Once upon a time, Marvel Studios’ Thor movies were laborious slogs that only catered to the most devoted comic book fans. However, one day, director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok breathed new life into the brand by injecting it with vibrant whimsy and a towering but lighter sense of humor. Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder feels like an awkward step back for many reasons, including an abundance of jokes and a reliance on the Odinson’s comedic chops. While reframing Thor as the MCU’s himbo god of jocularity was a solid way to renew interest in the character, an overabundance of jokes was also one of the main reasons.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a sequel that tries its best to operate as a standalone movie, just like the majority of Marvel’s other recent Phase 4 films. However, the tale works best if you come to it having seen some of the other recent tentpole movies that the studio has produced. Thor: Love and Thunder picks up some time after the events of Avengers: Endgame and immediately returns to the continuous story (or myth, depending on your perspective) of how Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) became one of Earth’s most iconic heroes after leaving the original Asgard.
Thor chose King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to lead New Asgard at the end of Endgame, so Love and Thunder finds the Asgardian thunder god and Korg (Taika Waititi) somewhere in space with their newest chosen family — the Guardians of the Galaxy. This is true for two reasons: first, the Avengers don’t really exist as an organization anymore, and second, Thor chose King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to lead New Asgard. Despite the fact that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and the other current Guardians play a significant role in one of Love and Thunder’s first set pieces, they are only in the movie for a short period of time. This is because their presence is meant to illustrate the aimlessness and codependence that Thor feels as a result of everything he has recently lost (like his beer gut).
Thor: Love and Thunder is a wonderful example of Marvel still not being quite sure how to take up continuing narratives that get interrupted by huge crossover events. It is in this vein that Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness came before it. It is quite evident that Love and Thunder intends to center its narrative around Thor, who has not starred in his own movie since 2017. However, considering how much has transpired inside the MCU in the time since then, the capacity of Love and Thunder to provide a compelling and unified sense of shared continuity with its forerunners is initially restricted.
When it comes to catching you up on Thor’s life, Love and Thunder almost seems as if it’s clearing its throat. However, the movie is much more certain of itself when it introduces you to Gorr (Christian Bale), an ordinary single father who becomes a butcher of the gods after his prayers to save the life of his daughter go unanswered. Love and Thunder is based on the Marvel Comics character Thor. Thor: Love and Thunder represents the return of Marvel to portraying its heroes as supernatural beings whose powers are not simply highly sophisticated forms of technology. For many years, Marvel has led with the premise that all of its characters inspired by deities were actually different kinds of aliens.
The fact that Gorr’s primary goal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to purge the cosmos of all gods gives him a distinct motivation within the franchise, but the most intriguing aspect of his role in Love and Thunder is how he contributes to the film’s effectiveness as a character analysis of Thor. Before even bringing Thor and Gorr into conflict with one another, Love and Thunder drives home the point that, despite all of Thor’s heroism in relation to the Avengers, as a deity, he’s never been the most responsible or attentive to the needs of the humans who love and worship him. This, combined with the fact that Gorr despises Thor, makes it easy to understand why Gorr despises Thor.
Like Gorr, Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) sentiments regarding (at least one of the) gods are convoluted and highly personal. Nevertheless, Love and Thunder brings her back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in part to show you how her world didn’t actually stop when she was ghosted by the divine. Love and Thunder highlights out as a matter of fact that Dr. Jane Foster, an astrophysicist, had a complete life before Thor crashed into her life, and that this is what she got back to doing once he departed her life.
In addition to establishing Jane as a best-selling author, the novel Love and Thunder complicates her story by introducing elements from the Mighty Thor comics written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Russell Dauterman. These elements transformed Jane into a new kind of Thor while she was battling breast cancer at the same time. Although there are some echoes of comics Jane’s path to becoming the Mighty Thor present in Love and Thunder, the movie approaches the character in a noticeably different way that plays out like a deliberate pivot away from Marvel’s approach to rolling out big-name female heroes in recent years. While there are some echoes of comics Jane’s path to becoming the Mighty Thor present in Love and Thunder,
It seemed very much like Disney was making an effort to emphasize Marvel’s bigger aim of reworking legacy characters to appeal to a new generation of readers when Marvel began teasing out Jane’s Thor turn with an announcement on The View (yes, that The View) back in 2014. The canon-challenging comics that centered characters like Carol Danvers were what laid the basis for them to join the MCU, and the commercial success of films like Captain Marvel pointed to how many of these all-new and all-different heroes resonated with moviegoers. However, rather than tapping into the ideas presented in the Mighty Thor comics about what it means to be worthy of bearing the responsibility that comes with being a hero, Love and Thunder largely leaves Jane in the realm of jokey love interests, where she is, in an unexpected way, robbed of some agency.
Love and Thunder’s frequent forays into the realm of romantic comedies felt like Marvel’s attempt to test out just how much the Thor movies can be used to give viewers a taste of other genres. These forays occurred in between sequences of intense action, and they felt like they were placed there to test out the film. In Love and Thunder, both Portman and Hemsworth offer a bright and joyful quality to their respective roles, which serves the movie well in the scenes in which it focuses on the emotional connection that initially drew Thor and Jane together. But the movie runs into trouble when it has to switch gears and focus on Gorr, a bereaved zealot who Bale portrays with an intensity that isn’t quite scary enough to be scary.
One may imagine that because of Thor’s history of putting glory ahead of duty and Jane’s recent induction into the pantheon of Asgardian deities, their battle against a god slayer will be the sort of showdown that is intended to crown a movie that is working with some very lofty notions. Instead, Love and Thunder presents itself as a fairy tale for children about star-crossed lovers who are afraid to tell one another how they feel even as they stare down the one thing that might actually be able to kill them. In this version of the story, the lovers face off against the one thing that has the potential to actually kill them.
Thor: Love and Thunder is not anything close to being as much of a letdown as Multiverse of Madness was, but the two movies are similar in the sense that they both appear to be the fruits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe settling into an era in which the franchise’s future is still being thought out. At least some of that future is hinted at in Love and Thunder’s mid-credits and post-credits scenes, both of which are almost certain to be crowd-pleasers that satisfy those who show up already confident that they’re in this for the long haul. Thor: Love and Thunder is a clumsy chapter in what feels like a brand that is still working itself out. However, as the latest piece of lore defining Odinson and his companions in the present, Thor: Love and Thunder is an important addition.
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