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Thor And Internal Consistency…

I am growing more and more excited about Thor as every little snippet of rumour leaks out about casting. Which is odd, because Thor is one of the movies coming out on the road to The Avengers which I really don’t care that much about. It’s a superhero movie about a guy with a really big hammer – I don’t want to see that version of Thor. On the other hand, my interest was piqued from the moment that Kenneth Branagh was announced as director. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor I am interested in seeing. Particularly if it stars Robert deNiro and Jude Law. Still, my inner nerd remains skeptical about positioning a film based on myths and magic so firmly as a cornerstone of the on-screen Marvel universe.

What's the point of being the God of Thunder if you can't use it to dramatic effect every now and again?

What's the point of being the God of Thunder if you can't use it to dramatic effect every now and again?

For those unfamiliar with the Marvel comics superhero, you really aren’t missing much. He’s the Norse God of Thunder. He has a giant hammer named Mjolnir. He spent a while on Earth living as a nurse to humble him until he discovered his hammer and decided – as was evidently a valid career choice for a Norse god – to become a superhero. That’s really it.

I realise I’m probably being unfair to the legions of fans he has out there, but that really doesn’t sound like the makings of a solid film. There’s none of the modern resonance that The First Avenger: Captain America has, and I haven’t seen enough of Chris Hemsworth to know if he has the raw charisma of Robert Downey Jnr. in Iron Man. With that proviso, I was still impress by The Incredible Hulk – a by-the-numbers superhero action flick if ever there was one. But still, Thor as a concept for a summer blockbuster doesn’t grab me.

Part of the reason for my suspicion over the Thor standalone flick being released before the super-star team-up blockbuster The Avengers is that the best version of Thor – the one that appeared in Mark Millar’s run on The Ultimates – was ambiguously divine. As in, we heard him talk about Loki or Odin or Valhalla, but we never saw any of it. That made him easier to accept as a team member with the technological genius of Iron man and the grounded nature of Captain America. It didn’t seem like a bunch of guys… and a god.

Of course, over the run it is revealed that Thor isn’t actually delusional (though Millar enjoys teasing us with the possibility that he was a nurse who had a mental breakdown and stole some advanced technology) – but not until the very end. So we accept Thor as a charismatic cult leader with a bunch of strange technology (which admittedly fits better with the team of super-humans) before we’re thrown for a loop with revelation that there is a Valhalla and there is an Odin. It means that the audience gets to digest the fact that there is a much bigger and broader world out there then they had imagined.

Part of the reason that the ultimate line stripped away Thor’s unambiguous godhood was because it was an attempt to connect with modern readers and restructure all the tropes and conventions of the standard comic book world within a world created from scratch. Back in the day it really wasn’t a big deal to postulate that various elements of various belief systems could exist with science peacefully, but the world has become a bit more sophisticated. Audiences are generally willing to only stretch their suspension of disbelief in one direction only.

The Indiana Jones franchise offers possibly the best example of this. The first three movies ask the audience to accept a world where the Jewish God clearly exists (and, by extension, the Christian God) and also that the occult has actual influence on the way the world works. That’s a theological-based approach, even if people don’t articulate it as such. So, when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is released, all of a sudden it asks us to believe what are in effect aliens as well? I don’t think the shift spoiled the movie (it had a lot of problems), but they were a factor for a large number of people.

That’s possibly my biggest problem with having Thor presented straight away as the son of the king of the gods. The Marvel universe movies in the franchise so far (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man) have emphasised that only man is capable of bestowing untold power upon himself. It isn’t god-given. This is why I think there would be problems if the decidedly less scientific-minded X-Men franchises were to be co-opted into this growing big screen universe: those individuals are granted power by virtue of birth, rather than by science.

You would argue that these characters have co-existed on the printed page for decades without too many fans complaining, but I think blockbusters target a different audience. I think that audiences pay more attention to internal consistency than one might think. Allow me to illustrate by offering another example: pretty much everybody has accepted that the sequel to The Dark Knight won’t feature any supernatural Batman foes (like the Mad Monk) nor any science-fiction freaks (like Mr. Freeze or Man-Bat). Sure, they’ve existed in the comics for years, but they don’t fit with what movie audiences have been shown already.

I think a similar notion presents itself when looking at the budding Marvel franchise. It has been all about science and logic and reason so far. It would seem like a rather sharp detour to introduce the concept of the Nordic religion as actually existing. I think it might just stretch the films’ internal consistency just too far.

But maybe I’m wrong. Part of me will be happy to see Brian Blessed as Odin, or to see Robert deNiro, Colm Feore, Jude Law and Natalie Portman turn up. Branagh certainly seems like an interesting choice for the film – as interesting as Bryan Singer was for X-Men, Jon Favreau was for Iron Man or Christopher Nolan was for Batman Begins. Maybe there’s hope yet.

But I can still hear the sound of distant thunder across the horizon.

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