Superhero movies tend to come with ready-to-order religious applicability. Stories with supremely virtuous protagonists who redeem mankind with their selfless actions inevitably recall the life of the Savior. But what about when your hero is far from Christlike?
With Marvel’s Thor being a remix of the eponymous figure from Norse mythology, a literal god, the film invokes naturally invokes celestial imagery. You see this with the heavenly Asgard and Odin as a close shadow of God the Father.
What I find most interesting about this movie is that even though the movie abounds in heavenly iconography, Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor shies away from the easiest religious trope of them all. This superhero is kind of a jerk.
Evolution and even redemption make up the backbone of basically every superhero arc, but Thor’s journey is unique for a superhero film because his baseline is significantly lower than, say, Superman’s. I’d argue his transformation is even more pronounced than what you see with the Guardians of the Galaxy. In their case, their rough edges were signaled as by-products of trauma accumulated from lifetimes of abuse. Meanwhile, Thor’s arrogance and selfishness represent genuine character flaws left by years of irresponsibility. Thor is a flawed character.
Thor, in short, is not a stand-in for Christ, but for all of us. He, like all of us, needs to spend some time in the refiner’s fire before he can become “worthy.”
Thor’s mortal internment confronts him not only with the humiliating backhand slap of failure, but also the opportunity to learn and live alongside the mortals he had once disregarded. As he grows to respect and care for them, his brashness deteriorates and his innate goodness is allowed to shine through.
This is where the Christ metaphor starts to emerge. In the film’s climax, Thor’s bargain to Loki–take my life in exchange for their safety–recalls Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The scene is even complete with a death and resurrection wherein Thor’s godly power is restored.
Perhaps there’s some applicability here for the striving disciple who is maybe still tending to their own mortal shortcomings. Given time, opportunity, and humility, maybe even the most brazen of us can become worthy.