Thor: The Dark World


Sometimes the movies surprise you. On Friday, I saw The Muppets Most Wanted and wished I had waited for the DVD. Sunday I watched Thor: The Dark World on DVD, and was sorry I hadn’t caught it on the big screen.

As “the Convergence” approaches, a once every 5000 year alignment of the nine realms of the universe, portals between the worlds start to open at random.  Exploring one near London, Dr. Jane Foster, Thor’s mortal honey, is infected with the Aether, an ancient, indestructible weapon of evil that the gods of Asgard had hidden away.  The Dark Elf, Malekith, hopes to use the Aether to plunge the universe into darkness when the worlds align.

At the critical moment, Thor and his half-brother, Loki, the usual suspect in all things nefarious, team up to save the world and avenge the death of Frigga, their mother. Loki’s trickery fools Malekith into withdrawing the Aether from Jane and saving her life.  The movie has lots of explosions, and moments that echo both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (though admittedly without the depth).  The forbidden love of immortal Thor and mortal Jane also parallels Superman and Lois, but for me, the character of Loki made the movie.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Loki the Trickster, has fascinated me since I read a book of Norse mythology as a kid.  Sometimes an ally and sometimes a nemesis of the gods, in the old stories, Loki was finally imprisoned under the earth for killing Baldr, the golden boy of Asgard, where he will remain until the final battle when this world will be destroyed.

Loki, from 18th c. Icelandic manuscript. Public domain.

Loki, from 18th c. Icelandic manuscript. Public domain.

The movie Loki is far more nuanced; he and Thor compliment each other.  Thor is ready to charge ahead, swinging his hammer against an invincible foe, while Loki embodies consummate strategy.

Loki and Thor plot their next move

Loki and Thor plot their next move

Loki, rejected by the Father of the gods and always subordinate to Thor, though he is older and smarter, is more the existential Outsider than any other movie superhero. Peter Parker may pine for Mary Jane, in a malt shop kind of way, and Clark gets tongue-tied near Lois, but Loki portrays the adult experience of not fitting in.

If you know what that’s like (and if not, why are you writing and reading blogs), you’ll enjoy this portrayal of Loki. The next time you’re in the mood for heroes, aided by Natalie Portman, saving the world, with help from a professor who runs around naked at Stonehenge, grab some popcorn and consider renting Thor.  It’s a fun ride.

Media musings

I find most alliterative titles, like “Media musings,” to be about 40% cute and 60% annoying, but in this case, it’s a good match for the headline that inspired this post: “Ellen’s Oscar ‘selfie’ a landmark media moment.”

“A what moment?” I mused.  “A landmark media what?”

Because the media is falling over itself to celebrate Ellen’s tweet, and because nature abhors a vacuum, it has fallen to me to be the curmudgeonly voice of this “event.”  One of the first things a curmudgeon does is reach for the dictionary.  A “landmark event” is “an event, discovery, etc. considered as a high point or turning point in the history or development of something.” 

At first I thought it must be the high point of product placement.  The picture in question was taken with a Samsung phone, Samsung was a big Oscar sponsor, and the Academy Awards are the biggest post-Super Bowl marketing event.  But that’s not really new news.  Reading on, I realized the article referred to a landmark social media event. Since tweeting about TV isn’t new, an expert, in this case an Oscar co-producer, had to explain it to the likes of me:

“What it’s all about right now is creating a conversation, and social media allows for the conversation as it’s happening.”

Oh thanks, now I understand.

The dogs don’t like me being a curmudgeon, so while I was writing this post, Kit grabbed my (non-Samsung) phone and snapped a selfie, hoping to create a new conversation.

Kit snaps a selfie

Kit snaps a selfie

“It’s all about what’s happening now,” she says, explaining why she wants to establish a social media presence.

So the price I pay for being a curmudgeon is having to ask all you loyal readers to give my dog a tweet (she accepts treats as well).  After all, she is cuter than Ellen’s crew, and she hasn’t been real annoying since puppy days when she chewed up my wife’s phone.  That really happened, but it’s a story for another day, and right now I need to let you log onto your twitter accounts.  Don’t forget – it’s all about right now.

Notes on Superman and The Superman Song

It doesn’t take much reflection on superheroes (see my previous Batman post) to remember Superman.  For me, he always brings to mind a strange, funny, and poignant song by The Crash Test Dummies from their 1991 debut album, “The Ghosts That Haunt Me.”

What the song underscores is an intuition that has shaped my approach to characters in fiction:  they need to be larger than life but flawed and human too.  Though the plot needs super-strength, without his kryptonite allergy, the guy in the cape would be pretty boring.  Besides, it’s Clark Kent who we bond with.  Holding tight to his geek persona, in the days before geeks were cool, Clark sacrificed his hopes for human happiness out of dedication to a public that could never be allowed to know who to thank.  If you like stories of unrequited love and hopeless triads, Superman, Lois, and alter-ego, Clark, had it going decades before Twilight.

Even more poignant than fiction was the life of Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), one many actors – and I think the best – who played the Man of Steel.

Reeve as Superman

Reeve became a paraplegic in 1995, after a spinal injury suffered when he was thrown from a horse. For the rest of his life, he lobbied on behalf of spinal-cord injury treatment and stem-cell research. In overcoming the kind of loss that is most people’s worst nightmare, Reeve found the steel of courage in the depths of his human misfortune.

Reeve after his injury

Just like Clark Kent, in the last years of his life, Christopher Reeve lived a selfless life, dedicated to other people’s good.

The Crash Test Dummies had a similar intuition about Superman several year’s before Reeve’s accident, one both deeper and richer than what the word, “superhero” generally implies:

Folks said his family were all dead
Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going.

Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

Holy Pathology, Batman!

Batman, originally Bat-man or The Batman, first appeared in Detective Comics #27, in May, 1939, the creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Popular from the start, Batman had his own comic by 1940.

The Caped Crusader joined the screen actor’s guild in the 60’s, with a campy TV show that altered some of my speech patterns forever (Observe the title of this post, Robin).

When the show ended, so did much of Batman’s popularity. In 1969,writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams tried to return Batman to his roots as  “grim avenger of the night.”  Beginning with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, several big budget movie series have portrayed Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego in a dark and dangerous world – it’s always night in Gotham City.

Batman Begins, 2005

As if this intrepid crime fighter didn’t have enough on his plate, some are raising questions about his mental health.  And when you think about it – what’s with the addiction to danger, the cape, the muscle suit, and probably lifts in the shoes? His car says size matters, but he can’t hang onto a girlfriend. His deepest relationship is with his butler.  He’s certainly stuck in black and white thinking – people are good or bad, nowhere a shade of gray.  Maybe he hasn’t worked through all of his childhood issues. Maybe he should ask his doctor about anti-depressants.  Or viagra.  Join an online dating service and settle down as a hedge-fund manager, like a respectable member of the 1%.

But no, says psychologist, Robin Rosenberg, author of What’s the Matter with Batman?  The boy’s all right.

In a recent NPR interview, Rosenberg, who blogs about superheroes for Psychology Today, said: “Bruce Wayne is a really clever man who has both high intelligence and high EQ, emotional quotient.”

Rosenberg turns the spotlight on us, asking why we assume there is something wrong with Batman.  “People who are truly selfless, who have given so much of themselves, are confusing to most of us. And I think some of us, in cynical moments, say, ‘There must be something the matter with someone who would do that.'”

I’d modify her words to say that nowadays, we think a selfless billionaire is weird.  Nothing new about this sentiment.  In 1939, the year Batman emerged, Woody Guthrie wrote “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.”

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

Change “fountain pen” to “computer” and the statement rings as true as it did 73 years ago.  The biggest difference now, as the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, comes out this Friday, is that most of us probably find it even harder to believe a super-rich man could be our friend.

In a post on the Psychology Today superhero blog, Robin Rosenberg wrote:  “The stories of superheroes and heroes resonate with us because they tap into some essential truths about human nature, about our yearnings and aspirations, our demons and dilemmas, our fears and our frustrations.”

Superheroes are archetypes.  They’ve been present in our stories for millennia – only the outfits and details change.  Heracles didn’t need to change clothes in a phone booth, because he didn’t work at The Daily Planet.

Heroes and superheroes are a secular expression of something everyone knows when they wake at the hour of the wolf – without a Higher Power, or higher powers, we’re screwed.  There’s nothing accidental about the number of superhero movies so far this year.  And some of them are a lot of fun!

Enjoy this new incarnation of The Caped Crusader!