Archive for April, 2021

Movies That Settle: Thor

Posted: April 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

It’s been awhile since I posted here, because of life stuff, and also because I was attempting to move over to Substack, which I am still working on, but I figured I pay for this domain, too, so I might as well post stuff here. This post was actually a Dursin Sub-Stack original, but I figure the statute of limitations has run out on it and I actually was kind of proud of it, so I figured I would put it here, while also encouraging anyone reading to head over to Substack for a little more Dursin flavor. Bon appetit!

With movie theaters around here mostly closed due to the pandemic, and not a lot of movies being made for the same reason, probably the biggest franchise of all-time (if you count the Marvel Cinematic Universe as one big franchise) has stalled. I didn’t think this would matter to me all that much, because after Avengers: Endgame, we probably needed a break. Technically, Spider-Man: Far From Home came after, but that was kind of dessert to the Endgame meal. Or an after dinner Scotch. We now have WandaVision, and tons of news all over the internet about upcoming projects (I just read that Brie Larson is scheduled to make an appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder… in 2022), so there’s always something to keep fans like me occupied, but still, I will admit that there is a void in my life.

Recently, however, I caught the original Thor on cable, and realized that it is now ten years old, and was reminded of a simpler time, when Marvel movies could pretty much stand alone and weren’t setting up massive stories to be paid off in another movie. Of course, I am a huge MCU fan, but I do understand that some people see them as
meaningless blockbusters that are just big-budget commercials for the next movie.
Maybe because I read comics, I just see that as “story-telling.” Plus, as someone who studied film writing, I actually think it’s pretty impressive to have 20+ movies all made by different people over the course of a decade be paid off the way they did. I mean, a lot of franchises can’t make it work when there are three movies in a series. And of course, I fully realize that Thor was setting up for the eventual Avengers team-up, as were the other Phase 1 movies, but if these first few didn’t work, creatively and commercially, then we never would have made it that far.

Still, 2011 was indeed a simpler time when it came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, before Thor, the entire Universe at the time consisted of one Iron Man. And technically Rhodey, but he was played by a different actor and didn’t wear armor, so he doesn’t count. I think most people know the story, so I won’t go into the history of the MCU, but to boil it down: when they were nearing bankruptcy many years ago (long before Disney bought them), Marvel Comics sold the film rights to many of their top characters to various film studios, so we had X-men and Fantastic Four movies being made by Fox, with varying degrees of success, and Spider-man movies being made by Sony, again with varying degrees of success, and a Hulk movie made by Universal and directed by Ang Lee with zero degrees of success. In fact let’s never speak of it again.

Side-note: around this time, Christopher Nolan had killed with three pretty awesome Batman movies and even Hellboy was making waves with a couple blockbusters. Remember when Marvel was way behind in terms of cool comic book movies? Different world…

Anyway, Marvel had what had been considered in the comic realm as B-list characters, at best (and with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, maybe way down the alphabet.) Bear in mind that the X-Men franchise rights, for example, pretty much includes all mutants and anyone mutant adjacent, and even the word “mutant,” which any Marvel fan knows is a big deal in the comics. This not to say that The Avengers weren’t interesting or popular characters, but as far as non-fans go, they were relatively unknown compared to Spider-Man and the X-Men. Let me put it this way, when rumors were spreading about a Thor movie, my brother asked me if anyone was actually clamoring for such a thing, and even I, as a long-time fan, had to admit probably not.

So, Kevin Feige and his team did the smart thing and copied what worked with Iron Man in 2008: get a known director that people will buy in Kenneth Branagh, and a star that definitely looks the part. I’m not even that big a fan of Kenneth Branagh, but if you want to make a Thor movie that features people talking in that old, English-style and has a hero from a magical realm who wields an enchanted hammer, get the Shakespeare guy, and then get a big, handsome dude to play said hero.

This is all to say that nobody, probably even Kevin Feige, knew that tens years from the first Thor movie, we would be eagerly awaiting the fourth one, which has to make it a success no matter how you slice it. But there’s more to it than that. Thor is also a fun, well-constructed action movie on its own, that introduces some weird elements that people had no knowledge of, or as my brother would say, weren’t clamoring for, and made people care about them. Of course, there are millions of movies about heroes from space or other realities or galaxies far, far away or whatever, and yeah, sometimes we care about them and sometimes they stink and we don’t care. But I think people are made to care about Thor (Fourth movie. Hello?), and think about how hard that is, because he’s a really powerful, ridiculously attractive man. But they did it with one simple story-telling trope: take the powers away. And using the ideas in the comics, literally tell the audience that he is “unworthy” and make him earn those powers. he starts off as incredibly arrogant and pompous, feeling that he should be king, and his father strips all that cool stuff away, and he has to learn to become worthy to get it back. It’s a very simple, “hero’s journey” type-of-thing that works in all kinds of stories, and it works because people get it and it makes them feel good. Luke has to learn The Force, Harry Potter has to learn magic (Right? I actually have never seen or a read any of it), and Thor has to become worthy to wield the hammer and be able to do Thor stuff. The only thing he didn’t have to earn was being handsome, but some guys are just born lucky.

Of course, Thor has a love interest, as all hunky, male Avengers do (Hopefully, Black Widow has one in her solo movie, which has been delayed a million times thanks to this stupid pandemic, otherwise it would be pretty sexist of Marvel.) The thing that I like about Jane Foster is that she’s not a toughie that can go toe-to-toe with the bad guys like Thor does. She is strong in other ways. Besides being really smart, if you have read any of the news about Thor: Love and Thunder, she is also “worthy.” But she is also a pretty normal young woman, who is really into Thor. And who wouldn’t be? But unlike most movie heroines, she doesn’t play hard-to-get, or go through some wacky adventure and learn to love the hero, or like another damsel played by Natalie Portman in a different Disney franchise, just fall in love with him all of the sudden, even though he’s kind of creepy. She is into him from the moment she meets him. Well, after hitting him with her truck, but still, she likes him. It’s so obvious that it is written into the scene where Thor and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) are at a bar sharing a drink, and Eric says to his drinking partner, “I’ve seen the way she looks at you.” In an interesting character moment, Thor doesn’t respond with a resounding, “Well, yah!” He actually seems a little surprised by the comment, and assures Eric that he means her no harm. We should also remember that Thor is over 1500 years old at this point, and has probably met a few women in that time, and bedded more than his fair share. They also lightly hint in the second Thor film that he could probably hook up with Lady Sif if he wanted to, but he doesn’t seem interested, instead his heart belongs to this “mortal.” It’s sort of a role reversal from most movies, as here the female lead is ga-ga from the beginning while the male has an important job to do, but I like it and am very curious to see how it is handled in Love and Thunder.

One of the other things I like in this movie is the use of Foo Fighters’ “Walk” as a theme song. Of course, it’s been a long-standing – and sometimes annoying – tradition for big-budget movies to shoe-horn in a popular band’s song to get some crossover appeal and boost music and ticket sales. In this case, however, it’s a little more than that as the song is about, as the chorus says, “learning to walk again.” Dave Grohl had written some of the lyrics of the song after helping his first daughter literally learn how to walk, and then marveling at how she could eventually walk on her own. He intended it to be on their album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, but then decided to put the finished version on the next album, “Wasting Light,” because he felt it fit with the themes of “time and second chances.” According to some of the information I read (on the internet, so hopefully it’s right), Grohl, felt that he had “lost his way” a little bit, as the song says, and this album was about getting back to his roots as a garage band, literally, in fact, as he recorded the whole album in his garage with his friends. As the song builds, he says, “I never wanna die,” which I take to mean that he has found his way again and is happy with life and wants it to go on forever. This totally fits with the themes in Thor, as he has been stripped of his god-liness and has been told that he will not be king of Asgard, and he has to basically learn to walk again.

While this all sounds great for an essay in a college Film Analysis class (I guess. I usually got B’s and C’s in those classes), there is another reason that I am writing about this movie ten years after it was released, and after a lot of people have mostly forgotten about it. Back in 2011, I had my own Thor-like adventure, and I too had to learn to walk again, figuratively. Thor was released on May 2nd of 2011, between a couple of my several stints in the hospital that year for a severe lung infection. At the time, it was called Wegener’s Vasculitis, but Dr. Wegener was apparently a bad guy, so now they call it Granulomatosis. Basically, my nose, throat, lungs and kidneys became inflamed, my white-blood cell count went way up, and then my body said, “Well, we have enough of those,” and so my immune system shut down completely, and my lungs filled with goo (pretty much hyper-pneumonia). It’s a pretty rare disease, so it took the doctors took awhile to figure out what was going on. I pictured it like one of those conversations on an episode of House, where the doctors sit around trying to figure it out, and House yells at them all and tells them that the patient is lying. Anyway, this disease sucks and can be fatal if untreated, so go to the doctor if you start to feel sick.

From around March until June, I would get admitted to the hospital and then get released, and then have to go back because I was still sick, so often that the cafeteria workers got to know my dinner order, but in-between, I saw Thor on opening day with a friend of mine. Because I had been released, I assumed I was fine and took the train to meet my friend and he would then drive us to the theater. For some timely perspective, here’s what I wrote in my blog back in 2011 about the whole ordeal:

Thankfully, I was a few minutes early [to meet my friend], because after exiting the train with an unbelievably scratchy throat, I went into the men’s room and coughed my brains out, (sorry if this will be gross) spewing up gobs of brown liquid.  Now, this should have been cause for concern, of course, but since my doctors had told me to specifically be alarmed for coughing up blood and not chocolate milk, I figured it was part of the recovery process.  In fact, I was fine throughout the whole movie, got on the train, rode home, and had another couple coughing fits before going to bed.  Of course, I was back in the hospital a few days later with a very serious infection that the doctors now tell me should have pretty much killed me, or at the very least hindered me from going to the movies.

Can you imagine how different this post would be if seeing Thor had actually killed me? The real interesting thing to me is that I don’t remember a whole lot about the movie that first time, other me sitting in the theater thinking, “Don’t die.” I did see it again a few weeks later, after being released for the final time, and I remember bringing tons of hand-sanitizer to the theater. I also had a small chest tube attached to my ribs that was draining the brown liquid out of my lungs that I had to change once in awhile. That was pretty nasty, and at the time, I remember thinking, “Why am I not still in a hospital bed being taken care of?” But here’s another piece of medical wisdom that I learned; sometimes, if it is possible, you are better off in your own care at home. I was told that by my visiting nurse, who came by every couple days for awhile. I had millions of appointments, a bout of thrush, which is just gross, and I also had to give myself daily infusions of anti-biotics for a couple months, but it was better than being in the hospital. At least I could go to the movies. And on that note, that summer also saw the release of X-Men: First Class and then Captain America: The First Avenger, and by the time Cap came around in August, I was a lot closer to normal. And I’m still here ten years later, so I guess it all worked out.

This is all to say that I viewed Thor as more than just a silly Marvel movie, and a small part in the whole Universe that became known as the MCU. I felt that Thor’s struggle to find himself after being found “unworthy” and stripped of his powers mirrored my own struggle to just get back to my normal life. Maybe I was searching for anything to latch onto after that ordeal, and in reality maybe it is just a silly action movie, but it got me through a tough time and caused me to take another, longer look at it. Maybe too long, but it does show you that sometimes movies deserve a second look. There may be themes and ideas that you never thought of before.

Even without seeing the fourth one yet, I think that out of all the characters in the MCU, Thor has shown the most actual growth. He’s gone from a guy who smashes everything with his hammer, to a hero who fights for the “mortals” and even learns to love one of them, to an Avenger, to someone who loses his parents and has to battle his sister, to a warrior who feels he caused half the universe to be snapped out of existence because he didn’t go for Thanos’ head, to a fat, drunken oaf, and then back to warrior who helps defeat Thanos and restore all those lives. And he did all that while becoming funnier! And it all started here, with this “simple” action movie. Which in a small way, ended up being kind of a life-saver.

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