Thor: Love and Thunder
Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemmsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe
It’s a Marvel movie.
Because Taika Waititi is known for his off-kilter humor and unpredictable originality. For this, he’s received an Oscar, numerous Emmys, and carte blanche from Disney, all of which he’s worked deservingly hard for.
AND YET the latest Thor movie deserves an extra layer of consideration, especially from film theorists and cinephiles, because the plot honors and adheres to a structure not commonly used since the 1940s.
Thor: Love and Thunder picks up with the god of thunder traveling the universe with The Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s running from the pain of the numerous failures and tragedies that he endured during the events of Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. He’s been beaten down from his lofty heights and would rather feel nothing than process his loss.
Also preferring to feel nothing is Dr. Jane Foster, Thor’s ex-girlfriend, who is so caught up in forwarding her research that she neglects her body’s warning signs until she’s diagnosed with stage four cancer. When all scientific treatments prove ineffective, Jane feels a pull from Mjolnir, Thor’s shattered hammer. Because Thor assigned the hammer to protect Jane no matter the cost, the hammer reconstitutes itself and deems Jane worthy, dubbing her “Mighty Thor,” a demigod.
That’s bad news for both Jane AND Thor because a new threat, The God Butcher, has his sights set on Earth. He was to eliminate all gods, and Asgard just got a new one. Even worse, if The God Butcher gets his hands on Thor’s current weapon, Stormbreaker, Eternity’s Gate could be opened, and every god from every culture in existence could be killed!
Thor and Jane, with Valkyrie and Korg in tow, must assemble an army of gods to take The God Butcher down before the dark wish is granted.
The comedy of remarriage was a specific subgenere of romantic comedy that started in the 1930s and peaked in the 1940s. Back then, Hollywood was beholden to specific rules called “The Hays Code.”
Way ahead of you! When film became a form of mass media, some U.S. legislators cried that movies’ wanton portrayal of sex, violence, and crime would pervert and corrupt public minds, especially children–much like today’s politicians say that video games do. To avoid piecemeal government censorship, the studio heads agreed to meet with Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Distribution Association of America (MPDAA), to form a production code of ethics, taken from contemporary proposals.
Joseph Breen was appointed as head of enforcement for these rules and did so to the letter for the next 30 years. Strangely, Breen was a devout Catholic acting as a middleman between the studio heads–all of whom were Jewish–and the American public–many of whom were Protestant.
This amalgamation led to a bizarre application of the rules and encouraged creatives to find loopholes, following the letter of the law, not the spirit.
Because The Hays Code prohibited portrayals of adultery or pre-marital relations, content about couples dating or falling in love risked censorship. Therefore, filmmakers used a plot structure in which a married couple broke up, flirted with other people, then decided to get back together. Since, according to Catholic teaching, legal separation and divorce don’t dissolve a marriage (only annulments do the trick), the characters were never not married, so all’s well that ends well.
Before readers dismiss this plot idea as an unnecessary contrivance, the genre coincided with the screwball comedy style of the 1930’s and 1940’s, so everything was convoluted. Thus, many of the best-made comedic films from those decades follow the comedy of remarriage formula:
Notably, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant starred in three of the five films listed.
It wasn’t needed anymore. In the early 1960s, American audiences were going to films whether they were production code approved or not (Psycho was infamously denied approval because it showed a toilet flushing, not because of the graphic murders). Since the Hays Code stopped being enforceable, the MPDAA, now the MPAA, transitioned to the rating system Americans are familiar with today. As such, dating was once again allowed to be shown, and the Comedy of Remarriage was tossed aside.
Examples since are few and far between; the only two that come to mind are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Sweet Home Alabama (2006). The former, however, is a groundbreaking sci-fi drama with funny moments while the latter’s comedic sensibility is too inept to recommend as a sterling example.
While Thor and Jane were never technically married, they described one another as their soulmates and Thor brought Jane to another planet to meet his family. Additionally, Thor’s magical bond with his hammer allowed Jane to wield a weapon few others have lifted.
Similar to the the Hepburn and Grant films 80 year ago, Thor and Jane break up, go on an adventure together (with plenty of bickering), realize how to fix their relationship problems, and renew their love in the climax of the movie (though they don’t get much time to act on that…).
What truly makes this film a worthy, if belated, entry into the genre is Waititi and his cast’s inclusion of the other element present in all comedies of remarriage: screwball antics. Russell Crowe’s Zeus could solely secure the movie’s place in the genre, but Hemmsworth’s impeccable timing and Portman’s earnestness form the classic chemistry required. Valkerie’s bloodlust and Korg’s chill attitude–present even as his body turns to ash–add to the pandemonium. Even the normally dour Christian Bale gets a delightfully bizarre scene where he graphically kills a shadow eel in front of children to “soothe” them.
The brilliance of Taika Waititi’s vision is that he perfectly recreates a 90-year-old formula, sets it in outer space, and markets it as a mass-appeal blockbuster.
…And you thought Kate Bush claiming the song of the summer was peak retro mania!
I’ll be honest; I think Ragnarok is better. Overall, I enjoyed Love and Thunder, though Marvel’s trademark of using quips and jokes to undercut important emotional moments was definitely on display. Waititi, however, definitely listened to the fans who wanted something different.
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