What The World Needs Now Is Thor

What the world needs now is a hunky Asgardian beating the crap out of people with a hammer.

Ok, actually this is what Superhero films and the superhero genre need.  After seeing the previews for the Thor movie, I'm not only enthused about it, I think the film has the chance to get Superhero movies out of a rut.

There have been many Superhero films over the last few decades.  Many have been quite good and artistic, often with excellent actors.  Chistopher Reeve's Superman was excellent (and a fun film).  Nolan's Batman was dark and noirish and well-done.  The Rami Spiderman films were pretty good (early on at least) and had excellent casting – I'd in fact say Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus was amazing.  There's a lot of good stuff out there.

It's just it always seems to be the same stuff, over and over.

Here's the formula:

  • First, get a good actor or better yet actors, maybe an unexpected one (say, a Michael Keaton).
  • Next, have a decent script, sure, but don't go nuts with it, and follow the usual formulas we're used to.
  • Finally, do elaborate set pieces.
  • All along, keep using those actors – they might be the only thing people come back for.

The end result, beautiful, artistic, well-acted stories we've seen before.  The usual origins, the usual angst, the usual hero-questions-self, the usual . . . everything.  At some point, I wonder if people are going to get tired of this – and that may not be good for the geekonomy and those of us working in it.

Superhero films haven't really innovated in . . . well, I'm waiting.  And Thor may be what I'm waiting for.

Thor is a very chancey property to develop, because it's actually a great example of what comic book Superheroes are – a massive kitbash of ideas and genres.  You have a supernatural entity more or less cast into our world (with superheroes), and assorted hammer-slamming adventures happen.  Thor exists in the world of The Hulk, Iron Man, and other radically different characters – and he's an outsider even in that world.

What this means is that the Thor film has a chance to break the usual narrative and shake things up.  Looking at the trailer, I'm hopeful it's embracing it's oddness:

  • You have a reverse hero story, that of the powerful cast down.  That's good fuel for all sorts of contrasts.
  • You have our world of science and secret agents and superheroes contrasting to Asgard, which judging by what I've seen is very Kirbyesque and wild and beautiful.
  • You have a character who is, well, kind of a jerk.  We've seen that in the character of Iron Man/Tony Stark, but combined with the fallen-from-power story you've got a chance to do things differently.
  • The contrast of our world versus the Asgardian world where "magic and science are the same" holds a lot of promise.  The preview has a fire-blasting animate suit of armor versus special agents.  That contrast can provide creative fuel.
  • You have a potential romantic hero that's more in the vein of the beloved paranormal romance genre – the inhuman or non-human or superhuman romantic figure.  It's not going to hurt the film that Chris Helmsworth bulked up and hunked out for this role.

So I think Thor is a chance to get us out of the usual hero stories because the concept is different from many others, and it's got a lot of contrasts that can provide creative and writing opportunities.  It's not the usual discovery-of-power stories, it's not within-our world, it could be wild and powerful and a mix of otherworldly and worldly.

Here's hoping – because with the amount of Superhero films out there I fear the genre could quickly over-extend it's welcome if it doesn't start innovating out of the rut it's often been in.  If it does innovate . . .

. . . well that may mean more superhero films, games, and more.  For those of us in the geekonomy, that means more work, more opportunities, as well as more fun.

We might just be counting on the thunder god to bail us out.

Steven Savage