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Not Your Shero: Hela's reckoning with power

Contributed by
Aug 24, 2018

Everyone loves a hero, but we worship a good villain. Strong women come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, and sometimes that means looking up to a character who has no interest in being your role model. All this month, we're presenting Not Your Shero, a series that celebrates antiheroes, villains, and all the women way too busy wreaking havoc to save you.

Thor: Ragnarok finally brings the God of Thunder up against his equal. No, it’s not the other self-proclaimed “strongest Avenger,” the Hulk. Instead, he must face his long-lost (or rather long-caged and forgotten) sister Hela, the Goddess of Death.

If you somehow missed out on this movie, which is certainly a contender for the best film of the MCU, you are in for a treat. Director Taika Waititi brought his gift for off-beat humor to the story and we finally saw a Thor as comfortable commanding lightning without his trusty hammer Mjolnir as he is making jokes or discussing the finer points of geodetic strain.

The newfound complexity doesn’t end with Thor, though. Ragnarok finally creates a villain who is not only stronger than Thor but who is as equally hilarious and brilliant. Hela also happens to have been the first female Big Bad in the MCU. (I don’t have time here to gush about the magnificence that is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie or the hilarity of the would-be-revolutionary Korg, so you'll just have to trust me.)

Hela effortlessly glides from making light of her father and brothers’ deaths to rebuking what she deems to be wayward soldiers to mercilessly slaughtering an entire Asgardian army to recruiting the sole Benedict Arnold among them to become her executioner. Hela doesn’t just welcome resistance—she savors it. And Cate Blanchett shows us that regal hell-bitch is the style we should have all been rocking years ago. (Seriously, I want that antler hat/crown.)

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Hela’s first appearance onscreen is a showstopper. The second Odin dies, before Thor and Loki even have a chance to fully mourn him, Hela arrives, picking her nails and bemoaning that she missed getting to see their father's death. The stunned Thor and Loki have only just learned that Hela exists and that her powers are connected to Asgard.

Revealing his somewhat stunning level of self-assuredness, Thor throws his hammer at Hela, assuming Mjolnir will aid him as always. Hela doesn’t just catch the hammer, something Captain America couldn’t even manage, she shatters it into tiny pieces without a hint of struggle. Her arrival marks the beginning of her bloody crusade toward the throne, including the murder of every single one of Thor’s group of warriors except Lady Sif. (WHERE IS LADY SIF?!)

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In many ways, Asgard’s relationship to the other eight Realms is reminiscent of the historical dynamic between the United Kingdom and its former colonies. Asgard is rich and powerful and Asgardians like to think of themselves as the benevolent overseers of the Nine Realms, helping all the poor downtrodden aliens who just plain don’t know how to be civilized. Thor seems to be willfully oblivious to this fact. (C’mon folks, he’s at least 1000 years old. He could have figured it out.) Loki can’t see past his own mistreatment. But Hela? She understands what it means to lead from a throne soaked in blood.

What is truly defining about Hela as a villain is that she doesn’t regret a damn thing. Unlike Odin who feigns magnanimity in his old age, Hela knows how she got to this point and is neither squeamish nor chagrined by Asgard’s murderous climb to supremacy. As she and Thor discuss their father, she gazes upon the throne room, saying, “Odin and I drowned entire civilizations in blood and tears. Where do you think all this gold came from?”

Rather than sugarcoating the history of her family’s (and her people’s) colonization of the Nine Realms, Hela is at peace, even proud, of how she’s come to power—and she wants more. She is single-minded in her pursuit of dominion, not just for herself, but also for Asgard over all Realms.

Hela is not a hero. She’s a bona fide villain. But what is so amazing about her is what she forces the viewer and her brothers to realize: Asgard might be home, but it’s not a purely good place.

Furthermore, Hela is the first villain to truly challenge Thor, as evidenced by the fact that he’s never wielded the power of lightning without Mjolnir before. Hela redefines the term ruthless and is more powerful than Thor, remaining unscathed even when struck by what he calls “the biggest lightning blast in the history of lightning.” It takes everything inside Thor for him to be able to fight Hela and it is only because he comes into conflict with her that he finds whole new depths within himself.

It takes a freaking apocalypse to stop Hela and even when she is vastly out-powered by Surtur, prophesied bringer of Ragnarok, she doesn’t give up. She gathers her forces and thrusts jagged earth daggers into his core, even as he drives his planet-sized sword through her and into Asgard. She’s a goddess who goes down swinging.

You might not like Hela, but she’ll make damn sure you respect her glorious reign.

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