“You’re over 1000 years old and you don’t seem to know who the hell you are”
This is the analysis of Thor made by Starlord in the opening scenes of Love and Thunder. It’s an astonishingly non-self-aware statement because, after 11 years, the MCU doesn’t seem to know who he is either. He is, at the very least, a character re-experiencing the same narrative for multiple films in a row. Thor is unsure what kind of man he is and must embark on a journey of self-discovery either by choice or by force. Being unsure of yourself can be a lifelong experience but Thor seems to revert to stage 1 after every adventure so that he can be easily molded into whatever kind of hero that specific narrative requires. This time, he’s a buffoon whose trauma and emotions are often the butt of the joke.
By contrast, Thor in the previous solo installment Ragnarok was often the one setting jokes up. Actor Chris Hemsworth has excellent comedic timing and it was on full display there but here, he’s more akin to the man we saw in Avengers: Endgame. You remember, he was funny because he was fat(!). Had this film taken him seriously it could have had more to say about toxic masculinity and how stereotypically “feminine” emotions aren’t societally accepted in men. Instead, the audience is invited to laugh at his pain, or at the very least to find the image of a grown man crying amusing. This tone isn’t just directed at Thor, it’s present throughout the entire movie, and this makes it near impossible to care about any of the characters.
One such character is Doctor Jane Foster who returns after being absent from the MCU for 9 years barring a minor Avengers: Endgame cameo. Actress Natalie Portman had previously declined to return to the role due to “creative differences” during the making of Thor: The Dark World (which is one of my favourite Hollywood reasons by the way. Like, was there a screaming match? Were you refusing to pay her as much as Chris? I need specifics). As a result, the announcement of her return was a major deal for fans, with the added excitement of seeing her take up the Mighty Thor mantle. In the comics, she uses the mystical powers of Mijolnir to combat her cancer before it becomes evident that the iconic hammer is hindering her healing as opposed to helping it. Given how serious this subject matter is, fans were unsure if it would make it into Love and Thunder but it did. If done right, this could have provided solid emotional grounding for the plot and characters as well as providing a new Thor for a new age but this isn’t what happened. Her cancer is treated with the same levity as everything else, although it’s never used as a punchline. To cap it off, she dies. Despite a long run in the comics and the popular fan perception that she would be taking over as Thor…she dies. This makes Thor very upset, which seems to be the only role that MCU Jane is destined to play. She makes it to Valhalla so if she happens to get resurrected later (a la the comics) then her death will be even less impactful in retrospect.
On the subject of being non-impactful, Love and Thunder‘s gay representation is abysmal. Director Taika Watiti and actress Tessa Thompson both claimed it would be “queer AF” whilst many reviews heralded it as being for “the she’s, they’s and gay’s” but this isn’t the case. The one canon gay character is the rock-being Korg who holds hands with a male of his species, which is their equivalent of intercourse, however it falls flat because Taika is (as far as we know) straight. This somehow isn’t the first time that a straight director has portrayed a gay character in the MCU either. Why wasn’t this effort being put into Valkyrie, who passes for straight so well that she might as well be locked in the closet? Making seductive eyes at a woman and using the term “girlfriend” isn’t queer representation, it’s every party girl after a couple of drinks. All of this accounts for less than a minute of screentime too, so those foreign markets that Disney loves so much can cut it without losing anything. The “she’s, they’s and gay’s” deserve better and have better (Jennifer’s Body, Heathers and Booksmart to name few).
As mentioned in the Spoiler-Free review, there’s still things to like. The designs of the costumes and sets (like Omnipotence City) are gorgeous, whilst the soundtrack is comprised of some of the greatest Rock and Roll anthems of all time. However, Love and Thunder‘s biggest asset is the drastically underused Gorr. Actor Christian Bale turns in a riveting performance, as he so often does, with this semi-tragic God butcher. He feels betrayed by these all powerful dieties, feeling that they serve only themselves and care not for their subjects, including Gorr’s recently deceased young daughter. He’s still willing to kidnap and threaten the lives of all the children in New Asgard though, which seems a bit odd for a recently bereaved parent. Of course, this is a Marvel film so these children are never actually going to die but Gorr feels like he would murder these children without hesitation if the age rating allowed it. He’s also delightfully manic, giving off what can best be described as Joker Vibes. The Dark Realm, where he resides, is amazing too with its monochrome pallette which is only filled with colour from the light of Mijolnir and Stormbreaker. Tragically, he’s only present for 20 minutes and dies at the end so this is likely the only time we will ever see him.
“Tragic” is an apt description for Love and Thunder as a whole. It has plenty of potential in its foundation with the option for major character progression and grand Galaxy-wide scale but it never goes down these routes. Instead, it spends two hours filling the screen with cringe-worthy humour and a large amount of flat shots which are broken up by action scenes and establishing shots. Had it chosen to commit to all the great aspects hidden within, it might have been a great send-off for Chris Hemsworth…although Hemsworth isn’t leaving. After 11 years playing Thor, which makes him the longest-standing Avenger, he’s sticking around for whatever comes next. Maybe it’s for the best because he deserves a better send-off than this.