I recently saw Marvel’s The Avengers and I am so impressed. I wish every big-budget movie could be that entertaining and just plain fun. In preparation for that movie, I watched both Iron Man films, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor. I haven’t seen The Incredible Hulk because a) I already know the Hulk’s origin story, b) I’m not all that interested, and c) Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo, so I didn’t feel it necessary to see Norton’s take on the character. Ruffalo did a fantastic job, by the way.
Having grown up loving all of these comic book characters, I was already familiar with most of their backstories, with the glaring exception of Thor. How did the Norse God of Thunder come to Earth in the first place? I never really knew. Sometimes it seemed like he had an alter ego named Eric something-or-other who was kind of like Thor’s Billy Batson (for all you Shazam fans out there). Other times Thor was solo. That just left me feeling confused. So I went into the Thor film with few preconceptions about what I was going to see. What I got was a surprisingly Biblical story – or at least the Bible through the lens of Cecil B. DeMille.
Is it blasphemous to compare Norse mythology to Jewish history? Probably. But I haven’t been one to shirk a good religious controversy yet, so I’ll go ahead and dive head first into this one. Welcome to my comparison of Thor and the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.
- A baby from a devastated race is saved and raised as a prince in a different kingdom.
- The baby grows up to be a troublemaker.
- There’s a sudden dissolve to the hero receiving a great honor.
- A sibling rivalry is at the heart of the story.
- A young man prevents his brother from being crowned in his place.
- The hero is exiled to a desert.
- The hero falls in love with an independent woman.
- The exiled hero’s friends come to bring him back and save his people.
- The hero returns to his former kingdom in glory.
- There’s an intriguing twist involving firstborn sons and their fathers.
- A miraculous road is sealed off to stop the villain’s attempted genocide.
- The hero can’t go to the Promised Land.
That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
A child is saved in the midst of a great slaughter and raised as though he were a prince of another nation. This is the most obvious similarity I noticed between these two films. Thor saves the revelation that Loki is a member of the Frost Giant race until well into the film’s second act, and I, for one, was completely taken off guard by that twist. After nearly massacring the Frost Giants and stopping their war with Earth, Odin Allfather finds King Laufey’s abandoned baby boy and has mercy on him. He raises him alongside his own son Thor in order to build lasting peace between their races.
The Ten Commandments begins with the classic story of Moses being saved from a slaughter of all the Israelite babies by Egypt’s Pharaoh. His mother and sister send him down the Nile in a tiny ark where he is discovered by Pharaoh’s sister. She, too, has compassion on this helpless newborn, and she raises him as her own son.
Born to Be a Troublemaker
The baby turns out to be quite a troublemaker for his adopted family, almost leading to the overthrow of the kingdom. Through a combination of subterfuge and manipulation, Loki places himself on the throne of Asgard for a short time. Moses is problematic for his adopted family in a different way. He doesn’t have any ambition to be Pharaoh for power. He only wishes to do so to win the hand of the seductive Nefertiti. But when he fails to do that, he winds up receiving a greater calling from God to warn Egypt of the plagues God would send to it if Pharaoh refused to free the Israelite slaves. Loki and Moses have completely different goals, but they both cause a great deal of trouble for their adopted kinsfolk.
Sudden Jump Cut
The film quickly cuts from a young child to a grown man who is receiving accolades for things we never see. After we see Thor and Loki as children receiving some sage advice from Odin, we jump cut to an adult Thor walking down a hall and preparing to be crowned the next king of Asgard by his father. No buildup, just the ceremony. In The Ten Commandments, we get an even more abrupt jump cut. Pharaoh’s sister holds a tiny baby aloft and proclaims his name to be Moses. Suddenly, we dissolve to a scene where people are shouting Moses’ name as a handsome man parades through city streets. We’re told that he has just conquered a people in Africa, but we never actually see him in the heat of battle or negotiating their terms of surrender.
I think this is more effective than the transition in Thor, though, because it still gives us time to get to know Moses before he nearly ascends to the throne. He also has other tasks to perform, which will show more of his personality. We see what a great leader he is through his actions rather than just being told about him.
A key part of the story is the relationship between two characters who are supposed to be closely related, but are actually not related at all. Thor and Loki were both born to be princes, but not of the same world. Loki covets Thor’s position as the leading contender to be king of Asgard, so he does everything he can to keep Thor from reaching his potential. Moses wasn’t destined for greatness purely based on his lineage, while Rameses is the son of a Pharaoh, and he believes he is entitled to that position upon his father’s death. Moses is a natural leader, and Rameses hates him for it. He doesn’t care if Moses is more qualified for the job; he still wants it.
The main difference between Thor and Moses is that Thor really isn’t ready to lead when we’re first introduced to him as an adult. He’s reckless, thoughtless and obsessed with using brute force to solve conflicts. Moses, on the other hand, is well-tempered and willing to negotiate to find the best solution to challenges. I actually agree with Loki that Thor would have been dangerous if he had become king too soon.
No Crown for You
Right before attaining his place at the head of a kingdom, the hero is stopped by his brother. Loki helps a small group of Frost Giants to sneak into Asgard’s treasury to try to steal their old power source. They’re easily thwarted in the attempt, but this leads to Thor’s coronation ceremony being interrupted and Thor rebelling against his father and eventually being cast out of Asgard. Right after Pharaoh chooses Moses to be his successor over Rameses, the bitter brother sets a trap for Moses. He learns that Moses is a Hebrew slave, not an Egyptian prince, and he gets his father to cast Moses out into the wilderness.
Exiled to the Desert
The hero is banished from his kingdom and driven into a desert with almost no means of fending for himself. It’s funny that of all the places in the universe that Thor could have been sent to, he is sent to Earth, more specifically a desert in New Mexico. He’s immediately picked up by a team of researchers: two girls and a father figure. Moses is also forced to cross a desert to try to find sustenance. He nearly starves along the way, but he’s saved by some berries near a well. The well belongs to a large group of sisters and their father, Jethro.
Falling in Love
The hero falls in love with a strong woman while he’s a stranger in a strange land. Both of the female researchers are initially attracted to Thor because of his toned physique and his enigmatic personality. Thor takes a liking to Jane Foster because… she’s played by Natalie Portman, I guess. Seriously, I don’t understand why he falls in love with her over the course of a few days. She’s dedicated to learning the truth of his origins, but other than that she’s pretty boring and she never does anything particularly noteworthy, except awkwardly put dirty dishes in a cabinet. That part made me laugh.
Moses dwells with Jethro for 40 years. During that time, he falls in love with Jethro’s oldest daughter Zipporah and marries her. She is the most independent of her sisters, but her heart softens toward Moses because of his wisdom and commitment to justice. Moses definitely has a more complicated and therefore more interesting relationship with his love interest.
Friends Come to the Rescue
People from the hero’s former kingdom come to remind him that he needs to come back. Thor’s four fellow warriors come down to Earth when Loki abuses his power as king and puts Asgard’s safety at risk. Thor decides to take their advice and soon his godlike powers are restored to him. Taking a huge fictional license with the Biblical material, The Ten Commandments posits that Moses’ friend Joshua crosses the desert to tell Moses that he needs to return to Egypt and free the Israelites. This breaks Moses out of his lethargy, and he resolves to visit Mount Sinai and speak with God face to face. He does so in a truly memorable sequence. The Lord instructs Moses on everything he needs to know to release the children of Israel from bondage.
The hero returns to his home filled with power and authority to take down the villain. Thor sacrifices himself for his friends, which somehow makes him worthy to lift his hammer again… which brings him back to life and returns his power to him. All of this happens way too conveniently. Thor doesn’t really change all that much, or at least we don’t get to see what made him change. That was a real missed opportunity. Anyway, armed with his hammer and his big flowing cape, Thor returns to Asgard to do battle with Loki.
In The Ten Commandments, before Moses is sent into the desert, Rameses gives him an emblem of his life in Egypt: a staff. After speaking with the Lord on Mount Sinai, Moses uses his staff for a new purpose. It becomes a symbol of the power of God, turning into a deadly serpent and parting the Red Sea. Moses returns to Rameses’ court in Egypt armed with his staff and a flowing robe that kind of looks like a cape.
Firstborn Sons and Their Parents
In a surprising twist, an enemy’s trap is reversed. In Thor, Loki leads King Laufey straight into the chamber where Loki’s adopted father Odin is defenseless. Laufey plans to kill Odin in his sleep, but he’s stopped at the last moment by Loki. Laufey doesn’t realize that Loki is his son, but in this moment Loki renounces any connection to the Frost Giant race and declares himself to be the son of Odin. He then kills Laufey.
In retaliation for all the plagues the Lord has sent on Egypt, Rameses commands his army to kill all Hebrew firstborn sons, beginning with Moses’ son. However, the Lord turns Rameses’ plan on itself so that every Egyptian firstborn son dies the night before the planned attack, culminating in the death of Rameses’ only son. All of the Hebrews are spared in what has become known as the Passover.
Parting the Rainbow Road/Red Sea
A colorful bridge is closed to prevent a superior force from destroying a weaker race. Loki points the Rainbow Bridge at the Frost Giants’ world to try to destroy it completely. The only way Thor can think to stop this genocide is to use his hammer to destroy the bridge linking Asgard to all other worlds, including Earth. Rameses lets the Hebrews go after his son dies, but he soon has a change of heart and he chases after the former slaves with his army. The Lord parts the Red Sea at Moses’ request, and the Hebrews pass through on dry ground to escape the Egyptian forces. Right after the Hebrews all make it safely across the underwater bridge, the Lord brings the water down on the pursuing Egyptian army, killing them all.
Shut Out of the Promised Land
After all of his adventures, the hero isn’t able to visit the Promised Land. In Thor’s case, the Promised Land is Earth. With the Rainbow Bridge destroyed, he can’t return to the love of his life, Jane. But he still retains hope that one day he’ll be able to see her again. Luckily, it looks like the strong box-office returns for Thor are going to make that possible. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years with the children of Israel, Moses brings them close to the Promised Land of Canaan, but he is not permitted to enter. He leaves that task up to Joshua, and then he walks away confident that he will be received unto the Lord. It’s kind of sad to see that this great prophet isn’t able to fulfill his final ambition in life, but it’s also comforting that greater things await him.
Laying Down the Hammer
Thor and The Ten Commandments have a great deal in common. While one is about alien beings and the other is about ancient civilizations, they both share similar themes and characters. Thor could have been developed better, though. For such an epic story, it feels far too small. Thor is stuck in a Podunk town in New Mexico for most of the film. It would have been nice to see him fight crime or do something to fill his time instead of just waiting around for people to break him out of his Earthly prison. The Ten Commandments, on the other hand, feels epic the whole way through. Moses is both larger than life and incredibly relatable. His leadership is admirable, and we really feel for him when problems that are out of his control threaten to take away everything he holds dear.
Thor is an okay film. It’s nowhere near as great as The Ten Commandments. Now I just need to figure out if it’s better or worse than the very first film starring the God of Thunder – 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
Very engaging and explicative article. It is interesting that Thor took on such an epic storyline and then sadly brushed over the parts that would have made him most meaningful as a character.
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