“Kids, get your popcorn out. Let me tell you the story of the Space Viking, Thor Odinson.”
Thor: Ragnarok was a vibrant breath of fresh air in the stiffly solemn world of Thor movies. With Taika Waititi returning to direct, Love and Thunder maintains this approach to colourful, fast-paced storytelling (with entire planets apparently ending up on the cutting-room floor). Its themes hew closely to its title, Thor grappling with the idea of Jane taking up the mantle of Mighty Thor serving as a metaphor for navigating friendship with exes (and axes). Natalie Portman was vocal about the misuse of Jane Foster in the early Thor films, but this script provides the character with agency, as well as emotional and comedic range. By contrast the Guardians of the Galaxy play a surprisingly perfunctory role at the start of the film, primarily for Quill to nudge Thor toward finding a family of his own. Like Multiverse of Madness, the film suffers from another single-minded villain, despite the God Butcher’s moving introduction showing the root of his Kratos-like rage. At its strongest, Love and Thunder‘s visual effects take us to some fantastic locations, from the gilded opulence of Omnipotence City to the desaturated Shadow Realm with Sin City splashes of colour, whilst the action is set to a couple of suitably electrifying Guns n’ Roses songs. The result is lightweight family entertainment that underscores the MCU Phase 4’s lack of direction with a half dozen standalone movies and countless hours of Disney+ TV shows not building toward any visible greater purpose.
It’s impossible to discuss the final instalment of Marvel’s 12-year project without spoilers but then this is a movie that no one requires a review to decide whether or not they will see. Its overarching time travel plot holds together surprisingly well, offering an opportunity to revisit characters lost in the previous films despite a fairly tight focus on the original six Avengers (with a few additions). For all the build-up, the overpowered Captain Marvel is largely absent elsewhere in the universe, serving predominantly as a deus ex machina when needed. After Infinity War, I knew that my overall view would depend largely on Doctor Strange’s seemingly inexplicable refusal to use the Time Stone, instead willingly handing it over to Thanos. Although Endgame offers half an answer, it is never adequately explained. Despite my issues with the journey, Endgame provides a satisfying conclusion that ties up the character arcs for a host of original characters, including a weighty, well-earned death near the end. It’s also particularly nice to see Jon Favreau given a few scenes, having helmed the film that started it all.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.