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Foreign Policy Analysis
The Thor Trilogy, Thematic Storytelling, and Imperialism

The Thor Trilogy, Thematic Storytelling, and Imperialism


The trilogies in the Marvel Cinematic universe
are generally disjointed. It’s hard enough to keep a steady tone,
theme, and message across several years of production when you have the same team, and
the Iron Man, Captain America, and Avengers trilogies all have multiple directors and
creative teams. When you have disjointed movies, it can become
difficult to let a viewing experience be cohesive. Thematic storytelling relies upon consistency,
and the Marvel trilogies really don’t accomplish that. I’d be hard pressed to say any of the Avengers
movies have a theme. Sure, there’s good vs evil, but that’s
such a basic trope. I guess you could argue that the villains
are all supposedly benevolent tyrants, ultimately holding humanity’s best interests in mind
while usurping freedom, but even then, it’s such a weak excuse. Loki, Ultron, and Thanos are just murdering
people because they think they know better. There’s no ideological disagreement, they
don’t represent anything, they’re basically sentient natural disasters that like to justify
their war crimes. And as much as Thanos likes to pretend he’s
empathic, he’s still a sadist, and he represents no real belief system. “I want to destroy 50% of the population
of the universe.” “I think your math is wrong.” “No, I’m pretty sure it’s right.” He just repeats his thesis with different
words, similarly to Steve in Civil War, and his opponents just say, no, you can’t prove
it, over and over again, already assuming his premise isn’t faulty. Compare Thanos to Sauron, a villain from another
popular trilogy. Sauron isn’t incredibly deep, either, but
his influence goes beyond punching and torturing. Sauron and his ring represent the corrupting
presence of power, and the way to defeat him is not just through having more superpowers
or vague concepts like freedom equals good, but through loving your fellow humans, uniting
nations despite cultural differences, holding yourself to higher standards when you are
given power, and supporting your friends when they struggle with addiction. Could you tell me what the intended message
is when countless Wakandans die in battle to save the white robot? Or why we should care that cars are blown
up in New York? Or the thematic reason why Scarlet Witch and
Quicksilver were willing to help Ultron slaughter Africans and Asians, but not Europeans? The Avengers movies are popcorn flicks. They offer no more than a collection of characters
you recognize doing the things they do in their own movies next to each other. The Captain America movies at least have themes,
but they’re disjointed, even internally. Like, Steve says that even though 40s America
did things they regretted, it was always in pursuit of freedom, directly ignoring that
Fury was probably referring to the imprisonment of Americans based on Japanese ancestry, a
direct violation of freedom. But the Russo Brothers consistently show a
double standard for freedom. White people kill dozens of black people,
it’s an infringement upon freedom if they face consequences. A black man tries to arrest the white man
that is suspected to have murdered his father, it’s freedom to try to stop him. The Russo movies are distinctly about freedom,
at least for white people, but that’s never really a concern in the first movie. Winter Soldier sees Arnim Zola state that
hydra was founded on the belief that humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom. Ignoring the desire of gentile, non-Roma,
able-bodied filmmakers to rewrite nazis as general tyrants and not people motivated by
white supremacy and ableism, and the bizarre desire to cast Jewish people and people of
color as neonazis, this isn’t really even consistent with the first movie, which is,
save the theatrics, a rather standard war film. The Iron Man films at least has internally
consistent themes, but they are still at odds with each other. Iron Man is anti-War, but in the kind of way
that the US military will still pay for it. Iron Man 2 is actually closer to pro-War. And iron Man 3 is anti-War, and so vehemently
anti war, even the military wasn’t going to support it. Iron Man 1 suggests the best way to end violence
is with more violence. Iron Man 3 says its through deweaponizing
and focusing resources on healthcare and science. 1 and 3 might make a good arc, if 2 didn’t
take things backwards. It’s weird, then, that the Thor trilogy
not only maintains a single message, but it grows it naturally, and it even does so in
films with three different directors, three different qualities, and three different types
of comedy. The recurring theme in the Thor movies is
one of anti-imperialism. Thor is a pretty good movie, directed by the
talented Kenneth Branagh. Thor is, on the surface, character driven,
but there’s a reason Loki is the only good phase one marvel villain. It’s largely because his pathos draws from
the real world, at least in Thor. Asgardians lives in a post-imperialist society,
unconcerned with the past deeds of their nations. In many ways, this reflects the attitude of
many English, Spanish, French, German, and United States American people. The past is over. We’re not actively invading countries now,
so you can’t hold us accountable. Like the UK and the US and so on, Asgard not
only profits from an imperialist past, they maintain a form of unsteady peace with other
locations, largely held by their unbelievable arsenal that holds the ability to annihilate
any inhabited land without sending troops on the ground. This position of power and privilege plays
directly in to the story of Thor. While it’s constructed around Thor as a
person struggling with empathy and putting other people first, the film offers a stark
yet subtle condemnation of imperialism. The actions that cause Thor and his friends
to first attack Jotunheim were actually manufactured by a bored aristocrat interested in increasing
his power. These actions are also minor compared to what
Thor does as he murders several dozen Frost giants before Odin shows up. Odin himself represents that modern mild liberal
philosophy of “I can’t be held responsible for what my ancestors did,” only, as he’s
thousands of years old, he got to play both sides. His entitlement and privilege are put most
on display in the movie’s twist, well, twist if you aren’t familiar with either the Norse
mythology or the Marvel Comics upon which this movie is based. It is revealed that Loki, Odin’s son and
Thor’s brother, is actually a frost giant, taken from one of Odin’s victorious battlefields. The forceful removal of children from one
group to another is, according to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime
of Genocide, published by the UN, campaigned for by Raphael Lemkin, who defined the term,
genocide. Odin committing this act is both portrayed
as evil and as not a big deal to the heroic characters. Odin says Loki would’ve died had he not
taken him, claiming he was abandoned, but there’s no way he could’ve possibly known
that. All he knows is he killed a bunch of frost
giants and then found a baby alone. The most interesting part of Loki comes when,
even after he learns he is biologically a frost giant, his assimilation and indoctrination
in the Asgardian way of life is so thorough, he attempts to finish the genocide his father
started. Loki says that frost giants are the creatures
parents tell stories about to frighten their children, and learning that he’s one of
them, and that he has emotions, love for his family, and the capacity for kindness should
cause him to view the frost giants as equally deserving of respect. However, he is filled with so much self hatred
that he would rather try to kill all of the frost giants, and when his plan fails, and
Odin remains stalwart in maintaining his Cold War, he attempts his own suicide. He was never truly accepted as Asgardian because
of his race, and he was never able to accept himself as a frost giant, something he was
told from his childhood was an abomination. I think it’s worth pointing out how real
life race and ethnicity factor into this parallel. Being directed by Kenneth Branagh, the race
of the characters in the source material matter less than the talent of the actors. For example, we got Denzel and Keanu as white
Italian brothers in Much Ado About Nothing. Now, this being part of a franchise, he probably
had less freedom than usual, and he had to work alongside Sarah Finn and Randi Hiller,
regulars for the MCU. Still, we did get Idris Elba as Heimdall and
Maximiliano Hernández as Jasper Sitwell, both of whom are white in the comics. I think this change for Heimdall works, not
just because Elba is a fantastic actor, but because it makes the film more clear in its
message. The third most powerful individual in Asgard
is a black man, and it’s never commented upon, because race as humans conceive doesn’t
really seem to be a factor in Asgard’s power structure at first, but despite Heimdall’s
power, and the fact that he’s Thor’s best friend, he’s still relegated to the outskirts
of society where he can be useful. More on him later. Avengers is a fun movie but it sucks in furthering
Loki’s character or Thor’s or Asgard’s story. The Dark World is without a doubt the worst
Thor movie. It’s horribly paced, the only one of the
three that’s visually uninteresting, preoccupied with cheap grabs of humor, and it kicks off
the whole infinity stones plot line that would derail almost every sequel movie going forward. The script isn’t as human or as funny as
the first or third one, the direction they took was clearly influenced by what the internet
liked about Loki in Avengers, and it’s widely regarded as one of the worst MCU movies. But… there are some things that work. Loki is uninterested in furthering the goals
of Asgard anymore, and he’s only kept alive because his mother loves him. Though her love is genuine, she was still
complicit in her husband’s kidnapping and deception of the child. Yet, even as he is disillusioned with the
imperialist dreams of old Asgard, he still loves his mother, their relationship, though
built on lies, is still real, and they care for each other despite the years of lying
and recent attempts at genocide. The other thing that really works, if you
know his backstory, is Malekith. I know, I know, he’s one of the bad Marvel
villains, supposedly, but that’s in part because they cut out his motivation. Though scenes were filmed, they didn’t make
it into the movie. Had they, I think that Malekith would’ve
been one of the better MCU villains, and all 3 Thor movies would’ve had good villains. In his deleted backstory, Malekith’s family
was heavily implied to be murdered by Bor, Odin’s father, which raises the question
as to whether Malekith’s attack against the Asgardians was an invasion or a revolution. Odin is described as the protector of the
nine realms, but he was never asked for protection, and Bor’s protection looks a lot like war. He would also have been shown to have missed
the life he lived with his family, implying life in darkness is not impossible, or even
unpleasant. Instead, he just has a different culture. This change would give a one-note villain
actual motivation. And knowing this, you can actually see a somber
resolve in Eccleston’s performance, especially when he communicates with Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s
Algrim, as you can sense they see each other as family and dear friends, something missing
in any other Marvel villains. There’s loss in his voice, and his behavior
feels more like revenge rather than rampant conquest. He’s still evil, but he’s a victim of
Asgard’s imperialism first. I’m not saying Malekith is secretly a great
character, but I think that Eccleston, who himself comes from working class backgrounds
and is vocally critical of England’s monarchy, as well as its sexism and racism, gives a
great performance, even if he’s underused. And these deleted scenes also support the
anti-imperialist themes that are actually already in this movie. Even if we assume Odin is correct in his order
of events, he still tells Thor he will sacrifice his men’s lives in pursuit of victory over
a foreign power. Thor is shown to be wiser for choosing to
prevent war. Algrim releases all of the prisoners save
Loki, who is clearly of an upper class. Malekith only accepts Loki upon hearing he
is of Jotunheim, a similarly subjugated realm, and in what I think is actually the most symbolic,
interesting scene in the whole movie, upon breaking through Asgard’s defenses, rather
than torture someone or make a quip like any other Marvel villain, he destroys the throne. Silently. It’s the throne that the dark elves hate. Not the people. Not the realm. The throne. Still, despite all that, Thor: The Dark World
is not a good movie, and it is not concerned enough in conveying these themes. Then, of course, there was a third movie. Thor: Ragnarok is both the greatest Thor movie
and the most adamantly anti-imperialist. While Odin had always held a facade of liberalism,
the first two movies heavily hint at Asgard’s past of conquest. Ragnarok rips that bandaid off in the first
arc of the film. Hela doesn’t just represent imperialism,
she was Odin’s right hand, and even more, she reflects neo-nationalist movements desiring
to respark the fires of colonialism. She even draws her power from Asgard. The most powerful sign of her meaning comes
when she reveals the entire fresco of the Asgardian palace to Skurge, showing him and
the audience what lies beneath the face of good guy of the universe Odin, a history of
murder and slaughter. Later, as she says to Thor, “Where do you
think all this gold came from?” The wealth of Asgard, as well as the wealth
of nations such as England and the US, were not achieved through virtue or creativity
alone, but also by death and destruction of unsuspecting or disadvantaged peoples. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about
how director Taika Waititi’s personal politics play into this film, but as I’m not from
New Zealand, I think I’d benefit from referencing two analyses by Daniel Taipua and Neal Curtis. I will link both of their works below. Many people see anti-imperialism as synonymous
with hating your culture or your history, but for Waititi, even though the film is opposed
to imperialism, he clearly shows that it’s healthy to take pride in your roots. No clearer is this seen than in Brunnhilde
the Valkyrie. Brunnhilde, when we meet her, is disenfranchised,
to say the least. She has lost her home, her lover, her status,
and everything she’s ever known. She’s driven from Asgard and comes to Sakaar,
specifically so she can drink and forget. However, as she says to Thor, she can’t
turn away anymore, and if she has to die, it might as be while killing Hela. Despite spending years selling her skills
to the Grandmaster, she chooses to return to Asgard to help her people, and once again
dons the armor of her past. Taipua and Curtis both see similarities between
Valkyrie and indigenous people, specifically with Maori, the native inhabitants of New
Zealand. Taika Waititi, himself Maori, gave Valkyrie’s
ship the colors of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, the flag of the Maori people. When she returns to Asgard, it’s the return
of an Indigenous Asgardian. I suppose now would be a good time to return
to the subject of race in this trilogy. As I said, while Asgard seems postracial,
it’s worth noting that, of the four friends of Thor that helped him commit treason, only
Heimdall is punished. Yes, it’s because he is the one with the
ability to reveal Loki’s trickery, but the symbolism stands of the sins of the white
citizens, which included assaulting guards, being forgiven while the sins of Heimdall,
merely distracting Odin, are punished. Still, despite his unfair treatment by the
government, Heimdall uses his powers and abilities, as well as his privileges, to protect the
weak and vulnerable. He would have every right to be bitter and
seek only to support himself, but he values the community. Not for its ability to expand, but because
it can unite, despite all of the differences its members have, in the face of adversity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence either
that the Berserker army are a uniform national force, and the Asgardian army is diverse,
specialized, united, but distinct. But as great as Valkyrie and Heimdall are,
Ragnarok is a Thor movie, and unlike Captain America: Civil War, it feels like our titular
character is front and center. Thor gets everything Steve doesn’t: a conversation
with his best friend, a great new romantic interest that doesn’t feel forced, a heartfelt
reunion with his old friend turned enemy turned friend, and an appearance by an Avenger that
adds to the story rather than detract. But even more than that, while Steve begins
and ends his third movie as much the same man, Thor changes. Like the first Avengers, Age of Ultron did
little to advance the plot of Thor’s character, instead roping him into the cosmic infinity
stone quest line, and Ragnarok addresses this with a single line. Instead, Thor is concerned with protecting
Asgard once more. He defeats Surtur, prophesied to be the end
of Asgard, and he seeks out Odin, a man that, from his perspective, is needed for Asgard’s
success. However, he is dying. But Asgard is not. See, everything that Thor, and many white
audiences, associate with Norse culture are taken from him by the end of the movie. He no longer has his historical artifact,
or his homeland, or his ability to wage wars in foreign lands. He even loses both his blond hair and blue
eyes. But Asgard lives on. As Thor discovers, it’s not the items or
the land or the physical characteristics, it’s the people. The people together, no matter what they look
like, United by a cultural identity, will always be Asgard. And thus, over the arc of three movies, both
Thor and Asgard have transformed from an imperialist entity to a nomadic presence. The souls are still alive, but they don’t
need to subsist off from the blood of others to do so. At least until the Russo Brothers ruined everything. I’ve seen people call the Thor trilogy confused,
and while a singular tone is never found, I’d argue, more than any other three marvel
films, they successfully tell a single story. Thor goes from a warmonger to a calculating
warrior, then to a rogue agent, to finally, a leader. And Asgard changes along side him. Sure, not all three movies are great, but
the story itself is one for the ages.

9 comments on “The Thor Trilogy, Thematic Storytelling, and Imperialism

  1. Great video, I think your discussions raise up several valid points/areas of critique and I look forward to enjoying your videos in the future. As you said, Thor wasn't a terrible film… I actually even enjoyed TDW (ok…maybe i'm a fan of dark drab dreary visuals), mythology based fantasy and magic was always an interest of mine and I just wish somewhere between the first film and Ragnarok was the tone the entire trilogy had. I want a 4th film, I feel like I'd even like to see Natalie Portman get a chance and see Jane Foster Thor, or an inverse smurfette trope (which Gotg, Avengers, Ragnarok all have)where we see Jane, Lady Sif AND Valkyrie + Thor together…pretty formidable a team. I'd like to lean in to the serious of post-Infinity War Thor, as well as the loss he's had in a relatively short period of time when he's been around thousands of years.

  2. Thor is the opposite of Captain America one moved forward (for good or bad) and the other stayed in the past (literally).

  3. Nice freakin video man! You nailed it especially mentioning the Avengers like the comment before me mentioned at 2.17. No one has cover the storiesd like you have and I think YouTube is hiding you or something. 1st I'm supposed to get notifications when you put a video up and I don't then I go to search for your channel and nothing… I specifically wrote out the exact name of your channel once even putting that I was searching for a channel and not a video about Moths lol and still nothing. I think YouTube is hiding you I dont think thats right because IMO you honestly make some of the best videos. Maybe tweeking your channel name a little might help but IDK. Other than that like I said awesome video you interlocked the the entire Marvel universe and made a great point very well done still pissed at them hiding you though lol

  4. My goodness, this video suffers from far-left reasoning(and lies), or lack thereof.

    You want to hold Western nations responsible for the past actions of THE WEALTHY. That's like holding the the average American today responsible for the actions of the Robber Barons of the late 19th and early 20th century. The West does not benefit from its past. The rich do. Statistics show this unambiguously.

    Likewise, you can't blame the average white person alive today for the past actions of wealthy plantation owners(who weren't all white, btw).

    Thirdly, there's not a single, NOT ONE neo-Nationalist movement today that preaches Colonialism. The fact that you would brazenly tell a lie like this makes me think you knowingly and maliciously said it. Not only that, but Nationalism was never about Colonialism in the past. Again, shifting responsibility away from the rich and towards a political group.

    Fourthly, nobody sees anti-Imperialism as being synonymous with hating your culture or country. Nationalists see hating your culture and country as hating your culture and country. Again, stop lying. Something tells me you don't actually know what "Imperialism" means.

    Fifthly, the diversity of Thor's team probably is a coincidence, just like Heimdall's race. Same with Thor's hair and eyes. You're reading too much into that.

    The hamfisted message of this video is clear, even to a Latino like me: fuck white people.

    "Asgard lives on. As Thor discovers it's not the items, or the land, or even the physical characteristics that make up Asgardians. It's the people. The people together, no matter what they look like. United by a cultural identity."

    I wonder if you'd be willing to make this same nonsensical argument in DEFENSE of Colonialism. Ignoring the fact that it's impossible to separate culture and race, diversity as an idea fits more with Colonialism than it does Nationalism.

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