Sunday, November 05, 2017

A Sunnier, Funnier THOR: RAGNAROK

As Thor: Ragnarok is poised to have a winning $121 million opening weekend, Marvel might have just hit upon the winning formula for the one superhero in the eponymous universe who has failed to ignite the excitement and the box-office success that the rest of the super-beings have garnered.

The latest film features a Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with a comic routine that's sillier and lighter than in the previous films. This is a winning directorial decision on the part of New Zealander Taika Waititi, the latest helmer in this series.  When you have a superhero based on a mythology that was co-opted by National Socialism in Germany in the 1930's as result of Adolf Hitler's love of Richard Wagner's monumental music dramas where Thor, Odin, Loki, and the rest of the gang are characters (albeit in their Germanic names of Donner, Wotan, and Loge) one cannot treat this myth with an Aryan supremacy point of view. The operas of Wagner were de-Nazified after World War II, and to this day play without any of the clutter that the composer demanded and which the Nazis loved.  However, Thor, the Marvel comic book, as created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby in 1962 went backwards, in their pictorial look. This is not to say that Marvel created a Nazi hero, but they did give birth to the epitome of the Aryan male: powerful, blond, not only a god, but physically god-like.  It is obvious that the comic book creators of Thor were not aware that, as they were creating a hero that Nazis would adore, the operas of Wagner, the one artistic place in culture where these Germanic/Scandinavian myths remained alive, were being radically changed by Wieland Wagner, the composer's grandson, at Bayreuth, the German city where the operas were first performed.

Subconsciously, this has been the problem with the Thor franchise in film.  How do we side with an Aryan hero during these days when America is plagued by a troubling rise of white supremacists?  Can we even consider him a hero given its past history?  

Disney/Marvel Studio's answer is to make him funny.  And this they have done in this latest installment, and surprisingly to a large extent it works.  They even threw in Jeff Goldblum, a master of comic timing, as some kind of uber-garbage lord called the Grandmaster.  But as Mahnola Dargis wrote in her insightful New York Times review of this film:  "It’s amusing how “Ragnarok” humanizes Thor, yet in doing so it dilutes his Thorness, the essential qualities that make him more than a dude with a cool hammer. And the more familiar and less godlike he becomes, the more evident it is that this series has never figured out how to make his myth fit with the modern world."

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