JULY / AUG 2012: BY RISSI C.
What is it about a hero that instantly grabs our attention? Is it because we love cheering them on? Because of their honest-to-goodness attitude that is nothing if not pure? Or is it something more complicated? Do we relish their presence on the screen because they remind us what it means to stand up and fight for all we believe in? To be a proud American? Being swept off one’s feet or rescued by a superhero in a cool costume may not be a realistic expectation, but it doesn’t change our view of the heroic gestures that get our pulses racing and touch something inside us.
In the last year, we were asked to take a journey back in time with the first guardian, the all-American soldier from WWII, Steve Rodgers. He only wanted to serve his country and saw that dream realized in his alter ego, Captain America. We have formed a love-hate attachment to the cocky Iron Man whose Tony Stark first built an empire before he could fly. All four of Marvel’s well-known heroes demanded our consideration with the release of their blockbuster, The Avengers.
The first Marvel Avenger I met was the reckless god of thunder, Thor. Here was a character I loved, but a story I thought wasn’t well paced, where as Captain America was the opposite: brilliant albeit setting more of a sluggish pace and a character we all fell head over heels in love with. (It wasn’t just me… right?) The narrative of Thor backgrounds not just the titular character’s beginnings—days consisting of nothing but partying and abusing his father’s trust and respect —but also that of his family. Revealing that the brother who always secretly resented Thor is actually not a blood member of their family does not take long. But it isn’t until Thor is banished to the world he doesn’t know (earth) that he begins to realize humility and everything he must become before he can earn the right to his father’s kingdom of Asgard.
What follows is on the surface a good time with hints of romanticism and cool special effects. But if you dig a little bit deeper, I think we enjoy the story for its larger significance: it is a story about a character learning that he must care about others more than his own desires. In part, what brings that about is the realization that his choices do affect others, but also Thor simply becomes more humane by having to interact with them. Here again is a symbolic story, containing elements of religious ideology, but with a twist: Thor is sent to earth by his father not to save it, but as a form of punishment. He learns from his time among humans whereas in Christian theology, the figure of Christ was sent to save them.
When a story has something to say that is positive, not insignificant, the folly becomes second straw and the genuine heart is what triumphs. Here, the story is as much about Thor growing into the kind of man his father would be proud of as it is about villains and heroes. In it, Thor becomes a guy who can carry the metaphorical weight of the world on his shoulders. He starts off with an attitude, as a reckless and arrogant jerk. His selfishness makes him destructive, and his family and father’s kingdom reap the consequences. His entire stance is changed when he must choose between a life of his choosing or protecting his realm. That is where Thor, irrespective of its pettiness, succeeds most, in asking us to confront similar selfish weaknesses in ourselves. Who among us has not thought of what is best for me before stopping to think about how our actions might impact the other people in our life? Though we have all been tempted, it cannot be denied that one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given is the choice to be selfish or unselfish.
Thor hits us between the eyes with the lesson his father wishes him to learn: actions speak louder than words. The gift he walks away with from his time with the human race is not just what it takes to be a leader but also what it means to look out for someone other than himself. The guy who once thought he hadn’t any responsibilities may have become just another dude with a white knight complex, but his ultimate sacrifices prove otherwise. Pretend or not, action figure notwithstanding, in the heart of Thor beats pure motivations and a will to never back down. Maybe that is why his actions speak to us as they do. Though filmed purely to introduce us to Thor and Loki before The Avengers, this film does impart something to contemplate. There is more to comic book heroes than sheer romanticism, or even the excitement of seeing an epic battle between good and evil unfold in all its HD glory on the big screen.
Thor may not be of this world, but the spirit of determination, bravery and eventual selflessness that drives him is very much the same spirit that Americans aspire to. Though we may have forgotten what it means to be an American who isn’t afraid to stand up and rebel, we are given the perfect examples to aspire to. First, we must learn the lesson Thor did. He may be weary but his fight isn’t. Maybe it is time we take up the fight right alongside him, and decide to make a difference in our world. ■