And hardly anybody even noticed, was the really annoying thing for all the people who made the Swamp Thing movie. They worked as hard as they could, in the middle of a swamp, and some of them were good at their jobs and some of them decidedly were not, and eventually it turned into a movie that hardly anybody watched. It made so little that Box Office Mojo has a blank space where the domestic and international gross is supposed to be.
Meanwhile, all the way over here at the other end of history, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe effort — Thor: Love and Thunder — made 143 million dollars this weekend, and people are talking about how disappointed they are.
I mean, not everybody; there are definitely people talking about how great it was, but they sound defensive because I guess Twitter just wears everyone down these days. But Love and Thunder got 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is the fourth lowest score of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. According to the critics, the only films it beats are The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark World and Eternals, and I didn’t realize people were even counting The Incredible Hulk as an MCU movie.
The problem is that Love and Thunder has too much comedy, apparently, which is not a thing that occurs in nature. What people actually mean when they say “too much comedy” is that they didn’t think the comedy was funny enough, so why they don’t say “not enough comedy” is a mystery to me.
Thor: Love and Thunder is the story of a bunch of unbelievably pretty people spending all of their time pretending that being pretty isn’t a big deal. It’s actually a lot like Eternals, because it’s about super-hot rich white people with godlike powers who have big urgent fights over the fate of the universe. The difference is that in Eternals, everybody treated the fancy people like they were actually important, which was nauseating, while in Thor: Love and Thunder, everyone treats Thor like he’s the underdog, which is a lot easier to take.
The story of Thor: Love and Thunder is about as straightforward as it’s possible for a superhero movie to be: there are four good guys, one bad guy and a box full of endangered children. The bad guy makes his intentions clear early on, and doesn’t waver. The good guys all agree that they should team up and chase the bad guy. They try to get support from some powerful people, and the powerful people say no, so the good guys go after the bad guy on their own, and they beat him up, and that’s basically the movie.
I mean, if you want the absolute lowest common denominator goal for a superhero movie, then it has to be saving a bunch of adorable young children locked in a scary cage. I can imagine the script meetings where Taiki Watiti wrote down “a bunch of cute children in a box” as a placeholder for what Thor needed to fight for, and after a while they realized that they couldn’t come up with anything else, so screw it, let’s just have the bad guy kidnap a bunch of cute children. Now it’s a movie.
But the real energy of the movie comes from the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster, and your experience of the film is going to depend largely on whether you find that a compelling relationship or not.
Personally, watching Jane’s magical transformation from chemo recipient to kick-ass thunder god was an especially appealing story for me. Someone that I love very much died of cancer not that long ago, and Jane’s struggle offers a kind of wish-fulfillment for cancer patients. Surviving with cancer requires an incredible amount of courage and inner strength, and it was nice seeing Jane take that energy, and turn it into superpowers that ultimately save the universe.
So if we’re doing wish-fulfillment, then we might as well also give the cancer patient a love-struck ex-boyfriend with magic powers who’s played by one of the most attractive actors that we’ve got these days. Happily, Thor doesn’t resent Jane suddenly gaining powers and taking his name and his hammer. He’s jealous of her, and he wishes that he still had Mjølnir, but he doesn’t question her abilities or her right to the name. He just stands there and loves her, and being near her makes him more focused and less of an idiot. If that’s a story that you want to see, then Love and Thunder works.
One of the big themes of the movie is underdeveloped: the question of whether the gods are actually useful to people. The opening sequence shows a man whose life has become a torment asking his god to spare him, his family and his civilization, and the god is a spoiled aristo who’s hardly noticed that his followers have been wiped off the planet. This comes up again when Thor and his friends go to Omnipotence City to ask Zeus for help, and find out that the most powerful gods only care about themselves and their own pleasures.
This is a question that needs to be explored in this universe, especially after Eternals, which suggested that the entire history of human civilization was just a backdrop for the rich colonists, who get the credit for all the good ideas and inventions while ignoring all of the world’s injustice and suffering. Compared to the Eternals and the residents of Omnipotence City, Thor and Jane see themselves as service providers, whose real function in the universe is to help ordinary people.
Still, it’s a story about drop-dead gorgeous rich people, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Ordinary people don’t get much of a role — I’m not even sure that anybody in the box full of kids is a human. In the end, the people that we care about are all gods, one way or another, and the message is that the best thing that could happen to a person is to become an Asgardian.
But I think the real reason why people appear to be disappointed with the movie is that it’s entirely standalone, with very little connection to any of the other MCU stories.
The Guardians of the Galaxy appear at the beginning of the movie, but their major storyline isn’t mentioned at all. It’s noticeable that Gamora isn’t part of the team, and there’s a reason for that — she died in Avengers: Endgame, and was replaced by a 2014-era Gamora who flew away somewhere. But nobody mentions that, and the Guardians are dismissed after the opening sequence in a way that makes you wonder why Endgame bothered to have them all leave together at the end of the film.
Besides that, there aren’t any other connections to other current storylines. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a TV series called The Avengers, this would have been a funny side episode about a secondary character. It’s basically a collection of Things That Happened to Thor while the other characters do important things somewhere else.
People say that the MCU’s reliance on complicated continuity makes the series less interesting, but those people are obviously incorrect. The biggest success of Phase 4 has been Spider-Man: No Way Home, which relied on the audience’s familiarity with multiple movies that weren’t even part of this series. Audiences clearly love the interconnected storylines, and the pleasure of being a fan who understands all of the crossovers and self-references.
But in Phase 4, we’ve got a mounting number of end-credits teases with no clear plan for when they’re supposed to show up. There’s Kang from Loki, Contessa Valentina from Black Widow, Adam Warlock from Guardians vol. 2, the Black Knight from Eternals and Nick Fury in space from the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, and naturally the teaser at the end of Love and Thunder adds another new character to the group, without paying off any of the previous promises.
It’s not really a good sign for a franchise when the main pleasure for the audience is counting cameos and callbacks, but I think that’s where we’re heading. This insane project of creating an enormous, interconnected set of movies and Disney+ shows has become its own main subject, and the audience may be losing patience for side stories, gods help us all.
3.26: The Chatterbox
— Danny Horn