been stronger than him all along - never, ever surpassed him the way that his daughter had done. To ensure that he could use his child as an enforcer of his will in the Nine Realms without ever worrying that the child would have the strength or confidence to challenge him in Asgard. To ensure that he could retain effective possession of the powers that belonged to his son. So that when he fell into the Odinsleep, Thor would rule as his regent only, and never have the chance to truly grow up.

I know I'm repeating myself but - man, what a (literal) Godawful father. This person should never have been allowed to have, or adopt, any kids. Ever.

And the Sainted Frigga, whom everyone loved so much - the one who knew more magic than Odin and taught Loki all her tricks - MUST HAVE BEEN AWARE OF THIS. And she was OK with it, apparenly. Just like she was apparently OK with Hela being locked up for millenia and erased from her people's history. Even when Loki was a prisoner in Asgard's dungeons and she was secretly visiting him, she never let slip that she'd presumably been in this position once before. Did she even remember that she'd had a daughter, or was she even better at pretending she'd never made any mistakes than Odin?

Assuming that there's an over-arching plan behind this theme, I think the point Marvel is trying to make with these characters is that humans are actually bigger and more important than we tend to believe. That while the Gods may be powerful they can also be petty and selfish and unchanging - and humans may not be as strong, but we do have the capacity to learn and evolve, to display selflessness and recieve redemption. Odin, Hela and Loki never even admit they did anything wrong. Black Widow, Hulk and Tony Stark dedicate their lives to making up for their past misdeeds, even if that means giving up their lives.

And if they can do it - albeit on a much grander scale - maybe we can too. Maybe we can face what we've done, admit fault, and make up for those actions, even if our misdeeds amount to no more than displaying a lack of understanding and tolerance towards a co-worker or failing to offer a loved one the benefit of the doubt. The point is, you don't need to be larger than life to make life better for everyone.

This is good stuff, Marvel. Keep it up.

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