Mallory is a Marvel fan and veteran critic of audiovisual media while Saarthak is a novice film reviewer who is also an avid Marvel comic reader. They both watched the fourth installment in Marvel’s “Thor” franchise, “Thor: Love and Thunder.” They both have different raves and rants about it; hear them clash.
Mallory: I may have never read a comic book, but my dad collected them as a kid and as I grew up he instilled his love of superheroes in me. We’d spend hours watching season after season of superhero cartoons. From the obscure, like “Krypto the Superdog,” to the classic, like “Spider-Man: The Animated Series,” these cartoons shaped my childhood and view of the world, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) came around. But as the MCU formed, I saw that superheroes might become a part of my future as well, not just my childhood. The films became family events. We tossed around theories, got sucked into the debacle between the MCU and creators of our favorite show “Marvel’s Agents of Shield,” and called each other to rant about the missteps (Mephisto should’ve been the villain of “Wandavision.” There, I said it). Seeing “Thor: Ragnarok” changed my ideas of what production design could look like. Even though they may not be cinematic masterpieces, MCU movies are what got me invested in film and TV. I wouldn’t be here writing for The Michigan Daily without them. So sure, I might not be as highbrow as other critics, but this is the stuff I love.
Saarthak: First of all, I just have to say that Mephisto was too high-stakes to be brought in for the very first product of Phase 4, sorry. We’re in the same boat when it comes to a possible Marvel bias. I am a certified Marvel fan; I’ve been reading comics since high school, I try to see each piece of MCU media that is released as quickly as I can and I am quick to defend what I think are actually interesting entries like “Moon Knight” and “Ms. Marvel.” “Thor: Ragnarok” actually got me interested in the character and led to me to binge many a Thor comic while listening to Led Zeppelin, including the comics that “Thor: Love and Thunder” is based on. However, after reflecting more about the Sony-Marvel feud that informed the questionable decisions of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and laughing at the inanity of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” I’ve stopped having expectations for these movies — I just maintain the hope that they will be ironically entertaining at worst and slightly thought-provoking at best. Keeping all this in mind when I went to see the newest Thor movie, I settled in, bracing myself for what could possibly be two hours of brainless quips and shallow computer-generated imaging. I left the theater smiling like an idiot, blasting Guns N’ Roses on the way home. Let me tell you the tale of how I fell for “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
This movie begins with the startling accomplishment of bringing yet another Chris to the Marvel Chrisnematic Universe. Get ready for a litany of Chrises: When a deicidal alien named Gorr (Christian Bale, “The Dark Knight”) finds a corrupting weapon that can kill the gods who ignored the plight of his nigh-extinct people and death of his daughter, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth, “Avengers: Endgame”) — who has been adventuring and trying to find himself with the Guardians of the Galaxy — is forced to return to Earth, after encouragement from Starlord Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, “Jurassic World: Dominion”). Meanwhile, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, “Annihilation”) is struggling with the final stage of terminal cancer. When modern medicine isn’t healing her, she turns to Asgardian methods in the form of the shards of Thor’s broken hammer Mjolnir, which are somehow drawn to her. Jane’s ex, Thor, returns to the now-booming tourist destination of New Asgard, now under the rule of the King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, “Men in Black: International”) alongside his alien rock friend and soon-to-be star of his own show Korg (Taika Waititi, “Our Flag Means Death”). When Gorr, the newly-(Chris)tened “God Butcher,” unleashes shadow monsters on New Asgard and kidnaps all of its children as a bargaining chip for more power, the ensuing battle and journey for the future of Asgard and all gods unites our heroes with a new face — Dr. Jane Foster, empowered with a reforged Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer), as The Mighty Thor.
Mallory: Despite that complicated and layered plot, the movie does a surprisingly good job balancing its two sides — it truly is a movie dealing in both love and thunder.
From the trailer’s release to walking into the theatre, my only expectation for this movie was to have it fill some kind of MCU superhero summer rom-com checkbox. It looked fun and lighthearted, like “Ragnarok,” but less plot-based or centered on advancing this phase of Marvel. “Love and Thunder” delivered perfectly on those promises. While “Ragnarok” brought something new stylistically to the MCU, “Love and Thunder” delivers the introduction to the rom-com genre. From dramatic montages of Jane and Thor’s earlier relationship and lovers’ quarrels set to the soundtrack of “Our Last Summer” by ABBA, Mjolnir always in the frame as the conflict hanging over them, to the meddling interference of a jealous hammer, Stormbreaker (which really steals some scenes with his acting chops), the love is ever-present. It takes this movie to some surprisingly touching places while still allowing battles and villains to be mixed in.
The lighthearted rom-com journey angle works, because even with Gorr as a serious villain, the drama (thunder) of the movie still revolves around the same themes as the romance (love). Gorr’s journey of grief and failing belief in everything he knows is very similar to Thor’s. They spend the movie in counterpoint to one another; as Thor begins to heal, Gorr pushes himself harder. Even though we may see love and thunder as vastly different, in reality they become two sides of the same coin.
Saarthak: An impossible criticism of this movie would be that it’s ever boring. It feels like all of the charm of director Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” is pumped with an ungodly amount of steroids. “Ragnarok” featured Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” This follow-up features a whole host of classic rock and pop hits (mainly Guns N’ Roses, continuing the glorious tradition begun by “Megamind” of orchestrating a fight to “Welcome to the Jungle”) combined with a divine score courtesy of Michael Giacchino (“The Batman”). Where “Ragnarok” is colorful, “Love and Thunder” is positively vibrant with the saturation and brightness of its interplanetary and godly scenes ripped straight from the beauty of the comics (and the comic artists who originally created those images should definitely be compensated and credited). “Ragnarok” gave us brawls between gods and Hulks, “Love and Thunder” pits pantheons and god-killers against each other, with Thor’s initial battles infused with the campy machismo of classic action movies. However, all of these points lead to its very legitimate criticisms. The MCU has shifted dramatically since “Ragnarok,” and so the other aspects of Waititi’s and Marvel’s filmmaking feel like negatives. As pumped-up as it is, it steers close to overdose.
This movie’s got quips. Oh god(s), does it have quips, and cheesy one-liners, and callbacks more persistent and unwelcome than those people who’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty. It finally brings in Thor’s mythological steeds — the goats Tanngrisnir (toothgnasher) and Tanngnjostr (toothgrinder) — and makes them scream every time they’re on screen, because remember when people edited goat screams into Taylor Swift songs? There’s a reason that meme only lasted the length of a song and also was left behind in 2013. “Ragnarok” drastically improved Thor into a much more relatable, down-to-Midgard character by kicking him off of his high goat and transforming him from a faux-Shakespearean figure into one of the funniest heroes Marvel had to offer. “Infinity War” and “Endgame” held on to this change but maintained a realism for the character by establishing his new humorous outlook as a coping mechanism for all of the loss Waititi and the Russo Brothers had put him through. The humor of “Ragnarok” spun out towards the rest of the MCU, lending a little levity to its other properties but souring their attempts at seriousness in the process, giving us the infamous “Marvel humor.” What was originally quirky about “Ragnarok” feels contrived in “Love and Thunder” as its frenetic action pace pads every single scene with joke after joke after joke until you’re praying that it just ends already. Then it finally does — and it’s glorious.
When this movie commits to something other than its comedy, though, it commits 100%: Jane’s reflections on her life and fight to stay alive, Gorr’s cruel crusade in exacting vengeance against every god, Thor’s recognition of the grief that the love of his life and the threat to his existence are both going through. Bale, Portman and Hemsworth all deliver powerful and moving performances, especially when the latter two aren’t constantly quipping at each other.
To their credit, Portman and Hemsworth alongside Thompson and Waititi have excellent comedic delivery and chemistry, as the issue with the humor lies less with its continuation than with its sheer quantity. Jane has seemed to pick up Thor’s constantly-joking coping mechanism where she’s more concerned with her “catchphrase” than confessing to her cancer diagnosis. Portman’s portrayal of her in this movie is honestly more memorable than in the past films; Dr. Foster feels much more like an ailing-but-eager scientist mixed with a pining romantic partner, who ultimately turns into a tragic hero. Hemsworth returns these sentiments in his performance, as Thor braces himself for the possibility of yet another significant loss and finds that his capacity for love also has to change.
Mallory: I would agree that Portman is especially a standout in this film. She is the emotional core of the movie, the piece that ties the two sides together. While Thor focuses on the healing power of choosing love and building a community and Gorr reckons with the everlasting effects of death and loss, Jane sits in the middle. Just as she is realizing she wants love in her life again, her body is failing her and she has to simultaneously grapple with rekindling a relationship and preparing herself for the end of her life. Her choice in the end to show up to the battlefield, despite it eliminating her chances of staying alive, shows she has remained worthy of Mjolnir through the entirety of her life. In fact, as we saw in Thor’s first solo film, he wouldn’t even have been worthy of it himself if he hadn’t met her.
Saarthak: Bale’s performance as Gorr is also especially intriguing, as he mixes these roles of a grieving father and an enraged arbiter of justice against the almighty into a villain. The most disturbing thing about his character is that a small part of you can vindicate the vitriol he hurls at the gods and the viciousness with which he rains down his wrath onto every hero of the story. Scenes with him are dark, eccentric and so rife with suspense they honestly felt more scary than the attempts at horror in “Multiverse of Madness.” Gorr’s effects on Thor’s character are exciting to think about for the future of MCU history, especially taking a page from the comics and seeing the realization that “Gorr was right” is what initially causes Thor to lose Mjolnir and Jane to pick it up. Gorr and the effects of his rampage are constantly recurring throughout Thor’s storylines and if future directors play it right, this won’t be the last we see of his philosophy.
Mallory: For Marvel, Gorr is certainly on the darker side of the villainy scale. The source of his power comes from the hardest time in his life. He has a true and clear motivation for his actions — the loss of his daughter — a driving force that resonates with us as he grieves. But he’s more complicated than that. He’s also renounced his entire belief system of gods and salvation, making him a lost man who can’t trust hope anymore. And on top of that, he is as infected as he is chosen by the Necrosword, his weapon that allows him to create the shadow monsters and slay gods.
With all this to keep him grounded and understandable from an audience perspective, I still found Bale’s portrayal a bit too unfocused. He couldn’t choose between serious scares and what I felt swayed too much in the direction of Child Catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” If he had stuck to the former, the movie would’ve ultimately been more horror-esque than “Multiverse of Madness.” Bale instead smiled his way through many of what would’ve been creepy scenes, seemingly stuck in limbo, unable to act as sinister in the many plot points with child characters in the film. While some could argue it was his fatherly side coming out again, this playing into immaturity was too much and took away from the few scenes he was supposed to be truly terrifying to the children he had kidnapped.
While “Love and Thunder” does a phenomenal job establishing and continuing the development of its three central characters, it fails in one area “Ragnarok” succeeded. Much of the charm of “Ragnarok” was its ability to introduce supporting characters that fit the humor, but also held important roles in the movie. Korg was introduced as a kindhearted and valuable friend, and Thor wouldn’t have survived Sakaar without the help of conflicted and skilled Valkyrie, whom he then names King of New Asgard.
Valkyrie’s storyline is the biggest disappointment of “Love and Thunder.” In a very interesting choice, our introduction to her as king consists of a brief montage of her completing marketing campaigns for Old Spice and attending the grand opening of ice cream shops. It plays her off as not taking her role seriously, or as focusing on turning New Asgard into a tourist trap, rather than building a real community for the Asgardians that survived severe trauma in the events of “Ragnarok.” It takes her development from the last movie and throws it out the window the first second we see her, and it doesn’t improve as the movie continues.
In a movie so focused on love, the underdevelopment of her character presents a major issue since Valkyrie is the first openly LGBTQ+ character in the MCU. While her bisexual identity was highly suggested in “Ragnarok,” it wasn’t confirmed till “Love and Thunder.” This is a major step forward for Marvel, but ultimately how they use her in “Love and Thunder” is concerning. Rather than being a major player as she was in “Ragnarok,” in this movie Valkyrie is sidelined before the end battle even starts. It seems as soon as she is openly Queer, they find every excuse not to focus on her. And when they do focus on her love life, it’s still rooted in her past trauma, continuing an unhealthy standard of LGBTQ+ representation in the media. While Thor, Jane and even Korg find love on screen, Valkyrie is the only main character not allowed that kind of story.
Saarthak: This issue, as well as the others that “Love and Thunder” suffers from, doesn’t really seem to fall on its cast & crew — but corporate. We’re already familiar with Disney’s issues with Queer representation, but new reports have also been coming in that the Marvel/Disney powers gave Waititi a bit “more leeway” in this film than with “Ragnarok.” Most of the issues that we’ve touched on could allegedly come from a mandate on its runtime — cutting scenes down on Gorr’s god butchering, the appearances and lines of other gods, and past characters as well. In addition, editing power might have been a bit out of the crew’s hands as well, as the fact that “Thor will return” came as a surprise to both Waititi and Hemsworth. Also Marvel/Disney, if you rely on visual effects this much, treat your goddamn studios fairly.
In the end, there’s a certain dichotomy to “Love and Thunder.” It’s formulaic, often-forced comedy that lays the basis of the movie as an action romcom contrasts with more serious and impactful narratives about the nature of grief, the gods and the glory of finding any kind of love forms a film about duality. It starts this inquiry on mortals and the worthiness of those they worship, continues it into the pedestals we place our pasts and paramours on and ultimately gives love as an answer — not just as romance but the love shared between friends, family and one that gods could give. “Thor: Love and Thunder” surged through the silver screen at an electric pace so passionate it was like lightning, leaving our minds initially blank but then rumbling with the thoughts we needed to write about it.