It’s been longer than usual between posts. Life at home has been busy with a pair of road trips, bonus farm chores, and welcoming a new life into the family.
I went to see Thor: The Dark World expecting entertainment. The first Thor movie was visually stunning but not remarkable in terms of story or acting from the principle leads. Thor, who in accordance with Norse mythology was something of a jerk, turned into more than a selfish jock. All right, it was pretty, and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Idris Elba (Heimdall) turned in spectacular supporting performances in the first movie, particularly given the script they had to work with. The Dark World represents one of those rare gems where the sequel surpasses the original in every way. It seems blasphemous to my nerdy soul to say that the dream team of Kenneth Brannaugh and Joss Whedon were schooled, but I can happily report that I was wrong.
The new Thor movie jumps right into the universe without tedious explanation. Marvel’s ground-breaking Avengers movie series has proven a great success despite faltering steps like Iron Man 2. Thor: The Dark World uses the established mythos as a source of energy and background. The dialogue is intelligent, human, and entertaining. Almost everyone from the original cast is back. Established world, established relationships, and good chemistry go a long way. The bad guy du jour is Malekith, lord of the dark elves. Christopher Eccleston plays Malekith with the combination of pathos and menace that helped him revive the Dr. Who franchise.
No review of the movie would be complete without a nod to the stunning array of visual effects. It was a real treat to see more of Asgardian technology and culture as the ‘gods’ run into a force as strong and even older than themselves, kicking at the door. Norse mythology shines best dealing with potential cataclysms, and this offering covers the best of many worlds.
Multiple road trips got me through the Audible edition of Engaging the Enemy, book 3 of the Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon. The five-part series is very much patterned in traditional Shakespearean five-act drama. Engaging the Enemy is act three, the turning point where the critical decisions are made and everyone’s path turns towards the grand finale. The second book brought the surviving Vattas together and gave them a small measure of safety.
Trading in Danger gave us a tour of the world, merchant-space-truckers, faster-than-light ansibles and all. Marque and Reprisal gave the first face of the enemy, and followed Ky’s decision to start to take a stand in space. Engaging the Enemy expands on the space-born conflict but broadens the narrative considerably. I enjoyed the sincere but bizarre spaceport sequences, the courtyard, and the surprising subplot focused on the group’s adopted stray dog. Back on Slotter Key Aunt Gracie’s one-woman quest for justice takes some surprising turns. This multiparty story delivers and I look forward to book four.
I picked up Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift on the Nook, and I’m about a third of the way through. I was in high school the last time I read Mrs. Rice’s fiction. Her novels of becoming (I Vampire, and Interview with a Vampire) painted a dynamic supernatural world with human characters feeling their way forward as best they could. I was a little hesitant, as my boyhood memories of Rice’s fiction contained the firm impression that the woman was over-sexed in the tradition of bodice rippers and some other authors of her generation (Mercedes Lackey and Piers Anthony spring to mind). Though I’m only partially through the book, I will say that Mrs. Rice’s take on werewolves plays well to her strengths. Her hero is sincere, intelligent, and quite earthily human as he is bitten and becomes something more. There are some delightful inversions of the Superman mythology here, with a reporter werewolf whose animal form becomes a publicly known super-hero in his metropolitan area.
There is a fair amount of sexuality in the book, but while it is pervasive, it has not yet reached the levels of True Blood. It’s less prurient than present at a believable level. One critic’s review blasted Anne Rice for Catholic mysticism in the story, but I have enjoyed it thoroughly. The werewolf’s confessor points out to him that every criminal he kills, he deprives the victim of the criminal’s repentance, deprives the criminal of repentance, and deprives the world of all redemptive work that the evildoer might create in the rest of their lives. I would like it very much if Catholicism extended to the radical idea of saving sex for marriage (not an unreasonable hope, perhaps, from a church that holds marriage as a sacrament instead of dipping into the sexual permissiveness that seems accepted and embraced in traditionally Catholic cultures, prostitution etc. I understand that people are sinners, but in fiction it would be great if purity of body as well as heroism was embraced. This is a great strength of the Twilight novels compared to Mrs. Rice’s vampires, where chastity and marriage are not deemed as impossible in a world where people’s bodies rip apart and turn into giant killer canines!!!)
That brings me to my last review, as I rented The Man of Steel from the local Blockbuster (apparently the last thing that I will ever rent there as the long-beloved franchise goes belly-up). This is not a new movie, so there is not a lot to say that has not been said before. The acting is solid, with Clark generally upstaged by Zod and Zor-El. Visually amazing and well-written, this story is entertaining. But from the beginning Superman has been a story about a savior from space and I want to talk about the changes in the nature and role that savior holds.
Superman was originally written by Jewish-American authors, and a good part of the story’s richness is a reflection of the Torah story of Moshe (Moses) combined with the mythological story of the Golem, that indestructible defender of a city, empowered by the name of God, a creature of great strength. The journey through the stars and Moshe’s float to Pharoah’s daughter, adopted into a foreign culture, and at once part of his adopted world and not part of it just as Moshe was, and just as the Jewish-American experience has been all too often in American history. Like Moshe Kal-El comes as a messiah, a miraculous savior in times of great need.
It is that salvation that has changed as America has changed. Moshe was not a savior in and of himself, no disrespect to the great man of God. He was a savior because he was sent by his God to save his God’s people. Moshe’s savior role was in submission to the higher ideals of Ha Shem, and the power of the one who sent him. Superman’s savior role was not ultimately because he was strong, but because he was righteous. “Truth, justice, and the American way” was an ideal that Superman reinforced in his original incarnations. This was a time when both Jew and Gentile Americans believed in God, however differently, and were not afraid to worship him.
By the time Christopher Reeve donned the tights of red yellow and blue the faithful portion of Superman had already begun to fade, but the quote remained because the public face of America still turned on concepts of justice and truth.
When Dean Cain picked up the cape for Lois and Clark, Superman had abandoned his famous motto as America had turned towards the bottomless moral pit of political correctness, where believing in a right and wrong was suspect, much less employing force to protect it. Cain’s Superman was much more arbitrary in the sides he would pick.
Superman Returns, with Superman as a deadbeat dad who abandoned his son to go flitting about into space for years and ultimately needs saving from Lois and the son he abandoned was a plunge into postmodernism, where even having a messiah was a crime against societal norms. Superman could not be morally superior in thought or action to the rest of America. It’s little wonder that the film undersold predictions.
Now The Man of Steel returns to the role of messiah embracing the twin religions of America: evolution and environmental activism. There is no God. Jor-El was the chief scientist (priests of both new religions in America). The Kryptonians deserved to go into the past and their planet blew up because they were environmentally irresponsible (the chief unforgivable sin) and humans might not make the same mistake (a little arm-twisting anyone?). When the Kryptonians show up their potential children are destroyed (Superman’s super-abortion heat-ray) because they had their chance. Superman now executes future children for the racial guilt of their ancestors, yet another modern convention straight out of a horror film. How will Zod’s Kryptonians destroy the earth? By polluting it to death (because leaving it so environmentally pure that they lived with super-powers would be a bad idea).
And ultimately, Jor-El’s own lecture to Superman reveals the unsustainable nature of a theological super-hero without a God for him to follow and serve. Instead of being a prophet or archetype of the truth, Superman becomes the end. He is the light that everyone will follow, and wherever that is, there humanity will go. This humanistic environmentalist messiah is allthings our culture values: humble, sensitive, submissive to his mother, altruistic, non-corporate, and environmentally conscious. One of the greatest services we get in fiction is reductio ad absurdum, testing an idea’s value by reducing it to its broadest brush strokes. In a better world, discerning hearts would look at the flaws in The Man of Steel as he faithfully embodies the spirit of our times and realize:
Something is rotten in the sate of Denmark. If even our heroes cannot stand without God, how can we expect to do so?