I started writing this post last year the night I took my boys to see Thor Ragnarok. As has happened too often over the last two years though, a mass shooting, this time at a Sutherland Springs Church in Texas that killed 26, knocked me off my post.
Feeling a bit silly about a social commentary on a norse demi-god superhero movie in the face of such genuine tragedy, I shelved it.
Out on Blu-ray and on demand, Thor Ragnarok is back though. This week, my sons and I wasted no time in getting down to the hearty task of tossing aside homework to blast through it a half dozen times.
Before I continue though, I’ll add this sincere disclaimer:
The Marvel movies are the best movies being made today (maybe ever, or at least since Bladerunner). It’s not close. Ragnarok, all in, was probably the best movie made in 2017.
Unfortunately, they don’t nominate super hero movies for Oscars because everyone knows they’d win.
Because they’re super hero movies.
And super hero movies are better than all other movies because they have super heroes in them.
Ragnorak is no different.
It’s not just because Geoff Goldblum, who should be in most movies, is fantastic. Any one that can play a fly and look serviceable in a fake pick up football game against Tom Beringer in The Big Chill has unparalleled range.
It’s not because someone finally made sense of Robert Plant’s lyrics and used Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song not once but TWICE during realistic “one to many” superhero on zombie/demon warrior fight scenes.
It’s because Ragnarok delivered on that one thing that all Helmsworth family movies aspire to do; the promise of a 21st century American socioeconomic commentary.
From the moment, Hela, the Goddess of Death, played by Kate Blanchett, emerged from her foggy green portal through time and space to deliver her message of doom to the people of Asgard like a billionaire real estate tycoon turned reality TV show host announcing his candidacy by insulting people of Mexican heritage, school was in session.
Oden, the king, was dead.
He’d been sick, atrophying in exile, tragically unable to perform the basic duties of governing for a long time, no doubt blasting through debt ceilings and triggering government shut downs until finally, he passed, looking whimsically off into the distance remembering, perhaps, a golden age of a growing industrial military complex and early Elvis Presley songs.
A time, when Asgard was great.
Institutional decay, generations in the making, had exacted a cruel toll on the executive.
Then, like the dissolving memory of Reagon-omics, Oden, King of Asgard, was gone. The path was cleared for Hela’s arrival.
Oden’s dying words “I’m on a different path now. This you must face alone” hung over the screen like Eisenhower’s farewell address.
“As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight. Happily, I can say that war has been avoided.”
Ike, or Oden? Who can really tell.
Remembering his strength Thor cast his all-powerful hammer in the direction of the oncoming menace.
“Forged in the heart of a dying star, its power has no equal, as a weapon to destroy, or as a tool to build” the hammer, Mjolnir, like true Jacksonian Democracy, would surely hold the line.
But like millions of Americans who cast their democratic hammers in municipal libraries and civics buildings across America in 2016, Thor saw the power of his once invincible tool smashed into bits, powerless against the oncoming surge of demagoguery.
“It’s impossible.” Thor mutters, mimicking my Twitter feed on the evening of November 8, 2016.
“Darling, you have no idea what’s possible.” Hela responds, a line omitted at the last minute from President Trump’s acceptance speech.
Hela, The Goddess of Death was back. Once on the throne, there was one inevitable end; the destruction of Asgard.
Her major beef?
That the once great kingdom of Asgard had gone soft.
“You see, you never knew him (Oden), not at his best.” She tells an incredulous Thor before plucking out his eye. “Odin and I drowned entire civilizations in blood and tears. Where do you think all this gold came from? And then one day he decided to become a benevolent king.”
Oden had had his Roosevelt moment—a turn away from the slavery, conquest and oligarchy of old Asgard towards a government aimed at the welfare of its people. The conclusion was inevitable.
Suburbs. De-inustrialization. The internet.
Social Justice Warriors.
But no more.
Hela was back. Telling it like it was, she had awoken the long dormant warrior spirit of the dead heroes of Asgard, buried beneath the benevolent facade of the Oden’s Great Society.
The ghosts of Asgard’s Greatest Generation flocked to her, like my old teammates that served with me in two wars that lined up in droves to support a rich guy from New York who dodged the draft and talked tough and promised to honor them above all others.
The world was a brutal and scary place.
Hela would conquer it from a top of a snarling, battle tested Fenris war wolf.
Mattis, I think, was its name.
In the end, her return ended in catastrophe. It awakened a thousand-foot tall fiery demon from Asgard’s past. An old enemy they thought they’d vanquished rose from the ashes, fiery sword in hand, hammer and sickle still sheathed, and destroyed Asgard.
Hela and the great kingdom that had stood for thousands of years was no more.
There was a silver lining though.
Thor, their leader, had come to the realization that Asgard was not a place. It was a people. And though a fiery, autocratic, likely communist, maybe former foreign intelligence service giant had destroyed it, the idea of Asgard was invincible. It would live on in the minds of the fifty or so Asgardians Thor had smuggled off the flat planet in a space ship.
It was a happy ending after all.
The message in the Marvel masterpiece is subtle. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it.
One not need worry about political decay, anti-intellectualism and a general recession of enlightenment thinking and classical liberal democracy if one has a giant space ship.
5 thoughts on “American Ragnarok”
I just had a chance to read this. Now I have to see this movie! Fingers crossed we fair better than Thor’s kingdom/country. Thanks for another thought provoking essay.
Enter Elon Musk, and the race to Mars? Can 50 people fit in the escape capsule from Thomas Friedman’s flat world?
Ain’t got no spaceship. Need to start working on the task at hand. “How to?” is what we need to progress towards – no easy answer
That was dark. Didn’t see the last line coming.
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Subtle indeed! As always, a pleasure to read.