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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Thor

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Over the centuries, Norse mythology, like its Greek and Roman counterparts, has been appropriated by artists seeking to enlighten as well as by those with the more modest goal of providing entertainment. Based on the exploits of the titular Marvel Comics superhero, "Thor" (Paramount) falls satisfyingly into the latter category.

The potential blockbuster's contributions to cinema, let alone to Western civilization, are negligible, yet it has enough positive qualities to constitute a commendable diversion. While no one will mistake the hammer-wielding protagonist for, say, Wagner's Parsifal or Siegfried, the story's Christian framework is readily discernable, even to moviegoers with less-than-Wagnerian attention spans.

At first glance, British actor/director Kenneth Branagh, best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, was a curious choice to direct. But the decision pays off. Exhibiting a mature, light touch, he presents the epic yarn with economy, balancing thematic portentousness with significant humor.

So, while "Thor" sometimes resembles a mash-up of "Clash of the Titans" and "Race to Witch Mountain," it also bears the intelligent markings of the "Iron Man" mold. Those anticipating a loud, headache-inducing picture will be pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, those looking for cutting-edge special effects may be disappointed. Once again, the 3-D formatting seems obligatory rather than enhancing.

As he's about to crown Thor (Chris Hemsworth) his successor, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the celestial realm of Asgard, instead banishes his son and heir to Earth. Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has engineered the exile by goading the hotheaded warrior-prince to defy Odin and break a truce with the race of Frost Giants.

Down on Earth—in the desert outskirts of a small New Mexico town, to be exact—Thor meets comely astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team, who try to hide the strapping alien from federal authorities. Back up in Asgard, the dissembling Loki seizes the throne from an incapacitated Odin.

Switching back and forth between its two settings, the movie doesn't spend much time explicating any one aspect of the scenario. Branagh and company trust their viewers and the result is neither mindless nor too taxing. However, the pared-down storytelling does make the climax seem fairly abrupt and the rush to a sequel more transparent than usual.

Visually, the special effects are no better than passable. But successful jokes—stemming mostly from the incongruity between Thor's stiff manner and the vagaries of modern life, best represented by Jane's droll assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings)—do provide a counterpoint to the cosmic melodrama.

The notion of a self-sacrificing hero who overcomes pride and takes redemptive action for others certainly registers. And because the narrative has many Christian echoes, "Thor" can't be criticized for propagating a pagan worldview. Besides, the theological implications of the underlying myth are never seriously explored.

The bond between Thor and Jane is both believable and restrained, leading only to a single passionate kiss. While its violence quotient renders "Thor" inappropriate for small children, parents needn't be alarmed if mature middle-schoolers ask to attend.

Such pure models of heroism and nobility are quite rare on screen nowadays, after all, and therefore quite refreshing.

The film contains much moderately intense, but bloodless, hand-to-hand combat, a few scary sequences and a couple of mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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