After the hilarious and action-packed Thor: Ragnarok,is one of the most eagerly-awaited Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. But it’s had mixed reviews, and it’s easy to see why. Nothing that happens in this movie matters.
I love director Taika Waititi’s comedy stylings in, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And I very much enjoy Chris Hemsworth’s increasing opportunities to show off his comic talents. So initially I had a good time watching Love and Thunder, and laughed a bunch. But as each gag whiplashed past, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated by a movie that doesn’t seem to care. (Spoilers!)
Love and comedy
And rewatchedafter Love and Thunder, and was surprised that the earlier film wasn’t as funny as I remembered. Let me rephrase: It’s funny as hell, but by comparison with the new movie it isn’t actually so relentlessly stuffed with gags.
Love and Thunder goes for the gag every time. For example, the plot hinges on Asgard’s children being kidnapped. That is a horrifying situation, and something that the Asgardian heroes would probably want to deal with as a matter of some urgency. Except as soon as the kids are gone, Thor and Jane launch into more “awkward ex” banter. Funny, but kind of a swing in tone. They’re able to communicate with the children, who are locked in a terrifying spider-like cage by a possessed child snatcher who looms out of the shadows, and somehow that turns into a gag-fest, too.
I get that it’s a family movie and deliberately designed to be a comedy (in the same way that Doctor Strange leans into the horror genre, or the Captain America flicks nod to espionage thrillers). And of course this is completely subjective (your mileage may vary on the screaming goats, for example). But whereas in Ragnarok, Waititi’s irreverence felt like a breath of fresh air for the MCU, here it’s tipped over into excessive glibness.
The shot that sums up this relentless gag-blasting approach comes early on, when Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord turns to his fellow Guardians of the Galaxy while talking about looking into the eyes of those you love, only for Thor to poke his head into the frame. It’s funny, at the moment. But the whole film is like that: Whenever real emotion comes along, a gag muscles its way into view.
Love and death
The other big problem, to be fair, is actually a long-held criticism of the MCU. Characters just won’t stay dead. The folks at Marvel continuously have their cake and eat it, devastating fans with big emotional moments by killing off much-loved characters — only to then magic those much-loved (and lucrative) characters back to life so we can have more adventures with them. Sure, it’s all fantasy nonsense anyway, but these cheap fake-outs make each actual death a case of diminishing returns. When we stop believing in consequences, no sacrifice packs the same punch.
Love and Thunder highlights this problem. In the opening voice-over, Korg explains that Thor is vulnerable and conflicted because he’s lost so many people close to him. But this same scene makes a joke out of the many times that Loki has died, come back, died again (and repeat). By making a gag of it, the film undermines the point. So it’s hard to invest in Thor’s anguish.
One way to balance that would be to throw in some genuine consequences, and actually hurt some of the lovable supporting characters. Balancing humor and sadness is one of Waititi’s greatest skills in films like Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and JoJo Rabbit. And indeed, Love and Thunder does exactly that, as Korg and Zeus and Jane all die.
Except they don’t.
Korg’s gruesome death has barely registered when it’s immediately overturned. His disintegrating rocky body hasn’t even hit the ground before his disembodied face is joking again.
Thor’s angry murder of Zeus is another shocking moment, as the god of thunder gives into the hot-headed violence he was supposed to have grown out of. It’s a chilling moment that should draw parallels between our hero and the villain, Gorr the God-Butcher. Except Zeus isn’t dead, as revealed in a post-credits scene.
Both ofundo a big death. The biggest sad moment is the loss of Jane Foster. She became the Mighty Thor, which saves her from cancer, but her human body is worn down by the powers bestowed on her. Considering the film makes such a fuss about showing a woman can be as powerful as any square-jawed male superhero, it’s weird that it hinges her story on the fact that she isn’t strong enough and can’t cope. I know this is accurate to the comics, but it’s still weird.
The worst thing about Jane’s death, however, is — you guessed it — it doesn’t stick. Her death in Thor’s arms is Love and Thunder’s big emotional climax, and she stays dead for approximately the amount of time it takes for you to put your coat on. In the post-credits scene, the actually-not-that-late Jane is welcomed into Valhalla by Idris Elba’s Heimdall, another character who was “shockingly” killed off (in Avengers: Infinity War). Norse mythology stans could argue they’re technically deceased, but they’re not dead-dead, are they? They’re up and about, walking and talking, right there on the screen. They aren’t gone. They aren’t cruelly lost to us.
Everybody is fine. Why should we feel now?
I want to like Love and Thunder, and it is a superficially enjoyable comedy. But — and no one is more amazed than me about this — of the two Marvel movies so far this year, I enjoyed Doctor Strange over Taika Waititi. Love and Thunder is just too flippant. Why should we feel anything when clearly none of it matters?
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