THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. As I lay in the ER on July 3 — with a non-explosive digital injury, as I hate the cliché — writing about a Marvel movie was perhaps the furthest thing from my mind. Realistically, I was probably busy looking for hand trauma jokes (Will I play the piano? What about my career as a hand model? My editor will kill me if I can’t pound the F key like I’m supposed to!), which I didn’t deliver and all of which would have withered to the hilarity of the PA’s statement: “You’re not going to like this what I have to tell you”.
Despite the near amputations, I don’t spend a lot of free time daydreaming about the MCU; other than the copious outpouring of laments and regrets presented almost weekly in this same forum.
In my (indefensible) defense, time has proven that the Thor films were outliers among their austere, joy-eating parents, which is the main reason I developed a soft spot for them (my head). Unlike the still mass of most MCUs, Thor took on an unexpected dynamic arc. At first, his story was as dishonestly serious – deceptively Nordic, perhaps – as it comes; I mean, Kenneth Branagh? Over time, however, Chris Hemsworth’s hero has become the goofiest, most cheerfully oblivious of the bunch, so much so that these films almost completely stand out from the rest of the “canon.”
Although I would like to imagine that this is due, at least in part, to a degree of intelligence and self-effacement on the part of our otherworldly physical star (see spider head for more evidence), the traits and tropes that make Thor’s final two images so endearing are largely trademarks of their driving creative force, rising media impresario Taika Waititi.
And yes, in case any of the faithful have read this far, we must of course pay homage to super-producer and demi-god Kevin Feige, under whose umbrella everything superhero-related is made possible. .
Either way, Waititi made the unlikely and fortuitous leap of directing episodes of Flight of the Conchords, Eagle vs. Shark (2007) and What we do in the shadows (2014) – one of the greatest cinematic comedies of the century, incidentally, with a follow-up FX series that rivals it note for note – at the helm Thor: Ragnarok (2017), a delightfully candy-colored departure, almost an inversion of franchise norms and practices. Ragnarok introduced an element of silliness, but also a gentle, fearless vulnerability to the works that grounded, tempered, and humanized the whole affair. He posed the idea that the MCU could make room for humor without relying on the quick-witted snark of a certain star/protagonist, while simultaneously unleashing much of the enforced green screen gloom. that defines and degrades its counterparts.
Worthy of note here is the fact that Waititi has extended its influence across all mainstream media lately, competing for the Oscars with JoJo Rabbit (2019), inventing the tradition of pirates in Our flag means death and exercising his keen sense of offbeat to land a deal with writer-director Sterlin Harjo. This latest collaboration gave birth to the series Reservation dogs and hopefully forced a foot in Hollywood’s door for films and television by and about Indigenous peoples. Which is, of course, a subject worthy of deeper and more intelligent exploration than I’m probably capable of.
And so, by a detour, we come to Thor: Love and Thunderin which our hero jumps back into battle and sets about bouncing around the universe with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Korg (Waititi) and occasionally the Guardians of the Galaxy chasing an angry at aptly apostate called Gorr the Butcher God (Christian Bale), who abducted the children of New Asgard to bait his trap.
There’s heady stuff about errors of faith, the inevitability of endings, and the importance of engaging one’s own weakness here, all cleverly incorporated into a playful and fairly gay adventure with Guns N Roses all over the soundtrack and some ingenious nods to the delightful 80s. channeling the grandiosity of 50s sets. It may not be perfect, in that it can’t completely do without its provenance (if only!) , and my appreciation of it could have been improved by pain management.
But the fact remains that this is a subversive, daring and brilliantly disposed outlier, right in the middle of the big, dark Marvel Universe. Which is a surprisingly hopeful thing in often desperate times.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
READING IN PROGRESS
THE BLACK PHONE. Blumhouse horror about an abducted boy (Mason Thames) aided by the spirits of his captor’s former victims. Starring Ethan Hawke in a chilling Johnny Depp drag at the end of the period. A. 102M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ELVIS. Austin Butler and Tom Hanks in Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic. PG13. 159M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION. Dinosaurs everywhere, I guess. The good thing is. Take the planet and good luck, Barney. PG13. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU. Animated prequel featuring the chaotic little henchman. PG. 90M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
PAWS OF FURY. Animated samurai cats teach a dog new tricks. With Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Cera, Mel Brooks and Michelle Yeoh. PG 103M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
PONYO. Hayao Miyazaki’s dreamlike animated fantasy about an underwater princess who yearns to be human and befriends a little boy. G.103M. MINOR.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. More Nordic space god action from the Marvel Universe, with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman making matching capes. PG13. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Tom Cruise returns to the cockpit with a pitch-perfect work of pure energy that eschews thorny politics for the sheer physicality and mental plasticity required of a modern fighter pilot. PG13. 137M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. A girl who grew up alone in the North Carolina swamp is implicated in a murder. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
For showtimes, call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theater 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theater 822-3456.