The press tour for Thor: Love and Thunder should have told us everything we needed to know.
Instead of talking about whether the movie was any good, Taika Waititi, Chris Hemsworth, and the rest were having a laugh, talking about having a laugh, and the times when they where thinking about having a laugh. I’m delighted they had a good time, but for the rest of us? Not so much. We all know the slogan for a big tentpole movie that doesn’t do well with the critics: it’s called “one for the fans”. Until Love and Thunder, I didn’t know there was a lower bullshit excuse for a bad movie: “we’re making this one for the kids.”
First of all, don’t blame the kids. Second, and most importantly, this is a terrible excuse when your movie is part of a cinematic universe who tries, and usually succeeds, to please nearly everyone. We’re working with family entertainment here. What would you think if Pixar said this? I would think that they are trying to lower my expectations. Here’s the kick in the teeth with Love and Thunder: it nearly worked on me.
I wanted to like Love and Thunder so much because of my affection for pretty much all of its director’s previous work, and with the promise that this was “for the kids” – so much of Waititi’s work has revolved around children’s stories, and brilliantly and effectively so. I liked the direction Marvel was taking with Thor, leaning into the silliness of the premise, the charm of Chris Hemsworth, and the skill of Waititi at seeding emotionally rewarding moments when it feels like he’s just taking the piss. Love and Thunder has all of that, but in an immensely diluted form. Is it funny? Mostly, but a lot of the humour is very lame. Is Hemsworth charming? He can’t not be, but he is stuck playing a character who is going through the exact same character arc for the fourth movie in a row. Is it for kids? Yes, but the inference is that the MCU largely isn’t, which is just untrue. So, what went wrong? For this very simple answer, we need to go back in time to the heady days of the mid-noughties.
I was 15 when I saw Sin City for the first time, growing my best completely transparent puberty moustache and getting my older (by about two months) friend to by the tickets to this rated 18 wonder. We got in due to our brilliant disguises, method acting, and the guy behind the till looking too hungover to give a shit. I had never seen anything like it before and when I watch it today I still have a great deal of affection for it because that sense of newness permeates my memories of it. I felt the same way about Kick-Ass which, apart from the weird perv best friend pretending to be gay so he can see a girl’s boobs (I wish that was an oversimplification), was a breath of fresh air and proof that superhero movies could laugh at their own conventions. The same with Deadpool. The same with The Avengers. The same with Thor: Ragnarok.
All of these movies have one thing in common: they all have sequels that proved that there new, trailblazing approach didn’t have the same staying power. Which is a Hollywood problem as old as Hollywood itself. Make the god of lighting strike twice but get more money for it and ignore the possibility of the audience getting burned in the process. Newness is what these stories thrive on, and sequels are frequently nothing more than diminishing returns.
Ticking the Romance Box
It feels unfair to put Jane in this section since her arc, in which she becomes Lady Thor in an attempt to stave off terminal illness, drives the movie just as much as Thor’s. It’s just that the romance, like nearly all MCU romances, still feels surface level. This is in part due to Jane’s absence from the MCU for nearly a decade, both Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth still not having any chemistry beyond the fact that they’re both super hot, and that Jane is not the kind of role that Portman is best at. Jane as a character is far too dull for Portman’s talents. She’s a movie star but she’s always felt more like a character actor to me with the likes of Jackie, Black Swan, and Annihilation proving that she’s at her best when she has a character she can truly dig into.
The Wasted Villain Corner
The Thor movies are Marvel’s biggest culprits when it comes to this section. From Christopher Eccelston, to Cate Blanchett, and now Christian Bale, these movies waste some obscenely talented performers. That said, Bale nearly saves this whole movie as Gor who kills Gods after the death of his daughter. Gor is the right kind of blemish in all of these bright colours (yet sterile) colours and beautiful people, but Bale, like Portman, is too good for this mess.
That’s what it comes down to: Love and Thunder is a mess. It’s a movie looking for a plot and settling for repeating itself to diminishing returns. All of which leads to Thor adopting Gor’s resurrected daughter (brought back by a wish at the centre of the universe or some such and no, don’t think about how Thor had five years to fix the Snap using this method because no one at Disney had thought of it yet) and becoming a father/mentor to her. So, here is my final question: WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE THAT FUCKING MOVIE! You don’t need to bring Jane back for Thor to start thinking about becoming a parent. That work, and that doubt has already been achieved in Ragnarok as Thor becomes father to his people. They should have made that movie instead of sacrificing the possibility of a Guardians team-up so a himbo god could learn the same bloody lesson he’s been learning since day one.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Deadline)