Sentimentality aside, what does it mean to be a hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let’s start by looking at how men are portrayed. The only overtly “manly man” among the Avengers and their minions is the Norse/Viking god, Thor. In an America ripe with fear of war, the collapse of war efforts that apparently cannot achieve victory, and ongoing political anger between pseudo-ideological camps, this one-time “god of war” is transformed by Marvel into a cute and cuddly animal. What gives?
Public America is tackling “wars” on any number of abstract nouns. From cancer to bullying, to drugs and terrorism. Apparently we have a limitless use for the term “war” but we cannot find any good use for a god of war! Instead, our hero Thor screams like a girl (as we not yet “woke” souls used to say in the bad old days of the patriarchy) and for no reason but comic relief. In “Thor: Ragnarok” the comic relief takes over the plot as the god of thunder—with lightning at his fingertips—turns out to be super-vulnerable to electricity. If you cut that out of the story, there is no plot. Really. Every time he gets rambunctious, Thor gets tazed. You see, he needs a re-education to keep his manliness in check.
To the audience he becomes something of e’s a pet. In short, this movie translates roughly into a predictable story about a proud, but loving dog who gets lost and, now chastened, has to find his way home. With that in mind, viewers will notice how much Thor is jerked around by “the smart guys” and how their virtues are shown to be more prized than the unusual and all too rare virtues of Thor. If they are necessary, it seems they must also be despised.
Thor’s much-maligned manliness is the only actual good thing in the movie. Thor’s opinion is that a man should stand his ground and be as good as his word. He’s a boaster, so that’s hard, but he does try extra hard. “Thor: Ragnarok,” behind all the fun stuff, is a movie about what the world looks like when such manly opinions are thrown out the window. It’s a horror show. Would that we were so lucky to have more such men around, whether in reality or in our fantasies! But instead of showing any admiration for that, Thor’s virtues are constantly demeaned for fake-political purposes.
The story starts with the third act of an action movie: Hero trapped by a contemptuous evildoer who’s about to be surprised and beaten—then the day is saved, a menace to mankind removed. But it turns out, that solves nothing.
Instead, a woman villain who can never make herself heard by men has to come up and, well, kill them all. This is one half of the chastisement the old and, apparently, “evil” patriarchy—the one in which there were actual heroes—suffers in this film. The weirdest thing about the female villain is that she calls herself the goddess of death. If you think about this as a send-up of a similarly weird liberal feminism, then it makes perfect sense. But that’s not what Marvel is selling. Her story is that she is the real power behind the patriarchy of Odin and the almost exclusively male army of the Viking gods. Those armies include East Asians and African blacks—but none of them will listen to a woman. They literally prefer dying. Come to think of it, this movie might all secretly be about Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat and endless subsequent blaming of the electorate!
The Viking/Norse nobility is organized around slaughter and pillaging, so this is a story where you cannot take any claim to right seriously. Maybe they deserve killing! You’re supposed to have fun with a comedy in the middle of chaos, but you cannot really sympathize with any faction, if you stop to think about it. You’re supposed to believe that the guys with funny lines have a right to kill all the other ones—that seems to be the only real Marvel ideology.
Thor is the only Marvel franchise where the villains made even a lick of sense, so you know everything’s about to be upturned. Loki was a younger brother dominated by Thor, who never felt he belonged: You can understand him. You can understand this new sister of theirs, too: she was the family workhorse and feels betrayed, rejected, merely for effectively carrying out her father Odin’s principles. No wonder they want to wreak havoc and loose hell. How does the story solve this problem?
It tells us hell is good for political Progress!
Thor is emasculated from the beginning. He’s a teenager—he’s a frat boy—he’s a hunk. Indeed, who else could believe in heroes, much less think he is one? His hammer is destroyed by a woman and then, as a slave, he has his hair cut, too. The proud must be humbled. This fits with the movie’s style and mood: Marvel is turning movies into a combination of computer games and musical comedy—just think of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s a lot of that in “Thor: Ragnarok.” In this show, manly pride is the only intolerable sentiment.
So it’s good that the old world is dying, because all these men were exploiters. You only see them as gullible audiences to propaganda and fearful victims of slaughter. And the few who get saved of course want to go to earth, the home of all immigrants in the universe. These poor peoples without land are portrayed as deserving help, and as the only legitimate object of worry, policy, and sacrifice. You’d have to be a monster not to help these refugees… Does that sound familiar?
But ideology is cheap in the Marvel universe. The feminism of Thor wanting to be a Valkyrie because they’re so cool is, like his awkwardness around a girl, neither true to character nor important to the plot. It’s just there for politically-correct laughs. The audience needs a pretty boy on screen looking relentlessly photoshopped in the middle of chaos, but it’s intolerable that anyone that good looking also be shown to be self-possessed.
The trans-racial multi-cultural politics of freedom that make the end of the world an opportunity for Progress is no more serious. It shows up as salvation from oppression for funny-looking creatures with cute Kiwi accents. Tyranny is a drag, but you can shake it off in a well-timed scene with fast editing, because we’re all different, but secretly we’re all good. There are no consequences and no downsides, because there’s no legitimate basis for conflict or war. It’s all a big hiccup, you just gotta get over it. It’ll be fine.
Ultimately, the woman villain has to die because she she’s too intolerant of funny-looking people made of various materials, coming in different shapes, sizes, and all equipped with funny voices. Diversity cannot tolerate disagreement and she just doesn’t get it. She’s a loud-and-proud imperialist, the one thing shown to be worse than being a man.
In its place, we get the imperialism of tolerance. The rock-revolution politics of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which ironically juxtaposes the British Invasion with the Viking invasion, is transformed into a feel-good anthem for getting along and having fun while doing it. The power of rock music is enlisted to make flaccid ideologies look sexy. The breathtaking combination of angry electric instruments in the hands of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and the shrieking and sometimes sexual moaning of Robert Plant—all that is now bought by a corporation to provide a soundtrack for the predestined victory of the oppressed. What formerly was rebellion, thereby becomes bubblegum.
This is all done for fun and the movie is bound to be the biggest success of the franchise. It also installs the most important form of inequality, the only one that matters in the future as Marvel conceives of it: Screen time. That’s the only immortality left and it’s guaranteed through corporation-based franchises. A warlike god is really one who mouths off all the pieties of getting along with creatures with whom he shares very little screen time. They’re all lovely, if they know their place. This hero needs not learn anything through the plot, or change at all. His warlike father is a life coach/corporation guru. Problem is, with such writing, you don’t need two hours of movie to get things done. The plot is really a 15 minute short. Add a few more shorts with fun antics in exotic places set to music because, why not? But it’s got all the substance of a YouTube series, not a movie—much less a blockbuster.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is an anti-epic. If it has any system or design, it is to take celebrity worship and a sense of wonder and anything else an audience might bring to the movies in search of more than just the boring stuff in our lives—and turn it into a cheap joke. We’re being sold our disappointments repackaged as moral and political correctness. And so long as we believe our disappointed hopes have no truer prophet than Marvel, it will keep happening—now with emasculated heroes, too!