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What a classic Thor adventure. Hurrah!


Thor: Love and Thunder


Thor: Love and Thunder is very much the mess general responses have suggested, compounding the problems exhibited by Thor: Ragnarok when it came to juggling the soberer subplots. Except that here, the soberer subplots are all over the movie like a rash, and Taika Waititi is all at sea, as all he really wants to do is lark about and play as many whacky characters as possible, under the vain illusion (see also M Night) he’s a really dynamite, multihyphenate phenomenon. Love and Thunder is both less successful (if you can call Raimi’s movie that) than Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and more interesting, evidencing Kevin Feige prostrating himself at the woke altar whilst simultaneously doing his best to sacrifice all its prior fledgling prospects.

The title character is a bumbling moron when required to be outshone by women, with Chris Hemsworth – or whoever is playing Thor now, since I have no idea; the main reason I doubt it’s him is less the Hollywood adreno-cull than the pervasive feeling he doesn’t really know how to play the part any more* – stuck in a groove of scouting out every scene for the gag. This means Thor is an irreducibly self-mocking ham, rather than a god merely flourishing cod-Shakespearean undertones as he did pre-Waititi. It’s the difference between playing someone who’s unaware they’re a bit pompous and someone being written by someone who’s entirely pompous. Thor gets all mighty serious when fighting the bad guys and gets all fatherly/funny when caring for his adoptive daughter, but any air has been let out of him as a potentially plausible character, so anything involving his rekindled feelings for Jane is a wash.

The Jane as Thor, of course, successfully stoops to the Disney agenda of impugning the multitudes of toxic men on their superhero books. Disney laid the groundwork for this (initially secret) woke invasion in the comics, as they have with most of their gender-swapped Phase IV developments, but it’s surely relevant here that lady Thor never possessed even a shred of personality before they gave her cancer and a hammer (meaning, she still hasn’t’ got a character, just adverse symptoms and a male character’s iconography). It doesseem curious though that the MCU is consistently throwing its previously established female characters on the pyre with something approaching wilful abandon. First Black Widow and Gamora. Then Wanda (who turned bad to boot). Now Jane. In Love and Thunder alone, we have female characters dismembered (Sif loses an arm) and run through (Valkrie loses a kidney – although that may just be a gag). Jane meanwhile goes to heaven.

There’s an uneasy push/pull here since, per Doctor Strange, Feige can’t entirely dispense with his title character… yet. Obviously, we’ve got an Ironheart, a She Hulk, a new Black Widow, a new Hawkeye and a probable female Black Panther, but all their prospects are untested and/or on Disney+. Love and Thunder introduces a little Thor protégée, who may well grow up super-fast if dad’s to be cast aside at some point soon.

Compounding the problems is that Waititi’s gag-centric approach – particularly when they’re mostly misses as here – does his female leads no favours. I see no evidence that Portman has any comic timing, so foisting a running joke of coming up with a mighty catchphrase on her is a bust. Tessa Thompson’s personality-free approach to performance has seen her become remarkably successful, probably because she’s never in anything where the weight of the enterprise rests on her shoulders. Here she gets to be king, and a lesbian, and I guess that’s enough. Actually, it isn’t, because Waititi’s Korg, a consistently barrel-scraping part of Ragnarok indulging Waitit’s penchant for cheap asides, is also gay (forging a new life “with a dude I met called Dwayne”. So shamelessly prescription-driven, you’ve no option but to laugh). Is this relevant? Only in as much as Disney has to mark out its woke territory, pissing indiscriminately in every corner of every production.

Love and Thunder also suffers from unsightly continuity issues, unnecessarily lumbered with the Guardians of the Galaxy during the first half hour (it would surely have been better to cut them and keep Goldblum and Dinklage).  This material is all rather strained, particularly since it follows a surprisingly strong prologue featuring Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher.

I was expecting Bale to come a cropper here, à la Chris Eccleston in The Dark World. But somehow, perhaps by sheer dint of determination and willpower, he keeps a grip on Gorr’s purposefulness in spite of Waititi’s passion for getting side-tracked and chuckling it up. Bale shouldn’t really work. He looks sub-Marilyn Manson, and all he’s really doing is seething with bile; his motivation (revenge for a lost child) is entirely humdrum, and his eventual (rehabilitation), if not exactly predictable, is nevertheless a variation on a familiar theme. But he exudes presence and determination, and all the best parts of the movie concern Gorr. Everyone else has to adjust to Bale in any shared scene, as the most powerful player, and if he’s unable to singlehandedly fix the leaking ship, he tries his best.

His character, off assassinating gods, seems to be something vaguely in the line of Luciferian self-realisation (which we then see in his offspring and also Thor lending the next gen his powers). But the movie is having its thematic cake and eating it. After all, Jane dies and actually goes to heaven. Thor kills Zeus (Russell Crowe sporting an outrageous silly Italian accent). Magic wishes can bring lost children back to life. But, in this universe where all manner of fantastical and magical and beyond-our-ken can happen in the blink of an eye, you can’t have an actual cure for cancer.

Nothing can impugn the permanence of the allopathic model (and when you have Black Panther dying from it, it might seem impertinent to offer hope). Jane even says, at one point, that she thought, since the science wasn’t working, why not Viking space magic. And this is the crux. Per the previous paragraph, in a universe where anything can happen and anyone can wield god-like powers, drawing a shrugging line with a real-world illness fails to muster the intended gravitas. Particularly when you have Waititi staging a scene of Thor (who is still playing a determined idiot even here) in warrior duds listening to the doctor’s prognosis. Extraordinary that, in all his universal travelling, he’s never come across someone who could fix a common or garden human illness. But this is the facile level MCU works at, mistakenly believing that mentioning the C-word engenders instant depth and resonance.

Still on themes, it’s curious too that this is another summer tale in which child abduction is a central feature: see also The Black Phone and Disney’s Pinocchio. A coincidence? I doubt it, surely not at this stage in developments. A primer, perhaps. Certainly, the parallels aren’t explicit per Doctor Sleep, and their kidnapping here is simply a means to an end.

On the director front, Waititi most surprises for occasionally pulling through with the dramatic scenes, and even the well-constructed spectacle. After Cate Blanchett’s rather rotten, empty-vessel showing in Ragnarok, that’s something of a relief, even if far short of a celebration. Stylistically, there’s still see the tendency to tableau framing, as for all his rainbow aesthetic, Taika comes up short in terms of visual invention. Nevertheless, he appears to be working more closely with his second unit and previz. The seams are more intrusive on the ropey storytelling front, as Love and Thunder yoyos from terminal illness to whacky hijinks and gags about the size of Thor’s courgette.

There was a spell where you could expect a director with some degree of acumen to lend the MCU some degree of individuality, beyond the requisite soup of ingredients that always led the way. Not that Feige was ever overly keen on such individualistic qualities. Now, what you get is simply a top-heavy construction, whereby even the likes of Raimi’s kineticism or Waititi’s irreverence can’t hide the joins. There’s only one entry left in Phase IV, the tenuous Wakanda Forever, and while I’m sure there are many apologists, one surely has to conclude Feige is lucky he can blame the coof on faltering demand. Only the unwoke – at the behest of Sony – No Way Home emerges with any degree of triumph intacto, while the TV incarnations have elicited mild approval at best and derisive sneers at worst. Thor will return, we’re promised, to be terrorised by a decidedly unremarkable Hercules. A jolly good thing he has Thormbellina to protect him.

*Addendum 25/11/22: I’ve been looking back over some of Donald Marshall’s posts on celebs at the Cloning Centres, if his take on Hemsworth (Hemsley) is anything to go by, the Chris we’ve been seeing lately is unlikely to be the real deal. This from 2017: “A few nights ago I was activated at the cloning center. Elizabeth has told this guy (Chris Hemsley, plays Thor in movies) to be the person that speaks to me there. Much said, much done. He told me they want me to make songs. I refused. He attacked me. Killed me by punching a clone of me to death. Then new clone of me to request songs. I refused. He killed me bad three times. Said that if I posted about him on Facebook that he would make me pay with pain. I haven’t been back there for two sleep cycles. He has sex with rich old homosexuals to get the chance to be in movies. In the end I want him brought to justice and punished whether I am alive or dead“.

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