After a particularly contentious slideshow yesterday in which I, according to many, excessively critiqued the new Thor: Love and Thunder teaser trailer, I got to thinking… I wonder if people know how much I love the Thor franchise?
I know, I know, that slideshow was saucy, what can I say? I refuse to be a shill for a multimillion dollar story machine. There are hundreds of other sites and blogs you can go to for that. Because, here’s the kind of embarrassing thing, I unashamedly love every one of these dumb Thor films. And more than that, I love the potential Thor has. The ability to rewrite folklore and myth in comic form is powerful, fun, and exciting. I enjoy the Scandinavian aesthetic on screen (dangerous waters, I know), and I am firmly in the camp of letting Marvel-ified gods be goofy for maximum comedic effect. Chris Hemsworth is perfectly cast as Thor, a mixture of comic earnestness and excessively handsome charm. The first two films are rocky, sure, but Thor: Ragnarok is a god-damn delight.
I firmly believe that Thor has the potential to explore a lot of emotional depth while also remaining comic and absurdist–these are gods, right? And they’re here… fighting aliens alongside a cybernetic raccoon? I mean sure, I’ll buy it. This is a comic adaption, after all. But you can’t convince me that this isn’t the most ridiculous thing you could possibly propose.
Ragnarok showed that writer-director Taika Waititi has the range to create a funny and emotionally rich story for Thor while going through the paces of an engaging Marvel action-adventure film. Ragnarok was an anti-colonial power rock anthem that I went to see in the theater at least three times. I loved the Valkyrie-Hulk bromance; putting Jeff Goldblum in a getup that wouldn’t be out of place in The Birdcage was a stroke of genius; and the fact that we got Loki and Thor interacting in a way that felt brotherly and antagonistic. I really loved watching their relationship play out.
Look, Ragnarok was just straight up fun! I cosplayed as Thor for the premiere at my local theater. I wrote a murder mystery party based on the film for my birthday party (my friends, god bless them, actually dressed up in public for me). I created cosplays for my mother and father, convinced my brother to buy a Loki outfit, and we posed for a family photo that got sent out to all our family and friends for Christmas. I wish I were joking, but it was so earnestly cringeworthy that I don’t regret it for a second.
Not to mention that although Ragnarok is campy and goofy as hell, it’s got content. The film isn’t about fighting the next Big Bad—both Thor and Loki admit in the film that they can’t really stand up to their sister, Hela—and ultimately the film doesn’t end with our heroes defeating Hela. They choose to make their escape rather than attempt a last stand. This alone was a refreshing breath of fresh air for the Marvel universe, where so many films end with a brawl where one hero has to physically defeat the villain of the month. Ragnarok is also a great follow-up to the first film, which was a fish-out-of-water “gotta grow up fast” narrative, and a welcome change from Dark World, in which the worldbuilding was used to further the larger franchise’s progression, rather than its own plot.
So when Thor: Love and Thunder kept getting delayed, and the trailer kept getting pushed back, I was expecting something great. At least something with decent CGI. And right now? I just wish that Marvel would push Thor just a little further… or even let Waititi off the leash entirely.
Take, for example, Unworthy Thor, which started in 2016, after (another) superhero Civil War. Here we have everything I love in a Thor story. A sad himbo who just wants to find a way to move past the fact that he’s no longer good enough to be a hero, a quest through space to find a magic weapon, and lots of absurd team-ups. (Beta Ray Bill is coming to the MCU when?) While it’s not really heavy on the comedy, the art was consistently great, and I thoroughly enjoyed how big sad this big boy was basically the whole time. It was angsty, emotional, dramatic, and had, without a doubt, the best, most simple character design I’ve ever seen from Marvel.
We got Thor with his Uru-metal arm, a red cape, black pants, and that’s it! That’s all he needs! Short hair, don’t care, guns out, axe blazing, I loved it. Perfection. It was everything. This was it, I thought, this is peak Thor. Part of this was because Thor had finally moved past the last trappings that had tied him to the “mythological” Thor–which is a weird thing to mention when he’s literally crying on the moon, because his life is so sad, but hear me out.
He doesn’t have his weapon. He doesn’t have his throne. He doesn’t even have his name. (He goes by Odinson during this run, as he’s not worthy of the power of Thor, so therefore he’s not worthy of the name.) This Thor gets to be a new kind of character, a strange, otherworldly alien with too much power and a love for Earth, human intentions, and a strange attachment to his identity as a god and a hero. It’s fantastic. We’re no longer rewriting the past, we’re dashing it against the rocks and building new stories from the rubble.
And I saw that in the trailer. Thor: Love and Thunder is taking inspiration from Unworthy Thor in big ways, but is it enough? Will Waititi’s humor be too much or too little? Will Jane Foster/Thor (she gets to be Thor, she’s worthy of the name) be the heroine I cheered for in the comics or will she become just another villain that Thor has to defeat in a quest to find himself? Waititi seems to be using Ragnarok as a visual and emotional jumping-off point for this new film, rather than launching from Endgame, where Thor made his last appearance.
Marvel seems intent on capitalizing on the tongue-in-cheek banter of Ragnarok and the back-and-forth between Thor and Star-Lord we saw in Endgame, which is great! Those were some of the best parts of both of those films. And I trust Waititi to do something incredible. Unworthy Thor was a fantastic run because it didn’t bother with the trappings of godhood beyond the emotional weight of expectation. What happens to a god when they can’t protect who they were created to protect?
Will I watch Thor: Love and Thunder? Absolutely. Will I love it? Probably. But the reason I’m doing it is because Unworthy Thor showed me that Marvel has the guts to take away the iconic things that make Thor recognizable, to push the storyline in bonkers, fun, absurd new directions. Ragnarok proved that Waititi has the range to create a film that is actually contextualized within its own narrative—not just the MCU’s larger vision for what a Marvel movie needs to do in order to further the bloated franchise’s plot lines. And, I’ll fully admit it, I want to see Jane Foster kick ass. Thor is dead. Long live Thor.
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