November: Thor (2011)

2011 has been a banner year for superhero movies, with no less than five major motion pictures dedicated to the spandex set. X-Men: First Class was a little gloomy for my tastes, and the less said about Green Lantern, the better, but I loved Captain America and even the offbeat third-stringer Green Hornet. The only DVD I pre-ordered, though, was Thor.

Having never actually read any comics with Thor in them, my perception of the character was based on Norse mythology, which is why about half an hour into the movie, I leaned towards my friend – a lifelong Marvel fan – and whispered, “You never told me Thor was for girls!” And I was only being a little bit facetious. After all, this is a movie about a (very, very, very) handsome prince with long flowing hair who struggles through adversity in order to earn his birthright and the love of his life. It’s a Disney movie with more punching and fire-spewing Scandanavian robots! Honestly, if a cartoon bluebird had perched on Thor’s finger while he was galloping across that rainbow bridge on his pretty white horse and all three of them had burst into song, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.

Or, to put it another way, this is the only superhero movie I can think of that spends any time on the female gaze (lingering shots of George Clooney’s Bat-nipples don’t count). Look, obviously I don’t think men and women are genetically predisposed to like certain things – this is a website about women and superhero comics, after all. But Thor, besides being a funny, touching, well-acted epic with absolutely gorgeous cinematography, is chock-full of things women are socialized to appreciate: a climax that’s as emotionally wrought as it is physically exhilarating. Character growth that’s about learning to be peaceful and thoughtful and responsible instead of warlike and arrogant. Family. Romance. Interconnectivity. Chris Hemsworth’s bare torso and twinkly blue eyes. (Sigh!)

Plus, in a genre where women tend to revolve around the central hero like helpless satellites with great hair, the women of Thor are wonderfully refreshing. Jane Foster is a scientist first and foremost; sure, Thor’s dreamy and all, but she’s mainly focused on retrieving her research, which is confiscated by SHIELD early on. Darcy gets all the best lines, and hell, just the fact that the comic relief character/assistant scientist is female is astonishing. Sif is as accomplished a warrior as any of the male gods, and never needs saving – just a reminder that retreating is sometimes the better part of valor. Only Frigga gets a rushed, one-note treatment, and even then it involves her killing a frost giant with a sword.

Thor’s not a perfect movie – at times it felt a little rushed, something that has never been said before about any Kenneth Branagh movie ever – but it’s an excellent one, with some of the best treatment of female characters in the genre. And it’s out on DVD, so if you missed it in theaters, now’s your chance!

Violence: The movie’s PG-13 rating comes from pretty standard superhero-movie brawls. There’s a lot of punching, but no gore and no death (except CGI frost giants).

Sexualized Violence: None.

Gender: There are three prominent female characters, all of whom are smart, capable, and bundled up in winter clothes throughout.

The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passes in the first five minutes. I know, I couldn’t believe it either!

Minorities: The movie got some high-profile flack from racists for casting Idris Elba, who is black, as Heimdall (and I assume also for casting Tadanobu Asano, who is Japanese, as Hogun). It’s nice to see Marvel Studios pushing a more color blind casting, but I’d have liked to see more than three minorities (Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury makes a cameo after the credits), including some women of color.

Parents May Wish to Be Aware: The scenes with the frost giants and/or the Destroyer might be scary for younger children; I’d advise screening it for children much younger than the recommended PG-13 rating, but it’s probably suitable for ages 10 and up.

- Review by Jessica Plummer

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