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Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
On the surface, Thor is exactly, precisely what we think heroes should be. Tall, handsome, impossibly strong, and happy to go out and bash his people's enemies because…well, because bashing them is for fun than a barrel of Nordic ice monkeys.
He's also the son of the King of the Gods, a crown prince with a cosmic throne waiting for him. In short, he's got the whole universe on a string.
But the fact that he's basically what you think of when you close your eyes and think "hero" is actually a bad thing…for a couple of reasons.
Check out his exchange with Odin after he goes into Jotunheim and starts a war…which is pretty much exactly, precisely what Odin tells him not to do.
THOR: The Jotuns must pay for what they have done!
ODIN: They have paid, with their lives. The Destroyer did its work, the Casket is safe, and all is well.
THOR: All is well? They broke into the weapons vault! If the frost giants have stolen even one of these relics...
ODIN: They didn't.
THOR: Well I want to know why!
Simmer down, Thor. It's obvious that his righteous anger is getting in the way of him being an effective ruler…since he's getting hot under the collar about something that didn't even happen.
Thor's journey leads him, not just to save the universe or protect the innocent, but also to lose some of his egotistical jerkbagginess. His isn't a rags-to-riches story: it's a riches-to-rags story. Think of Thor as a superhero version of Scrooge—dude has to be taken down a few pegs to see what makes life worth living.
Thor's a powerful guy, but he's got a lot to learn about being a hero. Early in the film, we don't really like him any more than Loki does, and it's pretty satisfying to watch him get stripped him of all his glory and see this unstoppable deity saddled with some real vulnerabilities.
Because that's the key to Thor's transformation: he goes from being foolish to being wise. He has to learn to look out for others instead of himself and use his powers in the right way instead of just thumping big things that irritate him.
We see that in a big way when he fights his way to his precious hammer…only to find that he can't lift it. Being worthy of the hammer, it seems, doesn't mean just being the toughest dude in Midgard.
As he explains to Erik over a beer:
THOR: You know, I had it all backwards. I had it all wrong.
ERIK: It's not a bad thing finding out that you don't have all the answers. You start asking the right questions.
THOR: For the first time in my life, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do.
ERIK: Anyone who's ever going to find his way in this world, has to start by admitting he doesn't know.
His journey is a spiritual one—though, in keeping with the needs of a summer event picture, it still involves plenty of bashing. (We're not complaining.)
But lest you think that Thor goes from Norse god to sensitive poet-type—he doesn't. He goes from jerky lunkhead to beneficent lunkhead. And we love him for it.
Even when he's accepted the responsibilities of the throne and grown up to be a nice, responsible god of thunder, he prefers bashing his way through a problem than thinking through it. Terrible truth: he's just not all that good at thinking (though he has clever moments).
Most of the time though, he abides by the theory of "hit that thing until it stops." When he wrecks the Bifrost Bridge rather than let Loki destroy Jotunheim, even Loki seems shocked at his lack of forethought:
LOKI: What are you doing? If you destroy the Bridge, you'll never see her again!
But Thor's late-inning bash-fest still reflects his newfound principles. Sure, he's busting up the Bifrost…but his doing so not only saves lives (even frost giant lives), but represents a real sacrifice on his part, since it cuts him off from Jane.
A god's gotta do what a god's gotta do.
And that hundred and eighty degree shift—from selfishness to selflessness—represents the key part of being a hero. Thor's technique hasn't changed, but the way he applies it has. That means from now on he'll do his bashing only for good, and put others ahead of himself when the time to bash arises.
He earns a great deal of humility too: that swagger has been knocked out of his stride, but that's made him a better man-god. In the end, when he hugs it out with Odin, he makes it pretty clear how much he's changed:
ODIN: You will be a wise king.
THOR: There will never be a wiser king than you…or a better father. I have much to learn. I know that now. Someday, perhaps, I shall make you proud.
Aww, shucks. That should be on a Father's Day Hallmark card.
Thor doesn't quite take the path that most other heroes take—but that's part of what makes him unique. Thor is an awesome character (he definitely inspires awe) but not because he's made the complicated discovery of his own superpowers, a la Iron Man.
Instead, he's made a different kind of complicated discovery: he's learned that being strong doesn't make you a hero, and that having superpowers means nothing unless you use them the right way.
Oh yeah—and he also learns that smashing your coffee cup on a diner floor and bellowing:
THOR: This drink. I like it. Another!
…is not the way to get a free refill of delicious bean juice. (Always tip your waitress, y'all.)
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