It’s fun to revisit Thor: Love and Thunder after the initial disappointment of seeing it in the cinema. There, the tonal clash of the film really made it suffer, with the stakes continually undercut by the cheapness of the jokes; the good jokes thrown away in weird directorial choices; and the character of Thor himself fractured into inconsistency in the constant chase for laugh lines that set the character back years. Rewatching the film, none of these flaws have gone away, but without the surprise, the cringe is somewhat mitigated and it’s easier to enjoy the stronger elements – especially the visuals.
In particular, the black and white asteroid fight holds up as one of Marvel’s most visually striking action sequences. Christian Bale chews the scenery throughout as Gorr, but when he’s in his own black and white asteroid space, he’s truly terrifying. He giggles, leers, and fights, and when he’s in a four-way fight with Thor, Jane, and Valkyrie on a tiny asteroid with limited gravity and a steep curve, it’s a spectacular vision. The greatest thing this sequence does, too, is just allow the stakes to be high. There are no jokes, there is no undermining, there’s just a desperate battle which results in massive loss for the main team.
The other major triumph is Jane’s battle with cancer. While the larger storyline has something of a question mark over it – bringing Thor’s ex back in order to give him someone to lose – Natalie Portman really nails the serious side of her role. She’s less good at the jokes – the sassy banter with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie feels very forced – but in dramatising her battle with cancer and with herself, she’s genuinely moving. Jane is losing herself in something of a dream, a fantasy of escape from what she’s experiencing, which of course is impossible to actually achieve – and the film goes there and allows her to die, but to die on her own terms. This is the first time Marvel has really explored a character arc of someone preparing themselves to face death, and Jane’s choice to externalise her fight, and to try to do something good with what remains of her life, gives the film a powerful arc.
It’s just a shame that so much of the rest of the film is a mess. Chris Hemsworth, in particular, is still all over the place. His misunderstandings of human life and his silliness with the Guardians are all fine; what’s so disappointing is that Thor has lost all of his abilities as a leader. The young(er) man who we’ve seen rally troops in so many films up to this point is here incapable of giving an inspirational speech or of forming a battle plan. He bumbles as if he’s never been in a conflict or a political situation before. Thor has always had the tendency to be a bit self-absorbed or egocentric, but here his ability to pull things together when they’re bleak is thrown into question, without any of the immediate justification that Endgame at least provided. It’s frustrating because it makes him a difficult figure to invest in – he’s a dick who seems to have un-learned so much of what made him powerful earlier, and having him be the constant butt of the joke sets the character back a decade.
The other major area of concern is the gods. Russell Crowe is clearly having a blast, but part of the issue underpinning the film’s whole premise is that it’s a bad thing that Gorr is killing the gods. The fact that all of the gods, without exception, are awful, makes it very difficult to invest in why Gorr is such an issue, and it’s clear that the film itself realises this as it has to engineer a situation where he kidnaps the Asgardians’ kids in order to pursue his goal and give them something to fight for. This is, yet again, an issue of the film repeatedly chasing a joke and forgetting to have a story. At the end of the film, Korg says that Jane’s sacrifice saved the universe, but really all she did was save the gods, who are presented as self-absorbed, indifferent, even cruel. What would losing the gods actually mean for this universe? Yes, the Asgardians are technically gods (though this also points to poor storytelling, as the Asgardians have none of the qualities that define the other gods as gods), but in some ways the film ends up feeling surprisingly conservative in the automatic defence of existing power structures, even when those existing structures serve horrific individuals.
Despite all of this, the film finds feeling. It’s a film about growing up, about Thor’s transition into becoming an adoptive father (which is also, interestingly, the arc of Hulk in She-Hulk, Clint Barton in Hawkeye, and several other MCU properties as the legacy Avengers begin training up a new generation of heroes). The final sequence is surprisingly moving and pays off the silliness as Thor joins up with Gorr’s resurrected daughter and begins a new life with her. But the idea that ‘Thor will return’ no longer feels as essential as it once did.
One thought on “FILM: Thor: Love and Thunder (dir. Taika Waititi)”