Movie Curiosities — Thor: Love and Thunder
As of this typing, Chris Hemsworth is well on his way to breaking Hugh Jackman’s record for the longest continuous tenure in a superhero franchise. (Eleven years and counting versus 17 years, if you’re keeping score.) In fact, depending on how you count, it’s entirely possible that Chris Hemsworth might achieve the longest continuous tenure of any actor playing any one role, second only to Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones.
More importantly, Thor is now the only MCU character with four headlining movies. In fact, with the sole exception of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (whose future is still clouded after kinda-sorta passing the torch to Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop), Hemsworth is now the only Phase I hero still active and played by his original actor. Funny enough, this makes the Thor emblematic of the greater MCU and its ongoing development.
The first two Thor movies were solidly a product of the Ike Perlmutter paradigm. Safe and marketable, focused solidly on the white male leads while the female leads were left criminally underutilized. But then Hemsworth (along with the other MCU stars, quite understandably) got pissed off working under that asshole Perlmutter and bored with the status quo.
(Fuck you, Perlmutter.)
So Marvel Studios got carved out and put under Kevin Feige, which is the only conceivable way Taika Waititi could’ve been brought on board. Yes, I know Waititi gets a lot of flack for making the Thor movies overly jokey. Even so, show me a ranked list that puts Thor: The Dark World over Thor: Ragnarok. Hell, show me a list that doesn’t put The Dark World in the bottom five of all MCU films released to date. Until I hear a coherent argument that The Dark World is a better film than Ragnarok, or even a coherent argument that The Dark World is a good or memorable film, fuck outta here.
So here’s Thor: Love and Thunder, in which Waititi continues to clean up the mess that Perlmutter left behind. More specifically, he was able to coax Natalie Portman back into the fold with the promise that she’d be given a central and super-powered role. Perhaps more importantly, we were able to get Jaime Alexander’s Sif — arguably the most underrated and outrageously mishandled character in the entire MCU canon — back into play! So what have we got?
Well, the premise begins with Gorr (Christian Bale), the last surviving member of some religious order. After Gorr watched his daughter (an uncredited India Hemsworth, Chris’ daughter) die, and then suffered even more while wandering through some desert, Gorr finally meets his patron deity (Rapu, played to the rafters by Jonny Brugh). But it turns out that Rapu is a colossal dick who doesn’t even remotely care for Gorr’s suffering and withholds any kind of divine reward.
And because Rapu is such a tremendous idiot, he betrayed his last and most devoted follower while the Necrosword was in reach. Thus Gorr takes possession of an unholy blade that corrupts his heart and soul, gives him control over demons that burst out from the shadows, and has the power to kill gods. Gorr then proceeds on a personal mission to kill every god in the cosmos.
Naturally, Gorr’s mass deicide has tremendous ramifications on a cosmic scale. This catches the attention of Thor, who’s been cruising through space as a virtuous hired gun with Korg (Taika Waititi himself) and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thor and Korg part ways with the Guardians after a distress call comes in from Sif — Gorr the God-Butcher is coming, and New Asgard is next.
Meanwhile, let’s catch up with Dr. Jane Foster, played once again by Natalie Portman. The film helpfully explains that about eight years ago, Jane’s career as a world-class physicist got increasingly hectic at about the same time when Thor got to be increasingly busy as an Avenger. Thus the two drifted apart and Jane finally dumped him.
Cut to about six months ago, when Jane finds out that she’s been living with cancer. And nobody caught it until Stage Four. So it’s inoperable and all attempts at treatment have been unsuccessful. Bummer.
(Side note: Yes, this was taken directly from the comics, and it’s just as outrageous in the movies. In a world with all the magic of Asgard and Doctor Strange, with all the science of Stark Industries and freaking Wakanda, with all the various alien cultures and technologies we’ve seen throughout the MCU, why in the nine hells is cancer still a thing?! Seriously, at least get these people a cure for the common cold, for fuck’s sake!)
Anyway, Jane is desperate enough that she goes to New Asgard, which has turned into a thriving interplanetary tourist hotspot under the leadership of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Upon arrival, the shards of Mjolnir (with the unwitting encouragement of Thor himself) deem Jane worthy and grant her the powers of Thor, granting her renewed health and stamina in the process.
The storylines all converge on New Asgard and we’re off to the races.
Right up front, the film is just under two hours long, which makes it the shortest MCU film since Ant-Man and the Wasp by a wide margin. So you know right off the bat this movie won’t be overly loaded with Easter Eggs and callbacks and greater MCU tie-ins. The Guardians of the Galaxy are gone by the fifteen-minute mark. Kat Dennings reprises her role for one (admittedly cute) scene, and Stellan Skarsgaard shows up for maybe two seconds.
It’s a matter of public record that whole storylines were shot and cut from the film. Peter Dinklage was supposed to return. Lena Headey is currently in legal trouble over a performance that got cut from the final picture. I have to believe that Simon Russell Beale had more to do as Dionysus at one point, because I wouldn’t have known he was anywhere in the movie if the credits hadn’t told me.
I could forgive all of this… except that the Egyptian gods from “Moon Knight” were never even obliquely mentioned. We have no idea how Moon Knight and Khonshu and all their ilk operate or what place they have in the greater context of this new MCU pantheon. Seriously, what the fuck?
Anyway, the plot to the film is admittedly thin enough and easy enough to follow that it’s served well by the shorter runtime. Unfortunately, the film is still greatly padded by extended scenes of Taika Waititi’s endearingly dorky comical stylings. Of course humor is subjective, and I can understand how Waititi’s unique sense of humor wouldn’t be for everyone. But speaking as someone who loves Waititi’s work, I had a great time with it.
That said, there are a few times when Waititi goes too far. In a prominent example, Stormbreaker is apparently sentient and jealous over Jane and Mjolnir coming back into Thor’s life. That whole bit was useless, unfunny, it doesn’t go anywhere, and it raises too many questions with regard to the mechanics and worldbuilding. Gotta draw a line there. Also, there’s this whole extended scene in which Thor insists on deadnaming a character, which is really not cool. Lastly, I’m upset that Waititi apparently thought screaming goats were the height of comedy, because that shit got old REALLY fast.
Even so, it helps a great deal that the film has such a heavily truncated runtime, thus the comical scenes could only drag on for so long. For another thing, it’s really not that different from what Sam Raimi did with Multiverse of Madness: What we’ve got here is a film built to operate within the brand of the MCU, but made with the distinct authorial stamp of the individual filmmaker. Isn’t that a good thing? After all the complaints bemoaning how every MCU film looks and plays out exactly the same, don’t we want artists who can make each individual picture stand out? From where I’m sitting, it’s a far better thing for auteurs to follow their instincts and passions without getting overly forced into conformity by the corporate overlords.
Moreover, it bears mentioning that Chris Hemsworth (as with the rest of his Phase One peers) is no longer in a position where he needs the money. He’s an A-list talent now, he can go anywhere else and write his own ticket without ever playing Thor again. Therefore, if he’s still playing in the MCU, it’s because this is what he wants to do and this is how he wants to do it. For better or worse, that apparently means goofing around with Taika Waititi and packing the bit parts with his relatives.
Put it this way, everyone: Either we let Hemsworth clown around and have his fun playing the role, or we let him walk away and retire the character from the MCU. Those are your only two choices and you can only pick one. Choose wisely.
Say what you will about Taika Waititi, but everyone in each of his films looks like they’re having the time of their lives to be there. Portman is clearly having a blast, and she’s playing a character who’s dying of cancer! Tessa Thompson is also great fun, and it certainly helps that Valkyrie was given a bit more license (not enough, but a bit) to flirt with her bisexual side. Oh, and Russell Crowe is playing to the goddamn rafters as Zeus, it’s a glory to behold.
As for Christian Bale, he certainly makes a meal of Gorr’s pathos and his grudge against the gods. But in other scenes, he seems to be channeling the late Heath Ledger, with Gorr’s full-throated embrace of self-destructive chaos and anarchy. And yes, it certainly endears me to the performance, seeing Bale crib from his own Joker as played by his dearly departed colleague.
But easily the biggest selling point for this film is how it fits into the greater MCU. Yes, it’s true that Phase Four has greatly suffered for lack of any overarching hook as strong as the Infinity Stones. No, we still don’t have any kind of clue what Phase Four is leading up to in terms of story. But more than any other film or Disney+ miniseries to date, this movie is a loud and clear statement regarding the overall theme of Phase Four.
Consider the following lists. Note that I’ll refrain from “Ms. Marvel” on the first two lists because that show is still too current to spoil, but if you’ve been following along on that show, you won’t have any problem finding your own examples.
- Black Widow featured the Red Room, a project that controlled women through what was effectively mind control.
- Shang-Chi featured the Dweller-in-Darkness.
- Eternals had the Celestials.
- Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness had the Darkhold.
- Ditto for “Loki” with the TVA and He Who Remains.
- “Moon Knight” had Khonshu and Ammit, along with the rest of the Egyptian pantheon.
In all of these cases, we’ve got antagonists who command absolute authority, demanding unyielding loyalty and unquestioning obedience. Even when their plans are psychotic and innocent people have to die as part of their greater cause, these powers are to be treated as infallible deities and our villains have to hold their word above all else.
- Black Widow has Black Widow herself and all her fellow Red Room alumni.
- Shang-Chi has the Mandarin.
- For Eternals, I’d put down Sprite and Ikaris.
- For Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange is probably the best fit.
- Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and “WandaVision” both had the Scarlet Witch.
- “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” brought us the Flag Smashers and U.S. Agent.
- For “Loki”… one could make an argument for any individual TVA agent, but Sylvie is probably the clearest case in point.
- With “Hawkeye”, we’ve got Hawkeye himself, in addition to Echo, Yelena, and Eleanor.
- For “Moon Knight” there’s Marc Spector and Arthur Harrow.
Here, we’ve got examples of corruption. Some of them were corrupted because they listened to the above-named deities. Others were blinded by hatred, motivated by revenge, stuck in some devil’s deal, or caught in an unwinnable scenario. All of them — at one point or another — actively made the choice to kill people or engage in flagrantly immoral acts toward the purpose of some greater good.
- Yelena Belova
- Sam Wilson
- Kate Bishop
- Peter Parker
- Monica Rambeau
- America Chavez
- Kamala Khan (of course that’s not a spoiler)
- Cassie Lang (confirmed to appear in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania)
- Jennifer Walters (getting her own Disney+ show next month)
- Riri Williams (getting her own Disney+ show, now in production)
Here we have characters who were directly inspired by the previous generation of Avengers. Many of them grew up idolizing the Marvel heroes of old, just like the youngest generation of moviegoers grew up with the MCU. And now they’re ready to step up and be heroes in their own right. (And keep on buying the merchandise and movie tickets, in the case of the real-life audience.)
With Thor: Love and Thunder, Waititi and the Marvel Studios brain trust have created a clear artistic statement that binds all of this together in a way that builds on a central cornerstone of the Marvel brand going all the way back to the ’60s.
As an old established rule of thumb, a key difference between Marvel and DC is that DC superheroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, even Batman, etc.) are larger-than-life incorruptible paragons of virtue. They’re built to be role models that we should keep aspiring toward without ever actually reaching. Compare that to Marvel superheroes (Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk, the entire X-Men roster, etc.), who were built to be more fallible and flawed. Precisely because Marvel headliners are more human and relatable, it sends the message that any one of us can be a hero, and any of us could only be one miracle away from being a superhero.
This movie — and all the other Phase Four efforts to date, in some way or another — have been built around the notion that power and authority are never infallible. Even gods can be questioned, and certainly should when lives are at stake. What separates these superheroes from their supervillains is that the heroes are willing to look inward and accept their own limitations and errors. Moreover, the heroes have friends and supporters who will call the heroes out on their bullshit and step up to the plate when the OG heroes come up short.
Put more simply, anyone who acts without a shred of doubt or consideration for others likely has to be stopped, anyone with power can be corrupted, and we are not only able but obligated to stop the powerful when they grow corrupted or incapable. If heroes don’t have to be perfect, that means anyone can be a hero.
Thor: Love and Thunder has some glaring problems, but I can only get so angry with a film that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s glaringly obvious where huge chunks were cut for time, and there are a few ill-advised jokes I could’ve done without, but I still appreciate a film that packs such an epic scope into a lean two hours. The action scenes and jokes are all quite enjoyable, but it’s the passion that really sells this movie. There’s a compelling story of love and loss at the heart of this picture, with many greater statements about power and authority that will surely kick the rest of Phase Four into a higher gear.
If anyone out there thinks this is the greatest film ever or the worst film ever, they badly need to watch more movies. For my part, I’d say the spectacle is more than worth the ticket price, Waititi’s pictures are always worth seeing for the infectious sense of fun he brings to every shot, and the brisk two-hour runtime shouldn’t wear your patience or endurance too much. Definitely check it out.
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2 thoughts on “Movie Curiosities — Thor: Love and Thunder”
Indeed. This is a message that unfortunately has not been heeded in the real world these past few years, as way too many people in positions of power and influence teach the exact opposite. The important thing is that we must take the lessons of MCU Phase Four to heart and ALWAYS call out people when they’re doing something wrong. And we must be willing to be honest with ourselves about our own faults and imperfections.
I was dreading this movie as I loathed Raganork, it’s one of my least favorite MCU movies but I had a pleasant time with this one. I found the humor worked for me better here and I quite enjoyed Jane’s story.