05 August 2022

First Impressions: Thor Love n Thunder MORE LIKE GLOVE AND BLUNDER

Alright folks, I'm going to save you some time right now. This will probably turn into a long article because I have a whole ton of feelings and have been sitting with this film for far longer than I wanted but here is the big scoop: THOR: Love and Thunder (2022) is bad. It's really bad. No hot takes, this really just a bad movie.

Okay, you're done! Go about your lives.

Still here? Cool, let's get into why nothing about this thing works. SPOILERS forever, but who cares, apparently if you've seen a trailer you've seen the whole movie, not that it gives anything away, but there's just nothing more to this movie. Let's get into it. First - the obligatory context.

I'm not sure if it's more trendy at this point to be an MCU fanboy or an MCU hater. I really try to just analyze each movie as it is - a movie. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) I believe is a genuinely great film. THOR: Love n Thunder is a genuinely shitty film. I do reject the sameness criticism of the MCU, I think they stay ahead of the curve, like just when the staleness sets in they tend to upend the status quo. They create trends instead of following them and that's how they've stayed ahead of a litany of shared universe imitators.

I'm curious to explore more if in 2022 cinematography is even a thing anymore. There is art here, sure...but it's really just VFX. Like, there is less need for careful composition of shots and lighting because everything can be shifted in post-production. There is some worthwhile criticism that shots in the MCU aren't doing anything special and there is a difficult sameness of the Tony Stark model of quippiness. But there's also been some really great leaps here. Loki, Moon Knight, and WandaVision all presented really unique and interesting shots, cinematography, and plots (except when WandaVision gave up its complex treatment of grief and remembrance in favor of whizz whizz zap zap magic laser battle). Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, there are some properties that are doing a great job. Others are not.

A lot of this came to a focus in Taika Waititi's previous attempt at revitalizing the MCU's most boring character, Thor. THOR: Ragnarok (2017) stood out as a complete director's vision, with interesting jokes, levity, and fun. My criticism of that film was always that it was far too cavalier when dealing with Thor's genuine loss of everything in his life, people mistook bright colors for good cinematography, and the Planet Hulk stuff, while fun, was thematically (and plot-wise) disconnected from the Hela story. It's not actually a good movie in any sort of way. But it skates by on vibe, man. It possibly remains the most fun MCU film and its whole attitude carries it and provides a salve against all its flaws. It's a very old concept that the feeling a movie elicits can overcome its structural problems.

So we last left Thor in Endgame (2019) where he really didn't get the vengeance he sought. He felt guilty for his inability to kill Thanos and took it out on himself. But he never got his redemption. It was the one dangling character thread. Cap and Iron Man got to ride off into the sunset, but Thor's just as much an original dude as they are. But I guess they just want to keep trotting Chris Hemsworth out for this stuff because Ragnarok did well and they want to milk more of that? Rest assured, that is the reason why this movie exists.

He flies off with the Guardians for the promise of more fun adventures. I could tell by the trailers that the Guardians would not feature heavily in this movie. Indeed it feels like Taika wanted to get rid of them as fast as possible. There is no interest in telling a combined story here. They're around for one scene, Chris Pratt looks as disinterested as could be, and then they come up with a hokey reason to part ways.

This is when I first knew something was wrong. Pratt and Hemsworth are in different movies. It's uncanny to watch. That's when it dawned on me. This is just Sarcasm: The Movie. Pratt is actually trying to progress the scene, but Hemsworth's doofus Thor is cranked up to 11. It doesn't make any sense. Like, they aren't reacting to what the other is saying in any kind of natural way. This film is completely disinterested in any genuine or sincere scenes. It truly is a film entirely made up of classic MCU quipping.

And folks might take issue with that criticism. But it really feels like Waititi hates his characters. They are never allowed to actually experience any emotion, everything is kept at a sarcastic distance. It's not exactly cynical, but that somehow makes it worse. It's just unmotivated. I contrast with The Suicide Squad (2021), which is equally goofy, but treats its insane characters and situations seriously. That's the key to what makes that (and other James Gunn movies) work. It's still a love of characters and creation of stakes. Somehow even though the universe is always at stake, nothing feels weighty because nothing seems to really affect any of the characters in a meaningful way.

And I don't mean to hate on Waititi because he's had a great career. What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) are all-times for me. The dude knows how to craft stakes (sometimes literally!) and characters, and like I said, while Ragnarok falls apart under scrutiny, I ranked it decent because the vibe is so damn strong. What happened here?

Ultimately, it's just what happens to every sequel. I think he (or the studio) got caught up on the little things, blew them out, and got overwhelmed. Love and Thunder doubles down on everything. The goofiness, the colors, and on the surface, the themes. At its heart, this is a brutal movie. The actual plot centers around Christian Bale's Gorr the God-Butcher finding the Necrosword and offing gods around the cosmos because they've become huge jerks. So there's your existential threat, seems like it'd be a great challenge for a Thor who's lost and trying to find his place after the Thanos thing.

But like Ragnarok, this just mashes a lot different stories together. Add to that Jane Foster's reappearance and claim to Mjolner, which doesn't really hold up at all. I mean, maybe it would, but like, okay, so Mjolner could be repaired (and have a cool new rock separating power?), Foster is worthy, but also she's got cancer and Mjolner is accelerating that I guess? I can see her becoming worthy after her cancer diagnosis and reassessing her life and priorities or something, but like, we need something to show how she did this. The comics had no problem letting her prove herself. And no, I don't mean that women aren't worthy like some troll, I'm saying that this movie needed to let Jane Foster become an actual character with actual needs and wants. I mean, at least show the scene of her picking up the hammer. Why hide that? We know who that is under the mask in the next scene (the comics just dropped her mysteriously and then it was a big, satisfying reveal. Imagine for a second a world where we didn't know Natalie Portman was in this movie until we arrived in theaters. I hate everyone.). I'm not usually a "comics did it better" kind of guy, but when the movie version stumbles it's hard when you have this template right here that's being ignored. She only gets to use the Hammer because of Thor, which seems like it lessens the potency and interestingness of the character

I can't sum up the problem with Gorr better than Captain Midnight did. There really is so much potential here if this movie had any interest in being an interesting movie. Bale gives the best performance in this movie, and it's because his villain is right. Like, when they visit the gods on Mt. Olympus or whatever, they act EXACTLY in the way that Gorr had a problem with. But nothing happens because of that. They get no comeuppance besides Thor killing (but not really) Zeus. Russell Crowe seems like he just wants to be weird here and has no interest in making a real character, although he fits this story. But it's hard to believe Odin would have been treated like a joke or Thor wouldn't be a big deal in Omnipotent City. It's very incongruous, especially when he clearly kicks everyone's ass. Nothing makes sense, but by this point in the movie, that's just par for the course. I was waiting for it to end.

Gorr has so much motivation and challenges Thor in a really unique way. Plus their names rhyme! But the movie throws in a bizarre child kidnapping as extra motivation, that doesn't really go anywhere, and never lets Thor grapple with these big questions.

We do, however, get the best scene. I love how Taika's greatest strength is color, so naturally, Gorr lives on the black and white planet. Color is the enemy! This is the only time when this movie felt like a movie that was trying to actually advance a theme or idea and dive into a character. It's the only scene where they try to earn something. Color is afraid to exist there, so when they use lightning powers it's like they are inspiring bits of bravery. Nuance! Implication! Subtle development of themes! It's fantastic! Much like how color reacts in this section, something deep down in this movie is striking out trying to emerge on its own. But then again it doesn't really lead anywhere.

The shadow monsters Gorr unleashes are genuinely scary but no one seems scared of them. Not even the little kids. Like, we need to get invested in the movie by how the characters react to what is happening in the movie. When everyone is clearly chilling in front of a green screen, well, that's sort of a cooler than this attitude, which is popular, but what's really cool is showing vulnerability and triumph over adversity. Also creating obstacles out of CGI that contain actual weight and presence. Unrelated, I just watched IT: Chapter Two (2019) which was so insanely unscary because big, fast, fake CGI monsters are just not scary.

So, at the end Jane sacrifices herself to kill Gorr (that's kinda what happened), and Thor gets all the credit. I do still love the recent trend of just putting comic books on screen without being afraid of costumes or scenes. Again, I'm not sure if this is it good cinematography or just a computer generated image. Is that still art? I like how they did Eternity, she's straight up like her comic counterpart. We're more accepting of the weird these days, which is refreshing.

I've seen some criticism of the final scene where Thor gives his power to all the kids' toys so they can fight monsters. I actually thought this was great, it was like him stepping into the role his father had, imbuing powers to others as King of Asgard. Because that's really where he should be, right? I know he's not headed in that direction, but his whole arc starting from THOR (2011) is him learning how to not be a dick and be a leader, right? Like learning what mercy and worthiness means? It's this whole series' stupid fault for not defining how hammer powers work. This seems like a natural extension, and almost a little Silver Age-y comic book wackiness. Whatever.

The film ends with Thor adopting Gorr's daughter, who was brought back to life by Eternity. This was not set up at all, and is presented as if it was settling Thor's issues with finding himself and his purpose throughout the film. It reeks of a couple on verge of divorce saying, "Well, let's have a kid, that will solve our problems!" No, it's just a non sequitor. A kid doesn't solve any of his issues. Also, what are his issues? He starts as he finishes, charging into battle. Is that his purpose? Or is it finding a way to like people, so he likes this completely unrelated surrogate daughter? It is so damn bizarre.

Marvel needs to figure out its end credits. They are just giving a ton of dangling character introductions. Are there plans for these people? What's up with StarFox, Clea, Hercules, magical ten rings, and Adam Warlock? I want to see all these folks but I just get the feeling that we won't see the pay off. They're either not going to be big factors or will be dropped entirely. C'mon man, innovate, not imitate. I feel like this isn't working.

I mentioned King Thor, but we should talk about King Valkyrie. I think it's another bit of Marvel pretending to be down with women's lib, but mostly just delivering lip service without actually fleshing out any female character. Valkyrie is sweet, she had a nice arc in Ragnarok and Tessa Thompson does a good job. But she totally peaces out in the middle of this movie for no reason. We don't deal with the struggle she's clearly having being a leader of a displaced people who have sacrificed their culture to make a (very American) buck. I was also struck at one point when Valkyrie and Korg are just like, watching two cis white people try to date each other while they get no one (Korg gets a man at the end I guess. Sort of.) but they do get to talk to each other about the straight people. This is what I'm talking about, like, it's just pretending to be progressive, but it's stuck being a mid-2000s romantic comedy.

This movie is also full of characters just saying what they're feeling. Again, it just lacks any kind of subtlety or implication. I mean, literally. It's just really really bad. Like, I don't actually care about special effects, I know people have criticized Heimdall's son's floating head and apparently bad use of the Volume. I don't know, I don't really care about that unless it takes me out of what the movie was trying to achieve (See my IT whine earlier). This movie just fails because of its script and complete disinterest in actually being a movie.

I'd sum it up by saying it's a movie that's not nearly as fun as Ragnarok, but one that's desperately trying to be. And some of that might just be that Ragnarok was such a fresh breath for this character, the MCU's style, and again the vibe. When you just crank out a lesser version of the same thing, all of that freshness is lost. We need to have a variety of voice (which Taika has - WWDITS, Wilderpeople, and Jojo Rabbit [2019] are wildly different and creative in their own ways), otherwise why are we watching. It does make me wonder a little how the hell Scorsese pulled off making forty-five different gangster movies and the latter ones still feel fresh.

So what about Hemsworth? I dunno. This version of Thor is probably still better than his first too movies. He's really really ripped in this. But his character just lacks any semblance of direction. I know that's kind of the point, but we've had lots of movies about ennui. And is it even ennui? He get super motivated by saving Asgard again. This movie has no idea what it wants to be or what its central conflict is. And the rest falls apart around it.

This is a weird aside, but I was bothered more by stupid elements like Matt Damon rehashing the plot of Ragnarok, which Korg already did earlier in the movie. It felt as if they were reminding us to go watch this better movie that came out years ago. I was okay with a lot of what other people complained about, like screaming goats and whatever. That's fine. My issue is that they come screaming during what should have been a difficult pivotal scene where he leaves the Guardians. It's just a distracting joke that again, means that nothing means anything in this stupid movie.

I mean, okay, to some extent we just need to care about something right? Like take something seriously? It can still be fun and goofy, but that is distinct from it mattering. Nothing in this film matters. Except when their lightning symbolizes bravery.

To me the best part was seeing Moon Knight in the opening comic book flip. I'm over it.

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