Tag Archives: Odin

Thor: Ragnarok – What I Missed (Part 2)

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Something occurred to me after I started writing last week’s post. The fact that I need a second week shows me that the movie had a lot of substance. The right concepts and plot elements were there, but as I wrote last week, I feel that they were covered up (to an extent) by the humor. I realize this is a matter of personal taste, so I won’t belabor the point. Thor: Ragnarok was obviously well-received by fans and critics alike, and I do intend to watch it again.

From this point on, there might be some spoilers for anyone who has not yet seen this film.

Now for the picky part of my critique, which I readily admit arises from my own unrealistic expectations. This is what I missed. First, as I’ve already alluded, I would have liked to see more emphasis placed on the mythological concepts and imagery. The Valkyrie flashback with the winged horses was brief enough that it teased that desire in me, and I had hoped to see more of that kind of scene.

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Secondly, when I heard that the Hulk would be given more dialogue, I envisioned a more nuanced psychological  and emotional study of this character.

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I have posted before that he represents an outsized version of what resides in all of us, and this could have created all kinds of possibilities for his character development.

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I had also hoped the script would show a gradual evolution of his ability to speak coherently. The dramatic potential of such an approach is huge since it would provide a window into the soul of this creature.

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That said, there were still some great ideas which were well executed. I liked every scene with Fenris the wolf, another character lifted out of The Prose Edda by Snori Sturluson. The only problem with his battle with the Hulk is that it was a little difficult to tell how it was resolved.

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The evolution of Heimdall’s character was well done if not entirely consistent with his vocal style from previous movies. It was interesting to see him playing a different role in the story, and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off.

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The climactic battle was typically spectacular for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ll reserve judgment on turning Thor into the new Odin. That will be depend on how it is approached in future efforts.

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I particularly liked the scene showing the destruction of Asgard by Surtur. It was appropriately epic.

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I liked the redemption themes as well: the relationship of Thor and Loki…

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… the moral awakening of Skurge …

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… the reunion of Odin and his two sons, and the persuasion of Valkyrie as played by Tessa Thompson.  I especially liked the story arc of Valkyrie’s fall, degradation, and ultimate restoration to her former glory. It was a unique treatment of yet another character from Norse mythology.

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And that might be as good a place to end as any.

Thor: Ragnarok – What I Missed (Part 1)

thor 6I had mixed feelings as I sat in my seat waiting for the outro at the end of the credits for Thor: Ragnarok. On the one hand, I was thoroughly entertained for over two hours. On the other, I was disappointed by what I hadn’t seen. I realize that appreciation can be colored by prior expectations, and I really expected a lot out of this movie (maybe too much). I’ll have to see it again to get a more balanced perspective.  I’ll divide my comments into three areas: what I liked, what I didn’t like, and (perhaps most importantly) what I missed.

To begin with, I loved the first part. The opening sequence was visually satisfying, and the dialogue and action were engaging.

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It is in this opening that we meet Surtur, the fire demon who is capably played by Clancy Brown.

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We also meet Skurge, the negligent interim keeper of the Bifrost, as played by Karl Urban.

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The segment with Doctor Strange might have been a bit incongruous, but it was visually effective and very interesting. I am very intrigued by this character.

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The first scene where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) speak one last time with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was beautifully done, and I liked seeing Odin portrayed as an old man in normal clothing. The idea of gods among us in the guise of mere mortals resonated with me.

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The set up and reveal of Hela was well-crafted and intriguingly done. She, like Loki, comes from Norse mythology, and (like Loki) she is a different kind of villain. I enjoyed the scenes in which she was depicted, and Cate Blanchett did a wonderful job portraying her.

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Up to this point, I was satisfied with the development of the mythological elements in the plot. Then came the middle. I’ve always liked how Marvel uses humor to diffuse the tension, but I felt that this time it almost smothered it.

The introduction of the deranged Grandmaster as played by Jeff Goldblum managed to add a humorous sense of dread before the jokes threatened to take over.

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There were good scenes and ideas throughout the rest of the movie, but I felt they were overly subordinated to the jokes. The contrast of dread followed by an instant of comic relief didn’t feel as if it had been given sufficient time to build. Also, I wonder if there was too much reliance on phrases and slapstick sequences from past movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The almost Shakespearian nobility of Thor is a great straight line for the punch lines which involve him. I was sorry to see that sense of nobility lessened as much as it was, partly because I thought it lessened the impact of the humor, which much of the time was genuinely funny. I’m all for evolving a character, but I’m also all for maintaining sufficient continuity to make that evolution more plausible.

Well, this is taking longer than I had anticipated, so I’d better continue this thread next week.

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Valkyries

Norse mythology strikes me as being visually literal. What I mean by this is that spirits and creatures look like humans and animals – sometimes exaggerated in size, sometimes not – but they typically are not hybrids or chimeras of different species. Serpents look like serpents, gods like men, goddesses like women, etc. Sleipnir, Odin’s horse, is an exception to this rule due to his eight legs, but I think it largely holds true. Of course, the gods are able to change form, sometimes into those of animals, but they tend to look like ordinary animals, albeit sometimes exaggerated in size.

So what does this have to do with Valkyries? Well, they look like women – fierce, war-like women, but women, nonetheless. I wanted to illustrate a Valkyrie named Anni for my story poem, The Fear of a Farmer, but I didn’t have enough confidence in my artistic ability to make her look sufficiently impressive, so I added wings. In this sense, she looks a bit like the stereotypical imagery from a Wagnerian opera.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: Robert Lambert Jones III).

So what are Valkyries? That’s a good question. I can tell you what they do in Norse mythology, but it’s a bit harder to explain what they are with complete clarity. Much of what we know of them comes from The Prose Edda by Snori Sturluson and other works such as The Saga of the Volsungs.

Valkyries are females who fly over battlefields to choose the best of the slain for entrance into Valhalla, the great hall of Odin. Are they otherwise normal women who aspire to or are chosen for this calling, or are they spirits who can take on physical form? One scholarly opinion I read favors the former, but I don’t know the overall consensus since it is outside my field of expertise (molecular biology). Either way, they are a blend of the natural and the supernatural. This is often the case with Norse mythology and Greek mythology. Valkyries could interact with the living and even marry them. In The Saga of the Volsungs, a Valkyrie named Brynhild is betrothed to Sigurd, the main hero.

Valkyries are not normally portrayed with wings, so portraying them impressively is all about presentation. By this, I mean picture composition. I have chosen some examples which for various reasons have impressed me. Valkyries are often shown as wearing armor and/or riding horses, but there are some other tricks that can be used as well.

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Valkyrie Maiden by Howard David Johnson.

Okay, this might be cheating a little. The Valkyrie doesn’t have wings, but her horse does. Of course, I’m no purist in creative matters like this. Based on the kinds of stories I like to write, I think it’s cool when artists and writers borrow different elements from different mythologies. Pegasus quickly comes to mind from Greek mythology.

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Ride of the Valkyries by Jose Luis Munoz.

In this example, the expressions, postures, and poses of the Valkyries and their horses make for an interesting composition which is heightened by the artistic style and choice of color. This really drew my eye.

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Ride of the Valkyries by Hermann Hendrich.

Here is a more abstract approach which blends them with elements of nature – in this case, clouds. Note how the sense of scale, the dark birds, and the windblown trees accentuate the effect.

In the next two examples, we again see interesting and dynamic poses combined with a sense of context as Valkyries are shown riding in the air. Winged helmets serve as further suggestions of their power of flight. For reasons of personal taste, I especially liked the second of these. Look at the eyes of the horse on the left.

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The Ride of the Valkyries by William T. Maud.
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The Ride of the Valkyrs (1909) by John Charles Dollman.

This next one might be my favorite. Has the Valkyrie merely taken off her implements while keeping dutiful watch, or is she awaiting the return of the warrior she loves? I think art is really doing its job when it encourages us to imagine and speculate.

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The Valkyrie’s Vigil by Edward Robert Hughes.

I might as well end with another selection from my copyrighted but currently unpublished story poem, The Fear of a Farmer. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll just say it shows a farmer  named Einar being born aloft by Anni, the Valkyrie.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: Robert Lambert Jones III).

Another being next week…

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (7)

Zeus

In the Greek pantheon he is the king of the gods, the god of the sky, the heavens, and thunder and lightning. When compared to the Norse pantheon, he might be considered a combination of some of the attributes of Odin and Thor.  His name in the Roman pantheon is Jupiter.

Jupiter of Smyrna (discovered in Smyrna in 1680).
Jupiter of Smyrna (discovered in Smyrna in 1680).

In the painting below, Jupiter is shown appearing to Semele, one of his many lovers, as per her request. This, of course, kills her since she is a mere mortal. The account is from The Metamorphoses by Ovid.

Jupiter and Semele (1640 or earlier) by Peter Paul Rubens.
Jupiter and Semele (1640 or earlier) by Peter Paul Rubens.

I am reminded of God’s admonition to Moses in Exodus 33:20: “No one may see me and live.” This biblical account, by the way, is much older.

Hera is the wife of Zeus and is also one of his (gasp) sisters. Not only did he carry on with mortal women, but also with nymphs and other goddesses. Oh, what has become of our pagan idols?

Zeus and Thetis on Mount Olympus (1811) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Zeus and Thetis on Mount Olympus (1811) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Zeus also appears in (guess what) Marvel Comics…

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… and DC Comics.

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I’ll skip the more adolescent, “mean world” representations of later issues.

He  is also portrayed in more movies than I care to list. Furthermore, so much of the Greco-Roman pantheon has been appropriated by Marvel Comics and DC Comics that I grow tired of this sport.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Next week, I will change topics and begin a series of posts on mythological beasts and spirits.

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (4)

Loki

In Norse mythology, Loki is a shape-shifter (hence, a trickster) who is ascribed various powers in different versions or accounts. He is sometimes described as helping the other members of the Norse Pantheon and sometimes as working against them. This diversity makes him nuanced and interesting. In the original myths, he is completely unrelated to Odin, Freya, and Thor.

Loki shown in an 18th Century Icelandic manuscript.
Loki shown in an 18th Century Icelandic manuscript.
The punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (1813-1874).
The punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (1813-1874).
Loki and Sigyn (1863) by Marten Eskil Winge.
Loki and Sigyn (1863) by Marten Eskil Winge.

This Norse god has been skillfully re-written in Marvel Comics. In their version, he is the adopted son of Odin and Frigga (Freya) and the envious stepbrother of Thor.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

This unavoidably sets him at odds with the Avengers (get a load of the old Iron Man).

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

The imagery for this character has been  effectively re-invented in the comics. Below is a later version.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Disney Marvel also got Loki’s imagery right, and Tom Hiddleston excellently portrays him in the movies. In my opinion, he has become one of the best villains in cinematic history.

From The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon.
From The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon.
From Thor: The Dark World (
“Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World” (2013, directed by Alan Taylor)
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

We’ll look at one more Norse god next week and then move back to the Greek pantheon.

 

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (3)

Thor

He is the god of thunder, lightning, and strength, etc. Odin and Freya are his parents. His attributes make for some impressive imagery. As examples, consider the following paintings.

Thor's Battle Against the Jotnar (1872) by Marten Eskil Winge
Thor’s Battle Against the Jotnar (1872) by Marten Eskil Winge
Thor and the Midgard Serpent (1905) by Emil Doepler
Thor and the Midgard Serpent (1905) by Emil Doepler

Thor is only one of the Norse gods which Marvel Comics has borrowed. He first landed in August of 1962.

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As is often the case, the artwork grew more sophisticated over the years. I must confess, however, that I have developed a real appreciation and enjoyment of the artwork of the Silver Age of Comics. It is the style I grew up with.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

How can I resist showing this representation by Alex Ross?

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The Disney Marvel franchise has produced some interesting refinements for application to the big screen. In so doing, they have produced some truly iconic imagery for their characters, including Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth). Some fans have complained that the movies have changed the way that these characters are drawn and described in the comics. One additional thing that I like about the Thor movies I have seen is how they mix Norse mythology with science fiction.

Picture credit: Disney Marvel
Picture credit: Disney Marvel

One of my favorite visual sequences was of Thor summoning lightning from atop the Chrysler Building in New York during the great battle with alien invaders in the first Avengers movie. That’s all for now. Next time, another week, another god.

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (1)

Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh (left to right: Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins)
Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh (left to right: Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins)
Disney Marvel's Thor: The Dark World Heimdall (Idris Elba) Ph: Film Frame © 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Disney Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World
Heimdall (Idris Elba)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Freya (Renee Russo) from Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branaugh
Freya (Renee Russo) from Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branaugh

Odin, Freya, Thor, Loki, and Heimdall were borrowed from the Norse pantheon and re-imagined by Marvel Comics. These characters were also used effectively in a number of movies by the Disney Marvel franchise. Keeping in mind that this series is all about eye candy through various media, let us begin with…

Odin

He was highly regarded as the god of royalty, death, healing, poetry, and battle, etc. He is the husband of the goddess Freya and the father of Thor. He has many representations in art, both ancient and modern.

A medieval depiction of Odin (Late Middle Ages), Royal Library, Copenhagen
A medieval depiction of Odin (Late Middle Ages), Royal Library, Copenhagen
Godan (Odin) and Frea as illustrated by Emile Doepler (1905)
Godan (Odin) and Frea as illustrated by Emile Doepler (1905)

 

Relief of Odin on a modern coin.
Relief of Odin on a modern coin.

As I have already mentioned, he has been re-imagined as a character by Marvel Comics.

MarveComics
MarveComics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

And, of course, there are his appearances (played by the formidable Sir Anthony Hopkins)  in the Thor series of movies by the Disney Marvel franchise.

Image credit: Disney Marvel (actor: Anthony Hopkins)
Image credit: Disney Marvel (actor: Anthony Hopkins)

(to be continued)

The Modern Pantheon: The Vision

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The summer of 2015 was a good one for my little boy heart. Jurassic World and Ant Man actually exceeded my rather low expectations, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Between these two, Avengers: Age Of Ultron (directed by Joss Whedon) was released, and this movie introduced a character with which I became fascinated: The Vision as played by the excellent Paul Bettany, whom I have enjoyed in other roles. The imagery associated with this superhero was compelling in a different way.  His observant, newborn quality, his frank sincerity, and his emotional detachment give him an unusual aura of resolve and undefined purpose.

The concepts behind who and what The Vision is, as well as the circumstances of his creation, are intriguing as is shown in the clip below:

Born of artificial intelligence programs (Ultron and ultimately Jarvis), synthetic biology, the efforts of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and the electrical energy of Thor’s hammer acting on an Infinity Stone, he springs into being in an initially ominous way and then reveals himself as benign. Explaining himself to be neither Ultron nor Jarvis, he proclaims simply, “I am.” This and other cryptic quotations of scripture throughout the movie left me guessing at what the writers (Joss Whedon and Stan Lee) were trying to accomplish.

The Vision exudes purity and is more than the sum of his parts. Energized with unearthly, god-like power and incorporating scientific ingenuity as well, he is a hybrid being, a type of material and divine amphibian. It is within his nature to wield Thor’s hammer, something which only the worthy can do, and this puts him in the select company of Thor and Odin. The Mind Stone, a relic from the creation of the universe, is in his forehead, and this makes him a paradox, both new and ancient. Since the movies of the Disney Marvel franchise have already gone beyond the ideas of the original comics, we don’t fully understand who The Vision is and who he will become. I look forward to his further unveiling.

The Modern Pantheon: Thor

Picture credit: Disney Marvel
Picture credit: Disney Marvel

As I said in last week’s post, Thor was a movie I tried not to like, but I just couldn’t do it – for several reasons. The following scene is one of them.

Thor offers his own life for those of his friends and, stripped of his godly power, is killed by a robotic sentry sent by Loki from Asgard. A tear trickles down from the eye of his comatose father, Odin, and the hammer is activated. As the weapon hurtles like a missile toward his lifeless form, Thor is revived and catches it. He is then restored to his former glory.

This is essentially a resurrection scene, and the parallels with Christian theology are hard to miss. Both in comics and in movies, the Marvel franchise has repeatedly done an effective job of combining concepts from different mythological traditions (in this case, Christianity and Norse mythology) and mixing in an appealing dose of science fiction. This stuff is just plain fun. That it has additional meaning and good character development makes it that much better. I must mention here that, despite my relative unfamiliarity with the MCU, I am aware that Marvel has a habit of killing and resurrecting multiple characters – repeatedly. So my previous comments must be taken with a grain of salt.

The Modern Pantheon: Odin

As I mentioned in my last post, I will confine my comments to the movies with which I am familiar since it would take, oh, maybe a lifetime to get caught up on the original comics.

Image credit: Disney Marvel
Image credit: Disney Marvel

The character of Odin (as played by Anthony Hopkins) was the first to impress me when I watched Thor at the urging of a niece who was visiting us one Easter weekend. Understand that I originally thought I would not care for this movie, but was won over by the quality of the screenplay (Ashley Miller, Jack Stentz, and Don Payne), the story (J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich), the directing  (Kenneth Branagh), and the acting by a superb cast.

The scene which intially grabbed my was the one near the beginning where Odin, after rescuing the baby Loki, holds and transforms the foundling from a frost giant into his own son.

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Images from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh
Images from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh

Though the characters Odin and Loki are borrowed from Norse mythology, I was impressed by the parallels of this scene with a basic theme in Christianity: that of renewal and transformation by the hand of God. Please note that I am not claiming that there was any deliberate effort by anyone involved in the making of this movie to promote Christianity, but it would not surprise me if they were deliberately borrowing from Christian as well as Norse mythology. Lest I offend any of my fellow Christians, I must also add that in one of my earliest posts, I stated that calling something a myth is not necessarily the same as pronouncing it to be untrue.