'Thor: Love and Thunder's near-queer marvel

  • by Joshua Polanski
  • Tuesday July 12, 2022
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Liam Hemsworth as Thor stripped by Zeus in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'
Liam Hemsworth as Thor stripped by Zeus in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'

With a few daring visuals and innovative artistic references, writer-director Taika Waititi's "Thor: Love and Thunder" merits more superlatives than any of its peer Marvel Studios blockbusters following 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War."

While satisfying viewing experiences are subjective and dependent on the individual watching, the stylistic risks and occasionally relatively daring tonal departures should be a welcome guest for all viewers.

Liam Hemsworth as Thor and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'  

Thor Odinson (the occasionally pants-less Chris Hemsworth) is no longer the only Thor. The power of Thor transfers to whoever is worthy of Mjölnir, the iconic hammer, and Jane Foster (the return of Natalie Portman) has been deemed "worthy" and carries the mantle "The Mighty Thor."

The two Thors, together with the gender-role bending King Valkyrie (the ineffable Tessa Thompson), are determined to prevent the deicide of all gods at the hands of Gore the God Butcher (Christian Bale, who does what he can with what he's given).

Gore kidnaps Asgardian children and brings them to the Shadow Realm to lure Thor, whose portal-opening weapon he requires to fulfill deicide.

In the Shadow Realm, where Gore's at his strongest and possesses the ability to summon shadow monsters, the creative crew flexes more visual vigor than the recent MCU slate of "Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (Read our review) and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

Presented in a heavily contrasted black and white, the only color in the realm radiates from the Asgardian hammer and Zeus's stolen "thunderbolt." It's not revolutionary, nevertheless, it's a fresh welcome to the comic-book context. Combined with snap-zooms and a faster kinetic editing style, the scene marks new terrain against the parking-lot style aesthetic that has defined this cinematic universe so far.

Christian Bale as Gore the God Butcher in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'  

Brilliantly, the monsters were designed by Hemsworth and Waititi's actual children, fostering room for less derivative creature designs and more for the stuff of childhood nightmares. (ScaryMommy)

The relative originality of "Love and Thunder" is already apparent from the movies it references. Paul W.S. Anderson's "Event Horizon" receives not only a shout-out from Might Thor, but also visual and narrative callbacks through the dark, isolated, and slimy production design in the Shadow Realm and the theological motifs related to approaching the divine.

Gore's main project is to make his way to Eternity, a cosmological place/being that will grant a wish to the first-ever arrival. His intended wish, of course, is instant deicide. The quest recalls Sybok's quest to reach God in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989), a bold if ungratifying film.

The monsters, though originally designed, are undoubtedly evocative of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion creatures in their movement, as well as the framing of their movement, largely in part rather than whole, with one leg or one arm coming into the frame but rarely entire bodies.

Tessa Thompson as King Valkyrie in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'  

Queer bodies in Marvel
Speaking of bodies, many fans (thegeekiary.com) and some critics seem to think Waititi normalizes queer bodies.

For them, his filmmaking decisions and stylistic choices, as well as his personal demeanor, scream "QUEER!"

In a press event preceding the theatrical release of "Thor: Love and Thunder," the now famously muscular Natalie Portman was asked how gay the movie is. "So gay," she responded after a smiling pause, causing an eruption from Waititi, co-star Tessa Thompson, and the premiere audience.(Twitter)

She's mostly wrong. Sure, it's probably the hardest to re-edit for countries like Saudia Arabia that do not permit LGBTQ depictions on screen, but they could still rather easily prepare a queer-free version of the film if they so desired.

The screenplay, written in part by HBO's "Unpregnant" creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, nudges queer culture more than any other mainstream Disney property. But Waititi and cinematographer Barry Baz Idoine's camera don't back up the story.

Thompson's Valkyrie, with her sculpted biceps and series of outfits bound to drive Marvel's WLW fans crazy, (www.letterboxd.com) is bisexual like the actor that plays her.

She teases Hemsworth's Thor that they are both on "Team Jane," and at one point she even flirtatiously kisses the hand of one of Zeus's (Russell Crowe) court maidens, a gesture perfectly aligned with the queer history of pirates on film, including the space swashbucklers. (copas.uni-regensburg.de)

Liam Hemsworth as Thor with Korg, played by director and co-writer Taika Waititi  

Other characters and story developments also nod in a similar direction. Korg (the rock creature voiced by Waititi) reveals in his loud whisper of a voice that his species, the Kronans, reproduce via a same-sex couple holding hands over lava, which in turn makes pebble babies.

The magical transporting rainbow bridge, a playful Hemsworth butt shot, and a distasteful dead-naming scene all fit into queer-adjacent camp at the least.

But, as noted, Portman was mostly wrong. The nods are just nods.

Gays, gods, villains
Thor accidentally puts a spell (or curse, depending on perspective) on the war hammer to protect her if something happens to him. And as such, dying of stage-four cancer, Foster is saved through the mythical power of a heterosexual love with Thor via an enchanted Mjolnir.

The camera also uses classical film techniques and seemingly avoids queer ones. "Love and Thunder" opens with a ghastly pale Gore the God Butcher praying to a god to deliver his dying daughter from the desert heat of his planet.

They don't answer, she dies, but Gore stumbles into a heavenly oasis littered with gods where a magical god-killing sword happens to be laying on the ground at the feet of its last wielder.

These unsympathetic and cruel gods slew by Gore, like the pathetic Zeus, are coded as queer through a camp tone. Bright colors, loud theatrically styled acting, and conventionally feminine mannerisms mark them —the villains of the film— as queer.

There may even be an argument that the make-up laden Gore —in his sickly fragility, light-sensitive skin, and wife-less romantic situation— unintentionally alludes to people with AIDS.

A small caveat here, though, is Waititi's self-referential style.The New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s used techniques that reminded viewers of the artifice of the screen before them to make evident the potential (straight) messaging at play.

But "Love and Thunder" seems more interested in the humorous effect of self-referential styles than anything thematically more contemplative.Queer or not, the newest "Thor" packs some pleasantly surprising visuals and creative choices, and not all of which are dependent on the naturally libidinous cast.

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