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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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Pedro de San José Betancur: Central America claimed its first saint with the canonization of Pedro de San José Betancur by Pope John Paul II in Guatemala City on July 30, 2002. Known as the "St. Francis of the Americas," Pedro de Betancur is the first saint to have worked and died in Guatemala. 
<p>Calling the new saint an “outstanding example” of Christian mercy, the Holy Father noted that St. Pedro practiced mercy “heroically with the lowliest and the most deprived.” Speaking to the estimated 500,000 Guatemalans in attendance, the Holy Father spoke of the social ills that plague the country today and of the need for change. </p><p>“Let us think of the children and young people who are homeless or deprived of an education; of abandoned women with their many needs; of the hordes of social outcasts who live in the cities; of the victims of organized crime, of prostitution or of drugs; of the sick who are neglected and the elderly who live in loneliness,” he said in his homily during the three-hour liturgy. </p><p>Pedro very much wanted to become a priest, but God had other plans for the young man born into a poor family on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Pedro was a shepherd until age 24, when he began to make his way to Guatemala, hoping to connect with a relative engaged in government service there. By the time he reached Havana, he was out of money. After working there to earn more, he got to Guatemala City the following year. When he arrived he was so destitute that he joined the bread line that the Franciscans had established. </p><p>Soon, Pedro enrolled in the local Jesuit college in hopes of studying for the priesthood. No matter how hard he tried, however, he could not master the material; he withdrew from school. In 1655 he joined the Secular Franciscan Order. Three years later he opened a hospital for the convalescent poor; a shelter for the homeless and a school for the poor soon followed. Not wanting to neglect the rich of Guatemala City, Pedro began walking through their part of town ringing a bell and inviting them to repent. </p><p>Other men came to share in Pedro's work. Out of this group came the Bethlehemite Congregation, which won papal approval after Pedro's death. A Bethlehemite sisters' community, similarly founded after Pedro's death, was inspired by his life of prayer and compassion. </p><p>He is sometimes credited with originating the Christmas Eve <i>posadas</i> procession in which people representing Mary and Joseph seek a night's lodging from their neighbors. The custom soon spread to Mexico and other Central American countries. </p><p>Pedro was canonized in 2002.</p> American Catholic Blog We sometimes try to do everything on our own, forgetting that the Lord wants to help us. Let's never be afraid to admit that we are weak and can't do things on our own. St. Paul gives us a great example: "On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:5).


 
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