Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
I can definitely understand the frustration of some of the creators behind the Star Wars sequels. Fans complained that The Force Awakens was way too much like the original Star Wars, and so Rian Johnson decides to give everyone something different with The Last Jedi, only to have the entire fandom turn on him despite the fact he largely did what they wanted. Rey was taken down a notch and dragged out of Mary Sue territory. Even some of the minor characters became more well-rounded, even if their arcs weren't where everyone thought they should go. Unfortunately, the backlash resulted in the dull, jumbled story telling of The Rise of Skywalker, which was devoid of even the more interesting parts that the flawed prequels had.
Still, despite Kathleen Kennedy and a number of people involved having made some questionable statements and often trying to pander to (rather than represent) certain sections of society, I have never sensed any real hatred for the fan base. Even Rian Johnson, frustrated as he still is with the response to The Last Jedi, has done little than make some snide remarks about his haters. All in all Lucasfilm has not painted the people they are actually marketing the movies to as an enemy. Marvel, unfortunately, seems to be doing just that, and knowingly so.
From Paul Feige actively seeking writers and directors who have not read the comics to purposely destroying what would be an interesting character in She-Hulk just to get back at internet trolls - something that writers of the show recently admitted to - it is as if Marvel, and Disney as an extension, still pictures the average comic book reader as 40 years old, bathing intermittently and wiping Cheetos dust from his (because it's always a "he" that is the target) neckbeard. Sure, there are a number of people who fit this description, and they are the ones that scream and cry every time a female or a person of color gets a minor, insignificant role that was different in the comics, or Disney makes a tepid reference to the LGBTQ community. They aren't so much fans as people who lie in wait to complain no matter how good the movie is. Rather, a large target of hatred from the writers, producers and directors seems to be aimed at those that, regardless of who is cast, would just like to see some of the most popular stories adapted for the big screen and done well.
I don't even read comics and, personally, I would like to see this. I understand that some of the multi-issue stories are just hanging there begging to be translated to the big screen. Comics are already a visual medium so, in theory, doing this should not be as difficult as taking a novel and whittling down multitudes of characters and complex world-building to make one or two comprehensible movies. While comics, when done right, have character arcs and world building and everything other forms of literature do, they also are as dependent on action as movies. For instance, in one of the two stories that Thor: Love and Thunder is based on, it takes three iterations of Thor, acting in concert, to defeat Gorr, the central villain in this film. It's not a matter of budget when a movie is 250 million dollars and it barely looks like any of it went to even make the effects look good, but an unwillingness to even meet the comic fans halfway. Unfortunately, that spills over to us non comic readers who just simply want a good Marvel flick and not a lot of rehashed plotting with bad comedy.
Gorr (Christian Bale), the last of his race, is on the verge of death when he comes across an oasis in the desert. There he finds his race's god in celebration. He believes that he has come to his eternal reward, particularly after watching his people and, finally, his daughter (India Rose Hemsworth) perish while he remained faithful. Instead, Gorr receives mockery and dismissal from his god. He also receives an unexpected gift - the Necrosword, from a warrior that the gods have just slain. The Necrosword happens to be a weapon that can kill the gods, and Gorr, angry at the betrayal he has suffered, sets off to do just that.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) discovers the tales of the "God Butcher" when he joins the Guardians of the Galaxy in defense of a temple to a slain god that has been overtaken by invaders. He soon finds out that Gorr's destination is New Asgard, a colony (and tourist attraction) set up on Earth for survivors of Asgard's destruction. Gorr kidnaps the children in hopes that Thor will follow, which he does. He is also joined by his former human girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who now has possession of Mjølnir and possessed the same powers as Thor. Along with his companion Korg (Taika Waititi) and the leader of new Asgard, King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor sets off to find the children and prevent Gorr's eventual destruction of the Gods. His hopes hinge on gathering the most powerful gods in the universe, something that he may find harder than he ever imagined.
As much as I have liked other movies that Taika Waititi has written and directed I was not a fan of Thor: Ragnarok. Instead of concentrating on the story of Thor and Loki teaming up to fight Hela it spent a good amount of its time with Thor tooling around on a garbage planet run by Jeff Goldblum and dealing with a mopey Hulk. It was full of terrible jokes and video-game style effects that took time away from the actual story, old and hackneyed as it was. The same thing happens once again with Thor: Love and Thunder, only this time around it had a much better story to ruin.
Gorr has the chance to be a complicated villain rather than a dull monster, but Waititi goes for the latter. Christian Bale does his best to insert emotion, and if left to be a straight superhero drama about a broken man lashing out for revenge it would have been great. In fact, the first few minutes when he realizes how indifferent the deity he has devoted his life to is to his suffering is heartbreaking and well done, as is the parallel with Thor when he tries to convince Zeus (Russell Crowe) to join him in his battle against Gorr. That is great writing that proves that these movies can be more than spectacle, and much of that finds its origins in the comics themselves. There is also Jane Foster's story, which was an entirely different comic arc, that too many dismissed as wokeness when it was announced. Rather, she never seeks at the beginning to replace Thor, but rather to find a way to reverse the unidentified cancer that is killing her. After parting and leaving so much undone, and Jane herself being one of the many who disappeared in the Snap, Thor and Jane rediscovering each other only to be thwarted by something neither of them can control is a story that dovetails with Gorr losing his daughter.
It's all there to make one of the best Marvel movies of all time. Instead, like Ragnarok, the whole thing is undercut with jokes that don't land. As great as Waititi is in movies like What We Do in the Shadows and JoJo Rabbit, his humor just does not work in the framework of a Marvel film, particularly one that needs to be taken seriously for the main story to work. It needs more exploration of King Valkyrie's drinking problem and the maturing of Heimdall's son Axl (Kieron L. Dyer) and less Axl Rose, who I am assuming was in need of a quick infusion of cash that I'm sure he got for agreeing to let his music be used, often ineffectually, throughout the film. If anything needed a sweeping orchestral score it was this, but I guess as soon as Waititi decided that Korg (and, thus, Waititi) would be narrating the movie like a children's book, any sense that we were supposed to take this seriously disappeared.
The only real hope is that some day, after all the phase this and phase that has run its course, the rights to these stories and characters will revert to someone that has respect for them. If there is some overreaching arc for Phase 4 it seems it is less a story - the multiverse thing was promising, but now it seems there are angry gods - and more an attempt, through the movies and shows, to tell the comic book fans to crawl back into their basements and cry over their mylar-sheaved childhood memories. That's how Disney sees them, after all, and has done their best to alienate them. If there is any true leftist agenda they have botched that as well, as only passing reference made to King Valkyrie's bisexuality and, though it turns out Korg's species is similar in some ways to the Moclans from The Orville, the little bit of attention paid to queer characters is slight at best. There is a tiny emough amount so that it can be excised without ruining the story if China throws a fit, and enough to make Ron Desantis hot under the collar, but it's obvious at this point they can't even do woke right.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Time: 118 minutes
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Taika Waititi, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale
Director: Taika Waititi