I’ve been rewatching Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies lately, looking for the inflection point where they suddenly became liberal. I don’t remember it happening until fairly late in the series, though earlier films have had hints of what would come later. Both Iron Man and Iron Man 2 flirt with a feminist subtheme, perhaps as an apologia for Tony Stark’s womanizing ways. Despite this, Both Iron Man movies and the Incredible Hulk have a moderate to strong conservative perspective. Thor is no different. Perhaps this is why I enjoy these earlier films so much. They reflect my view of the world, as opposed to later movies, where everything seems wrong.
Thor and Iron Man are my favorites from the Phase One group of MCU films. I enjoyed Iron Man principally on the basis of Tony Stark’s funny, smart, unapologetic style. It was great to see a Tony Stark stand out in the middle of a landscape of weaker-minded male characters in other films. In Thor’s case, it is all about heart. Thor, more than any character in the MCU, is passionately loyal, devoted, and generous to almost anyone he meets, unless they are an enemy. Then, he just as passionately obliterates them, and does it with a smile. Unless he’s been tricked, then he glowers, as if to communicate to the enemy that he “shouldn’t have done that.” Whatever happens, Thor’s actions and reactions are thoroughly open and honest. He hides nothing, shares everything, and seems to love everyone around him equally well, even his scheming brother Loki.
The casting in Thor could hardly be improved upon, with one exception, though I’m having second thoughts about that. Anthony Hopkins’ Odin strikes the right balance between Biblical patriarch and Conan the barbarian. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is one of the greatest movie villains of all time. He is simultaneously sympathetic without making him pathetic, a tough combination to pull off these days. Stellan Skaarsgard’s Eric Selvig is a wonderful bumbling but competent professor. He is engaging in every scene, always interesting and often funny. Colm Feore’s frost giant king Laufey is played with exactly the right balance of sinister curiosity, caution, and malice. Kat Dennings as Jane Foster’s intern Darcy Lewis is awesome. She is the bright spot in every scene she appears in. No matter what else is happening, she always gets out at least one hilarious line. Rene Russo’s Frigga, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, and many others all do a fine job.
When I first saw Thor in a theater, the only part of the movie that annoyed me was Jane Foster. Part of the reason was that she wasn’t a nurse but an astrophysicist. “When did that happen?” I wondered. In 1978, there was an issue of What If in which Foster becomes Thor. What If, however, is non-canonical. Their stories are not really part of the Marvel universe. In the late nineties, there was as Thor storyline drawn by Johnny Romita jr. where Foster was a doctor. That smacked of feminism to me. Foster’s elevation to doctor seemed like a way to change her profession so that she wouldn’t be subordinate to a man. Indeed, Thor’s latest incarnation, paramedic Jake Olsen is her subordinate, thus reversing their roles in classic feminist fashion.
Jane Foster has been Thor in a much later comic book storyline, and even a Valkyrie. Her astrophysicist incarnation appears to be unique to the MCU. All of these versions of Jane Foster change her status relative to Thor from subordinate to approximate equal. It is as if the people who wrote these stories couldn’t handle the idea that her character was acceptable as a nurse and subordinate to Thor or any man (or doctor).
In the context of the MCU, making her an astrophysicist was consistent with the trend of elevating Foster well above her original rank. If you ask me, however, I might say that a nurse is superior to an astrophysicist in important ways. One of those is that to be good at what they do, nurses should be empathetic. That is a perfect dominant trait for the type of woman that would most appeal to Thor, the most sincere man in the MCU. Making her anything else only reduces her appeal to the kind of character we see in Thor, as played by the genial Chris Hemsworth.
I accept that Jane Foster is an astrophysicist in the MCU. My quibble is that her career choice seems designed to alienate, not appeal to, Thor. As a nurse, he could have met her at the hospital after Darcy hits him with her van (instead of the storm-chasing Foster) and developed a friendship and attraction from there. This character in Thor is, all by herself, a screaming example of liberal feminism. Her portrayal, however, mitigates the effect somewhat.
And now we get to my review of the film itself.
Odin first appears as an omniscient voice, telling the history of Asgard to his sons, Thor and Loki. He personifies fatherhood, authority, grace, and wisdom. If any father knows best, it is Odin. This is a conservative concept, not often found in liberal entertainment, where fathers are more likely to be mocked than treated respectfully.
Loki ensnares his trusting brother Thor into disobeying Odin, nearly starting a war with the frost giants of Jotunheim. Thor is thoroughly unconscious of Loki’s influence but is nevertheless carrying out Loki’s ideas, not his own. He pays the price in one of the most dramatic moments in cinema history. Odin confronts Thor in the Bifrost device, saying, “Thor, Odinson, you have betrayed the express command of your king. You are unworthy of your title. You are unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed. I now take from you, your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I cast you out!” The dynamics of this scene are so powerful that I am grateful Marvel had the insight to hire Kenneth Branagh to direct this film.
When Odin casts Thor out, he is punishing him severely but justly for disobedience. This is also a conservative notion: that punishment can be both warranted and corrective. From a liberal perspective, punishment and rehabilitation are mutually exclusive concepts.
On earth, Thor is ignorant of the customs and his place in the world without his power. He retains his training and experience but is as weak as a kitten in comparison to his former strength in Asgard. This leads to numerous hilarious comedic moments, all of which are played for fun rather than to mock Thor. This is different from Thor: Ragnarok, where Thor is mocked throughout.
The way I read this film, it is about how Thor reformed his ways by acknowledging his father’s authority and wisdom. Everything in the film leads to that outcome. The moments in between his earlier brash actions and later contrition are dramatic and funny, sometimes sad, but always move Thor closer to acknowledging Odin as his lord and master. This is also a conservative theme, perhaps the most conservative theme of all, because Odin the Allfather is the closest to a living embodiment of God we are likely to ever see in a Hollywood production.
In the end, Thor is contrite and repents. In so doing, he gains wisdom and Odin’s respect. Doing so, however, comes at great cost: he has broken the Rainbow Bridge, thus making it impossible to ever see Jane Foster again. Again, this is conservative, the idea that nothing is free. Thor pays a price for what he learned. He earns it through trial. Understanding is his only recompense. It is enough because understanding is truth and truth is the greatest wealth of all.
In all the majesty of this film, how is Jane Foster portrayed by Natalie Portman? Portman’s Foster might be a fancy pants astrophysicist, but she is ditzy also. Foster falls in love with Thor but then hits him twice in two separate incidents with her van. She tells SHIELD agent Coulson, “Everything I’ve done is in this book and you can’t take that away” just before another agent takes the book from her. Foster gives Thor a ride in her van, away from her sidekicks Selvig and Darcy, and giggles like a smitten schoolgirl.
This is not a liberal version of the “strong woman” stereotype. If anything, it mocks that stereotype. Foster’s career choice is a feminist stereotype, but her personality is an awkward fit for it. She has authority and knowledge but both are undermined throughout the film, from Thor’s superior understanding of the cosmos to SHIELD stealing her lab from right under her nose.
This movie has a conservative bias but how conservative is it? My Bias Quotient scale runs from 0-100. A score of zero is strong conservative bias. Fifty is no bias in either direction. One hundred is a strong liberal bias. Everything in the film is portrayed from a conservative perspective and it has conservative themes. For those reasons, I give it a bias score of zero. Thor is a solidly conservative-friendly film.