The superhero movie by which I measure all others is Spiderman 2. In S2, Peter Parker has an emotional arc: persecution because he is Spiderman, rejection of being Spiderman, acceptance of his responsibility as Spiderman. As a bonus, Otto Octavius also has an arc: Otto loses everything, Otto is taken over by his machines, Otto accepts responsibility for his criminal actions and sacrifices his life for the greater good. I love these two emotional arcs, and I love that two skilled actors bring them to life. Tobey Maguire and Alfred Molina make me believe what happens to these two characters matter.
So, how does Thor compare? Well, it’s every bit as complex as Spiderman 2. I’m still going to give my number one movie nod to S2 because the redemption arc is the villains, rather than the heroes, and I’m a sucker for villains redeeming themselves. However, the relationships between the protagonist and the antagonist are just as complicated in Thor.
Without giving too much of the movie away, I can tell you that the first half an hour of the movie really made me dislike Thor. He is rash and stupid, more machismo than honor. He doesn’t respect his father’s wise and diplomatic decisions as king. (Yes, for those of you who have read Thor, the Marvel comic for a long time, you’ll recognized that Odin has gotten a flattering make-over toward the reasonable side.) So when Odin exiles him to earth, I felt yeah, he had it coming. The jerk.
And the first part of the film makes you kind of like Loki. Loki seems to be the smarter, more reasonable brother. Kudos to the film machine for using some strong mythological overtones with Loki. His frost giant heritage from the myths is preserved. Loki manipulates and lies, and as the film progresses, we can see that he’s getting out of hand because of his issues. Just as Raimi managed to do with Otto Octavius in S2, Branagh manages to make Loki’s transition gradual, delving a little into the madness and anger he feels because of his heritage.
As you might expect, Thor has the pivotal arc in Thor. Through a series of events that humble him and show him the worth of ordinary people, Thor is transformed into a guy you might want to know. His arrogance is stripped away, and the noble hero remains. So, we get both rough and ready mythological Thor, and Marvel’s tortured honorable hero.
I can’t tell you about the plot. You don’t want to know. You want to see the movie. The final conflict between the two brothers is worthy, just like anyone who can pick up Mjolnir. Dramatic, unpredictable stuff happens. You can see Loki’s evolution as clearly as you can see Thor’s, and it’s satisfying when Loki reveals motives, which were Thor’s at the beginning of the film, and Thor now sees those motives as morally inappropriate. Loki’s end choice, to embrace the villain that he has become, is also satisfying.
For all you Marvelites out there, there’s awesome Marvel stuff. We get the Warriors 3, tastefully rendered. We get Sif, and she’s terrific. Watch for the scene where she attacks the Destroyer. For all you Mythologicals out there, we get a great Odin, a beautiful Frigga, and a striking Jotunheim.
Go see Thor. Or if not, send me the ticket money you would have used so I can go see it again. We writers need to study well-constructed characters.