Thor is the MCU franchise with the most female characters in it. There is Jane, Sif, Frigga, Darcy…but it is nevertheless pretty much on the bottom of movies to talk about in terms of layered female characters. Which is really a crime. But let’s start with the movies itself.
What I thought about the Thor Franchise beforehand:
I was pretty indifferent to it. Thor is really not the most interesting Superhero – in a way he is Marvel’s equivalent to Superman, being an overly powerful alien. And powerful characters are always difficult to write, because there isn’t really much which can truly endanger them.
What I think about the movies:
I am torn about them. The thing is that those movies have elements I really, really love and elements I really, really hate. But let’s take it from the top. The first movie worked pretty well, mostly because of Loki. Let’s face it, he is easily the most fascinating villain in the movieverse because of the back story established for him. His arc works perfectly, though I think his decent into “evilness” would work better if he weren’t already responsible for the death of two guards before he even learns about his true heritage. But then, it shows that Loki was on the edge beforehand.
What doesn’t really work is Thor’s arc. I truly have no idea how he developed from “spoiled brat who sees war as some sort of sport” to a hero. He might learn a lesson about appreciating other people, especially those who will help you out in need, but what he really needs to learn is a lesson about war and responsibilities, but neither aspects gets addressed at any point in the movie. It’s like he is making three or four jumps and then he is suddenly a hero again. The fight on earth is also very anticlimactic. It’s neither well staged, nor in any way suspenseful, and its conclusion a predictable cliché.
The Dark World suffers more or less from the same problem. Everything related to Loki and Frigga I adore. Their talks. The fact that Loki causes her death without meaning to. The funeral scene. The interaction between Loki and Thor. The final twist. What doesn’t work is more or less everything else. There are good ideas which add up to a whole of nothing. The main villain has a great design, but leaves a lot to desire in terms of motivation (despite the movie repeatedly explaining the convergence and the dark elves, I couldn’t make much sense out of them). The technobabble makes even less sense than in the first movie. And while the final fight is well staged, I can’t help but wonder why it happens on earth at all. Yeah, I know, there is some bs excuse, but honestly, Thor has multiple realms open to them, why did the writers feel the need to tie it back to earth? Then there is the whole “the nine worlds are in war with each other because of Loki” (wait, what? When did he cause that?) “but they are now in peace again because you impressed them so much” (yeah, as if it is so easy to end wars). It’s just lazy writing.
What I think about Jane Foster:
This franchise is really not particular kind towards female characters. There is Frigga, who is queen but apparently not able to reign when Odin sleeps and whose one kick-ass moment ends with her dying. There is Sif whose only character trait seems to be that she is a warrior and perhaps in love with Thor (to be fair, none of Thor’s friends are particularly well developed…there is a reason they are usually just lumped together as the warrior three, I can’t even remember their names. There is blond guy, beard guy with family and Asian guy. Sif doesn’t stick out because she is better written, but because she happens to be the only female of the group and gets a few lines more). In fact the insistence of portraying Asgard as a patrician society is one of the most questionable decisions of the writers. They could easily have portrayed Freya as equal to Odin and Sif being a warrior as nothing special. I think the whole world would be way more interesting if there were a prejudice against non-warriors instead of women. It’s a little bit disconcerting that they managed to pull off and sell a colour-blind casting, but didn’t even try to create a gender equal society. And don’t give me some “but it isn’t the way in the comics” or “but those is supposed to be a Viking based society” excuses. The MCU is not a perfect copy of the comics, nor is it meant to be. It mostly draws inspiration and characters from it and often improves on them. So why not improving Asgard? Especially since Norse Mythology certainly does allow the concept of female warriors.
Darcy is certainly the most popular female character of the Thor franchise after Sif, but that’s not because she is less of a cardboard character and more because she is an unusual cardboard character (and a good character to write hidden self-inserts, Darcy is practically the go to wish fullfilment character for fanfiction writers who don’t want to use a straight up OC). The brazen sidekick with childish tendencies is normally the role of a male character. To the credit of the actress, this role can get annoying really fast, but she manages to sell it with a lot of charm. And all things considered, I wouldn’t mind to see more of Darcy, provided her presence fits the story. She is certainly fun. But she needs a couple of layers more (and an explanation why she would work as an intern without pay for Jane for two years).
Despite all the flak Jane Foster gets, she is nevertheless the most developed female character in the Thor franchise. She is certainly quite removed from her comic book counterpart. If I remember correctly, Jane Foster always had some sort of medical job (first as nurse, later she emancipated into being a doctor or a medic), and there was always a big emphasis on her caring for other people. This Jane Foster, is really not a caring person, she is way too focussed on her research. But I like her. She is smart, dedicated to her work, ready to follow a theory even though everyone else considers her crazy and open to new ideas. In a way, she is the only “true” scientist in the movie verse. Bruce Banner, Betty Ross and Tony Stark are all about the practical appliance of science, while she would go great length just to prove a theory, not because she sees a practical use, but for the knowledge itself. She is also easily flustered, but tends to push forward despite of it. And making her a scientist would at least theoretical allow her to be more involved in the plot than a medic or doctor would be (especially since there are already other more high prolific characters who cover the medical field, like Bruce Banner and Dr. Strange). But all what is good about the way Jane Foster portrayed in the movie gets swallowed up in the fact that she was written as the love interest.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to a love story. It provides a reason for Thor to be particularly interested in Midgard. And while relationships between mortals and someone with a longer life-span is a very common trope, it is certainly one which can be interesting if it is done right (which it rarely is). But it works in neither movie, though for different reasons. In the first movie, Jane makes a lot of sense. What let her character down are the scenes between her and Thor, and it ties back to what I already wrote about Thor’s redemption arc being very weak. If the scenes between them were about her providing her perspective on war and other cultural aspect, and him explaining the reasoning behind his warrior culture, the writers could have built up a strong relationship. But all their talks are about some technobabble nobody really cares about.
Plus…they never really seem to have fun together. After two movies I am still waiting for a scene in which they simply share a laugh over something. I have examined the movie multiple times and have come to the conclusion that part of the problem is the presence of Dr. Selvig. I know, he works pretty well as comic relief (if you are into that particular brand of humor), but he also pulls focus. Jane can’t act as a scientist on her own like Bruce or Tony, she needs a mentor figure which approves of whatever she does (in fact it is sometimes hard to notice when Jane is contributing something, because there is always Selvig around). Jane can’t go and try to get Thor out of S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, Selvig has to do it for her. She can’t even have a relationship without Selvig getting drunk with Thor in order to give him the “if you hurt her” speech. Why? First of all, what gives him even the right to meddle in her love life, and second the time would be much better used on Jane, Thor and Thor learning to reconsider his actions. And grieving for his supposedly dead father. And yes, I am aware that removing Selvig would have required her to be kidnapped by Loki in the second movie, which might carry some unfortunate implications, and would have also shifted the dynamic in the scenes between Thor and Loki slightly, but it would have also created a much tighter narrative.
In the second movie the scene with her and Thor actually work fairly well, the problem are the leaps and bounds necessary to get her involved in the story. So she just happens to be in the right country to discover the right anomaly, just happens to stumble into another world where she just happens to discover the Aether? Yeah, right. The thing is; I honestly don’t get why it is necessary to make the whole thing so complicated. Why can’t the movie simply start with Thor being able to go back to her because the bifrost has been repaired, inviting her to visit Asgard as thank you for her help? This way Thor wouldn’t look like a dick for not even leaving the message the last time he was on earth, leaving her without a word for two whole years. They could also build a conflict between Odin and Thor into the movie concerning the question if humans are allowed in Asgard or not. And the Aether could be something she and Thor encounter when they are exploring the nine worlds, perhaps because she is picking up something which her science the Asgardians overlooked because they don’t use this “antiquated science” any longer.
But let’s not rewrite the movie, but focus on what is there. What really bothers me about the second one is that the writers use the “woman slaps man to show that she is strong” method to make her a little bit more badass (along with some talk how strong she has to be in order to hold the aether in herself). I always hated that concept. I write this blog because I am for gender equality. And gender equality means for me that with the exception of a few biological based differences, both genders should be treated by the same rules. Neither man or woman should be allowed to do something which is forbidden for the other gender. I am against double standards of any kind and that includes violence. If one of the male characters would slap Jane, it would not mean that he is badass, it would mean that he is a violent asshole (and rightly so). And a woman slapping a man should be treated the very same way. I get the mind-set behind this double standard and I don’t like it. It basically says that a woman is too weak to truly hurt a man either way, and that males just should take it because they are so much stronger. That is BS. Even a light slap can hurt on so many levels, and women are not more entitled to dish out abuse than men are. Scenes like this don’t necessarily ruin Jane’s character for me, because I know how they are meant, but they nevertheless make me cringe every time.
But in the end both Thor movies had the same problem: When it comes to Thor’s arc, they should have focussed on his development and the love story and then inserted adventure and action into it instead of focussing on adventure and action and then shoehorned the love story into it somehow. As it is, Jane Porter is the perfect example for a character which got strangled by the red string – meaning that she is a basically good character, which is in the unfortunate position to be trapped in a badly written romance.
Quote: “They stole my life’s work, so I don’t have much to lose.”
I know, I was pretty hard on both movies, but I think they are worth at least one watch. Loki certainly makes worth it, and the scale of Asgard can be breathtaking. I also think that the soundtrack of the second movie is really good. If one wants to experience the MCU fully, they are certainly not optional.
Next post will for a change not be on a saturday, but more or less directly after the last episode of Marvel’s Agent of Carter. Stay tuned for one the best written characters in the MCU. And if you haven’t watch the show yet: Do it! Catch up, spread the word. It would be too bad if Agent Carter doesn’t get a second run despite getting so good critics, just because too many people overlook the show or want to catch up later. We need more characters like Peggy on screen, so give her a chance now and if you like what you see, go and support her show!