July 22, 2022

At the Movies: Thor: Love and Thunder


Thor is the first MCU character (so far) to have a fourth solo movie, a development that can be attributed to director Taika Waititi's reinvention of the character last time out in Thor: Ragnarok. (A post-credits card promises "Thor will return," but I can't imagine they'd do it unless Waititi was at the helm.) This movie carries on the freewheeling, metal-edged snarkiness of its predecessor (to a well-chosen and edited soundtrack of Guns n' Roses instead of Led Zeppelin), with a villain (Christian Bale's Gorr the God Butcher) who is set up with a fairly solid motivation for what he's doing and a surprisingly emotional payoff at the end. And, of course, Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, in a "Mighty Thor" storyline that's a direct lift from the highly regarded comics run.  

While I was watching this, something occurred to me that I should have realized one or two movies back, or maybe from the start. As a character (at least once he gets over the hubris and arrogance of his first movie and the depression engendered by the events of the Avengers films), Thor is a decent and kindhearted person....who isn't terribly bright? He really needs the counterpoint of a smart and diabolical bastard like Loki to keep him on his toes. (Since Thor now has a huge "RIP Loki" tattoo on his back, we know he has no idea that alt-Loki is tangling with the Time Variance Authority and rampaging through the multiverse.) Korg, the rock monster played by director Waititi, tries to fill that role for him but comes up short. Tessa Thompson's Valkryie, now King of New Asgard, is smart and acerbic enough (and not diabolical, at least not yet) to be a good foil for Thor, but she has her own problems in ruling over the Asgardian survivors. 

Jane Foster could have taken over that spot, but (and this is not a spoiler, or shouldn't be, as again it comes from the comics) she has Stage 4 cancer which is kept in abeyance only by her proving to be worthy and taking up Thor's busted hammer Mjolnir, and even Mjolnir isn't enough in the end. So yes, Jane dies (and in the last post-credits scene, is welcomed by Heimdall into Valhalla), but she is definitely not fridged, as she makes the choice to become the Mighty Thor one last time and help Thor stop the God Butcher. I imagine this complete character arc is part of what lured Portman back to the role. This Jane is shown to have moved on and lived a fulfilling life post-Thor (even as he knew exactly how long he'd been apart from her, down to the month and day), and she speaks about how much it meant for her to be able to wield that hammer, even if she initially sought it out to save her life (or at least postpone her death). 

We get the requisite Marvel CGI-heavy third act fight scene, of course, but Taika Waititi succeeds in turning this on its head as well. I'll try to be vague here, but let's just say that the stakes set up with Gorr's opening scene and the renewed Thor/Jane romance pay off with an ending built around emotion rather than pew-pew fighting. It's definitely one of the best endings of a Marvel movie, now that I think about it. It also provides Thor with a new sidekick going forward (played by an adorable India Rose Hemsworth, Chris Hemsworth's own daughter). If there will indeed be a fifth Thor movie, presumably she will be involved. 

(Also, even if Valkyrie doesn't yet find her queen, Korg gets his Korg-ian husband at the end. And Heimdall's kid names himself Axel, after Guns n' Roses' lead singer.)

This movie has a tight, lean two-hour runtime, and even if I don't think it quite scales the heights of Thor: Ragnarok, it's the best Marvel film I've seen so far this year. (It's certainly better than Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, which twists Wanda Maximoff's character abominably. The director, Sam Raimi, either didn't watch WandaVision, didn't understand it, or didn't give a shit.) My rating:  Four mini-Mjolnirs. 

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