I’ve been unpacking the realization that the MCU has been declining in quality lately. I don’t think that this is because of the quality of acting (most of the actors have been outstanding), or lack of aspiration. I can see the desire to fold in the many aspects of the comics history, and there is brilliance…even if it is a bit of a deus ex machina…to utilize the multiverse as a device to do so. And while films like Spider-Man and the most recent Dr. Strange have been exceptions, I’ve felt let down by most of the other films and series over the past few months. Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel both failed to achieve their potential. Eternals was the first Marvel film that I couldn’t bring myself to even finish it was so bad.
I had no respect for Ragnarok, but I also hoped…naively…that even Taika Waititi couldn’t destroy Thor worse than he had in that film. My hope proved it’s naiveté. Ragnarok did so much violence to the character and displayed such a blatant disrespect for the genre that, had I not been seeing it with a friend, I would have walked out. Love and Thunder continued that pattern.
What confuses me most about these travesties of films is, why would the powers that be for the MCU, who have shown such a dedication to quality, continuity, and good art up until this point, allow someone who obviously has no respect for the genre to write and direct? And to continue to write and direct one of their most popular characters, at that? Both of these films are taking a character that was developed in a deep and compelling way in previous films, and using that character to openly mock the storyline and the genre itself.
What disappoints me the most about these films is that Thor is one of my favorite characters, and we finally had the opportunity to see Jane Foster take on the mantle of Thor. We could have had a brilliant film about Jane, her struggles, her desire to be, and her growth into, a hero. Instead we have…whatever this film was.
In Ragnarok, Waititi casually and carelessly disregarded previous continuity. He broke Thor’s speech patterns, altered his character by stripping away his bravery and ethical code, and cast characters as gods that had been previously been considered only aliens, thus altering a fundamental foundation of the cinematic universe. Because the other directors and writers of the MCU are still committed to continuity, they had to work with the mess Waititi had left them (which is why so-called “fat Thor” was such a blight on the otherwise fantastic Infinity War and Endgame films). These fracture lines continue to weaken the other films in painful ways.
In Love and Thunder, the passionate dislike for the genre that is evident in the storytelling extends to a more general irreverence for everything, but particularly for religion. As much as Waititi obviously dislikes the genre, he seems to hate religion even more, and has presumed to re-write the characters here to fit his vendetta. There’s nothing worse than art with an agenda, and, as terrible a film as Ragnarok was, this makes Love and Thunder even worse. Essentially, the bulk of the film is so-called comedy with the intention of callously mocking absolutely everything.
The scenes that aren’t comedy are melodrama, over-the-top emotional events that aren’t earned. They throw the audience into a confused emotional spiral because there has been no lead-up, no explanation aside from a few lines thrown in as after-thoughts. It’s painful, emotional whiplash, and I suspect that the laughter I did hear in the audience was as much confusion as anything else, because it was difficult to track anything over these 2 hours.
I really wanted to like a move with a Guns N’ Roses soundtrack, and, if I’m to find anything positive in this mess, it’s that I have respect for scoring an action sequence to Slash’s guitar solo from “November Rain.” Soundtrack excellence notwithstanding, the action sequences were chaotic, and chaos seems to have been the goal.
Love and Thunder continues to perpetuate the damage done in Ragnarok, potentially to an un-recoverable point. The film doesn’t know what it wants to be, other than to be over-the-top at the expense of quality. Its purpose is to get a cheap laugh or tear at any cost. After seeing the (un-earned) death of a character we care about, we’re told in the end credits that “Thor will return.” I almost wish that weren’t the case at this point. I sincerely hope that, if he (or she) does, it will be with a different artistic direction, because that is all that will save this particular franchise.
If you haven’t seen Thor: Love and Thunder yet, save yourself the pain and read a synopsis. Believe me, that will be bad enough.