By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer
Taika Waititi seems to be everywhere–not unlike Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, representing Asian and Pacific Islanders in the film industry, both in front and behind the camera. Thor: Love and Thunder is Waititi’s second time directing a Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film.
This follow-up to his 2017 Thor: Ragnarok” is filled with Waititi’s loopy humor and fully takes advantage of both star Chris Hemsworth comedic skills and his physique (tasteful nude scene). And yet, there are some problems with diversity that Waititi inherited from previous Thor films, but as the director and co-writer (with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) continues to support.
Waititi’s good-hearted but simple-minded Kronan gladiator Korg (Waititi) narrates the story before we flashback, “Come gather round to listen to the tale of the Space Viking.” Thor met Korg during his gladiator days (Thor: Ragnarok) and adopted him as his new sidekick. But the story is framed by a desperate couple–a man and his daughter, wandering through white parched earth, with their skin as white and cracked as the ground they walk on. Their clothes are sun-bleached of all joyful color. The man prays to his god, but his prayers are not answered. He buries his daughter and then stumbles into an oasis where he has a disappointing meeting with his god.
When the man, Gorr (Christian Bale), says, “There’s no one left to worship you,” his “god” replies, “Suffering for your gods is your only purpose.” And the god assures him that even when Gorr dies, more followers will easily be found. Suddenly, Gorr finds a sword before him, the Necrosword, the only thing that can kill the gods. Gorr decides that all gods must die and begins with his god.
Elsewhere, Thor is trying to figure out his purpose in life. Thor has been riding along with the Guardians of the Galaxy : Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillian), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper), having left behind the destroyed Asgard and even the New Asgard. As a superhero, he’s often more like a clumsy good-hearted Golden Retriever that has lost its puppy physical awkwardness but not yet gained mature insight into the life and the needs of others.
Thor hasn’t seen Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) for eight years, seven months and six days. She apparently wrote him a Dear John letter. Korg explains what tore them apart. There was a world to save–more than once, and then there’s family matters–that troublesome brother of another mother, Loki.
Now Jane is being treated for stage 4 cancer, when she hears the call of Thor’s Mjolnir. According to legend, the hammer can give the bearer good health. To find the hammer, Jane doesn’t have to find her ex-boyfriend. Remember, in Thor:Ragnarok, Thor’s older sister, Hela, shattered Thor’s hammer. Its fragments are on display at New Asgard.
Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is the king of New Asgard, but her duties are mainly bureaucratic and boring. New Asgard isn’t a training place for warriors, but a haven for the gods and their children as well as a place for tourists. There’s a play that reenacts the events with an Actor Loki (Matt Damon), Actor Thor (Luke Hemsworth) and Actor Bela (Melissa McCarthy) and displays of artifacts from old Asgard.
Jane joins a tour group and stays behind to look for Mjolnir. The fragments begins to vibrate and the pieces suddenly come together. And Jane becomes the Mighty Thor.
The old Thor isn’t without a weapon: Stormbreaker. Following the advice of Star-Lord, Thor returns to New Asgard, meeting his ex-girlfriend and his ex-weapon, and at times, it is hard to discern which he misses more. If jealousy adds spice to a relationship, Stormbreaker is a bit jealous of Mjolnir.
Thor, with Jane, Korg and Valkyrie, decide they need to appeal to the Council of Gods, headed by Zeus (Russell Crowe) to help battle Gorr the God Butcher. Instead of Hera/Juno, Zeus is attended to by the Zeusettes–this is really how they are listed. Thor, after a revealing scene, literally steals Zeus’ thunder (bolt) and the Thors and friends prepare to battle Gorr.
There is different types of love and some of it is played for laughs, but Waititi manages to balance both the humor of Thor and his interactions with cultures foreign to him and the pathos of death and loss. And while I didn’t feel that Hemsworth and Portman had chemistry in their previous pairings, Waititi showcases their love story to build-up to the end. The bisexuality of Thompson is there and that might count for diversity, but Thompson is also Black and Latino and that is problematic just as having Idris Elba playing Heimdall was. Heimdall may have died, but his son is seen in this film. From the research I read preparing my much longer review on my blog, the inclusion of Sub-Saharan African people was doubtful. There was indeed a “black” Viking, but that person was half-Mongolian. Furthermore, studies showed that while the indigenous Sami (of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia) gene pool was 87 percent European in origin, 13 percent was Asian and the control for Asian was taken from Japanese people. For more on this and links to the research I used, visit my blog: AgeOfTheGeek.org.
The East Asian representation in the Thor series has been diminished with the death of Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun in Thor: Ragnarok, but that character had few lines and wasn’t given as much prominence as Heimdall or Valkyrie.
Thor: Love and Thunder does provide ethnic/racial diversity through its scenes in the Council of the Gods scene and New Asgard, and, of course, through New Zealander Taika Waititi as both director and the voice of Korg, but it still leans heavily into a binary of Black and White racial diversity.
Thor: Love and Thunder does eventually explain the meaning of its title, which is touching. As always, there will also be some mid-credit and post-credit scenes so do stay until the very end.
Thor: Love and Thunder had its US premiere in Los Angeles on 23 June 2022 and opens in theaters in the USA on 8 July 2022.
*Full disclosure: I made a Thor costume for my dog Kaminari and we do have costumes for Loki variants. For my full review, research and even a photo of my dog as Thor, visit my blog: AgeOfTheGeek.org.
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