Thor: Love and Thunder

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Despite the delightful symmetry in the potential title, Thor Four did not always seem a very likely prospect. The first two movies were not well loved – with the second, unfairly I always thought, often being discussed in the cinema press as one of the weakest of all the MCU films. Then director Taika Waititi properly picked up on title actor Chris Hemsworth’s incredible comic capabilities and realised how nicely they aligned with his own, leading to the wonderful Thor: Ragnarock; a movie that didn’t go with the numeric naming system but succeeded in every single other respect with its brilliant mix of humour and pathos, it’s astonishing design and its delightful characterisation.

Now here we are with Thor: Love and Thunder, the first of any of the single character Marvel series to run past three. (The full meaning of the title isn’t clear until the end but refers to such a nice moment in the story that I can forgive it not being what I really wanted it to be.)

Here’s the thing though.

This one is a bit too silly.

After Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness I wrote about how it was now impossible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to jump the shark but I was wrong. It isn’t so much a case of ‘jumping the shark’ here as ‘dumpling the ecclesiarch’, which I’ll admit is a very laboured rhyme and as such is unlikely to catch on but it will make sense once you’ve seen the film. It is very much like the with the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie where director James Gunn was thrilled to find what he was able to get away with and decided he could therefore go wherever he wanted with the sequel. Taika Waititi, has also seemed to have come to the conclusion that since audiences loved what he did with the last one, he could so whatever he wanted with this one. It’s odd as he is normally a director of measured restraint, finely mixing different tones, but here he has followed Gunn and taken things too far. The Guardians themselves are in the beginning of this film but while they leave early on, they sadly don’t take their loony sensibilities with them. One of the post credit scenes in this film even feels like a direct copy of one from Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

This approach infects the whole of Thor: Love and Thunder but is worst during an extended sequence set in a place called Omnipotent City which I’d have gladly seen exorcised from the movie completely. This is where all the gods from different realms meet and it is largely the gods that are the problem. In the first Thor film they went to great pains to show that what we might call gods were just more scientifically advanced but, following the introduction of other religions in Black Panther and Moon Knight the studio have decided to just go with them being proper deities and it jars with so much of what they have done well before.

It is interesting that Disney have just announced a live action version of 1997’s Hercules and I feel that someone in the Marvel wing should have told them what they were doing here because at best the company’s future output could get repetitive, as worst it could get messy. Also, considering our heroes are trying to stop a bad guy that is going around killing gods, they kill a fair few gods themselves in these scenes.

None of this is to say that this film isn’t enjoyable. The comedy may be broader and less refined than before but there are still laughs to be had. Valkyrie and Gorg return and continue to bounce of Hemsworth effectively. As you will also know, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster returns and it is great to have her back. Waititi also does the thing he does with having some quite serious story elements among the humour and these are tied to this character. I’ll let you discover this for yourself but I will say that while her circumstances may be an emotional trigger for some, it is handled well.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a highly entertaining watch but it doesn’t compare to the best of what this studio or this director have done before. As such it is a bit of a disappointment but it would seem uncharitable to worry about this too much. Maybe the good bits outweigh the bad, maybe they don’t. You won’t care while you are watching it

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The Ripley Factor:

The other big aspect of Jane’s return is what this does with regard to the gender politics. It’s no secret that she herself gains the power of Thor in this film, making her explicitly a female version of him. This follows the Hawkeye TV series in switching an established male hero’s character traits to a woman and comes ahead of She-Hulk which will do the same thing. They are clearly aiming to show how this strength is not purely the domain of men and they manage this just fine but she never really escapes being a side player in some man’s story. There are demonstrably feminist moments around her correcting how one person addresses her but sadly, good as she is, she’s not even the most successful depiction of female power and authority in this film, let alone the wider MCU.

I could be talking about Valkyrie here, she is still cool and they aren’t afraid to highlight that she is LGBTQ+ this time, but she is resigned to the bench at one point too. I’m actually referring to a new character but I can’t get into this much here for fear of spoilers. I will say that she only really gets an origin and introduction at this stage but the potential she presents is huge. Significantly she is also the first original superhero created by these films. The MCU has brought in plenty of original characters before; Phil Coulson, Trevor Slattery, this own franchise’s own Darcy and Dr. Selvig, but never anyone with powers. Even in TV, specifically Agents of Shield, all of the ‘enhanceds’ had a counterpart in the comics somewhere. Now though, they have created a new supe who has strength, endearing sass, significant chutzpah and is female. I hope she becomes a real player moving forward and not just a footnote in this movie. I guess we’ll find out in Thor Five (please let that be it’s name).

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