Taika Waititi Brings on the Pain in Thor: Love and Thunder

It’s a good thing Marvel knows its way around many a quip and dark storyline by now, or else the many ways Thor: Love and Thunder reflects our present and future world would be pretty g-d depressing. Thank goodness for Disney wising up enough to bring back the comedic genius of Taika Waititi to leave Thor: Ragnarok in the dust for his most daring Marvel outing yet.

The MCU may have darkened Post-Endgame, with its heroes grappling with the loss of loved ones, friends, and the erasure of their entire existence, but this time there are far more recognizable forces stripping away at hope and family. Characters lose children, relationships, limbs, slowly waste away from the same diseases that killed their parents, and turning to our designated saviors often leads to the most bitter kind of disillusionment and a forced reckoning with their apathy. It may be simultaneously both the most adult Marvel film – there’s even nudity and sex references – and the most family-oriented, filled with reminders that many of those still under contract now have young kids.

And the kids are not alright. In Love and Thunder, outside forces bent on mass murder don’t just slither into their very bedrooms to steal them away from their families and cage them, sometimes those very parents take them straight into danger. Thor’s mother apparently raged into battle with him in a carrier, and a part of securing the future of Asgard involves the kidnapees gearing up and fighting the bad guys, then preparing for future combat at home.

It’s no wonder that the movie doesn’t exactly blame Thor (Chris Hemsworth) for closing himself off, content with building up his body rather than his heart, and hanging with the Guardians of the Galaxy, not bonding with them. When he’s called back to New Asgard, a meta-commentary in itself for becoming a kind of touristy, budget Disneyland ruled by a spectacularly besuited Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), it’s clearly for the best. And when he discovers that his ex Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) transformation into Thor, complete with a newly restored Mjolnir, it’s no mere cameo but an ongoing phenomenon.

And Then It Begins

When Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), possibly the best MCU villain since Kilmonger, proves to be responsible for the chaos in the universe and lost New Asgardian children, Valkyrie, the always reliable Korg (Taika Waititi), Jane, and Thor head out to fantastical new dimensions to stop him. And possibly prevent more gods from being slain. Oh, and see if Jane can possibly survive the cancer that looks like it’ll be the death of her long enough to take a chance on her and Thor’s clearly still passionate feelings.

It’s an extremely Taika Waititi storyline, and the reactions will no doubt be dependent on how much you can make Waititi’s coping methods your own, if only for two hours. Helping things along is some actual chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman, and a very relatable explanation of just why their past time together came to an end.

Sure, Portman once again has far more chemistry with another member of Thor’s inner circle, although that it’s Valkyrie rather than Loki makes it a fun twist. Yeah, Disney is getting less afraid of acknowledging gay people beyond a throwaway line or passing glance, but don’t expect them to go beyond that, such as (gasp!) kissing on the mouth. In the meantime, a kiss on the hand is quite continental apparently.

Far more fascinating is Gorr, whose villain origin story, filled to the brain with the pain and rage that could only come from those deemed disposable, is introduced far before we catch up with Thor and all the ways one of the most powerful Avengers has also lost. If a few of Gorr’s scenes hadn’t been banished to the cutting room floor, he could’ve perhaps competed with Killmonger as a more sympathetic monster in spite of his monstrosity. But at least we have Bale going all-in as an antagonist so defined by his black and white worldview that it eventually becomes literal in one of the more spectacular set-pieces the MCU has ever given us.

Faith in Family

Over it all is a looming question: just how do you save your family when your powerful enemy has become so poisoned by his experiences he genuinely believes his way is the kinder one, saving the next generation from growing up in a cruel, uncaring world that seems to resemble his twisted vision more and more?

True, Love and Thunder would always have been a family affair like movies often are now – when all other forms of safety and security in American life have been slowly chipped away, who else is going to come to the rescue? But it’s not just the storyline that makes it all about current and future pedigree, since many of the youngest in the movie are actually the children of the cast and crew.

For these celeb kids, this is basically a more high profile bring your child to work occasion, but just what it implies for their off-screen counterparts is the real horror. The kidnapped children are forced to form their own unit of care in their prison, with occasional visitations from Thor thanks to otherworldly powers, and they must become temporary child soldiers themselves to return home. But their rescue doesn’t exactly mean peace, as by the film’s end they and the rest of the New Asgardian children continue with battle preparations as security against future threats.

Count on Disney to mostly pull this off as a fun way for younger fans to join in on the superhero action, but as children find themselves increasingly under siege at school, in literal infancy, and in politics, seeing this depicted as a way for kids to become a bigger part of a profitable corporate franchise may be the most troubling development yet. But seeing as how many of us are failing to take action, perhaps Love and Thunder is merely ahead of the curve. Or just out of other solutions.

Rating: 8/10 SPECS

Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters July 8th. Follow us here for the latest on movies in theaters now.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Courtesy of Disney.

Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.

She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.