The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in some deep doo-doo. After perhaps the most successful and epic run of films in cinematic history, some cracks are starting to appear in their once-impenetrable suit of armour. Let’s talk about it shall we?
Now if you have ever read any of my other articles, you would know that I am an avid fan and am completely obsessed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some would even call me a fanboy. I have spent countless hours over the past decade absolutely drooling all over these films and how amazing they have done with juggling the responsibility that comes along with portraying some of the most beloved characters in comic book history. So taking this into consideration, you may be a bit baffled as to why I have had this sudden change of heart in regards to the future of the MCU. Let me explain.
The first Thor film was released way back in 2011 when I was the ripe young age of 16 years old. Marvel couldn’t have planned a more perfect release date, as I was a sophomore in high school and my absolute love and adoration of mythology was just beginning to blossom and bear its fruit. My school offered multiple elective courses in greek mythology, and being an avid fan, I took them up immediately. An incredible bond quickly formed between myself and the teacher, and when I had taken all the courses the school had to offer, she quickly offered an independent study position under her tutelage. My love for mythology exploded into the stratosphere. I expanded from Greek mythology, to Norse, Asian, and many others. I have spent countless hours ever since that fateful sophomore year endlessly researching ancient mythological tales and figures...so yeah. I love mythology.
So when that first Thor film was released in theaters, you can bet your sweet ass I was hyped for it. I still remember my excitement and joy as I first saw Thor wielding Mjolnir while kicking frost-giant booty. I can remember the exact thoughts racing through my head as I sat in theaters and watched Chris Hemsworth’s beautiful mouth speak for the first time. They even got his voice right I remember thinking. His look. His voice. His mannerisms. Everything. They got it all right! Even the story they chose for the first film was absolutely perfect. The scene of Odin stripping Thor of his power remains, to this day, not only one of my favorite scenes in the entire MCU but one of the most powerful and emotional ones as well. There was something special about that version of Thor. I say “that version” because that Thor is gone.
Something happened that derailed what Thor had going for him in that first film. Something that was significant enough to pump the brakes on one of the most prolific heroes in the Marvel Comics Pantheon. What was it you may ask?
Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World is perhaps the only film in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe that some people are willing to call “bad”. Some say it’s utterly unwatchable, while others say it isn’t too terrible. I tend to agree with the latter. While I didn’t particularly care for it when it first released back in 2013, I absolutely treasure it now, because it depicts the serious, epic, grand-in-scale Thor that I sorely miss. The critical panning of this film led to many things… with the most significant being both Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman wanting out of the movie franchise. Chris Hemsworth even went as far as admitting to USA Today that he was “done” and “wouldn’t be playing the character anymore” once his contract ran out after Avengers: Endgame. Likewise, Natalie portman said this back in 2016 when asked if she would be appearing in Thor: Ragnarok…
“As far as I know, I'm done,” says Portman. “I mean, I don't know if maybe one day they'll ask for an Avengers 7 or whatever, I have no idea. But as far as I know, I'm done.”
Ouch. Something needed to be done to save the franchise, and Marvel did what they always do when hitting the panic button (however rare that may be).
They told a joke.
...and then they kept telling them. After hearing that he wanted out, Marvel decided to take action towards keeping Chris in the role, as well as the character in the MCU. They decided to radically shift the tone and focus of the character from being a scowling badass to nothing more than a burly comedian that was there to simply tell a joke from time to time and act as female eye candy to attract the casual fans. With Marvel’s announcement to hire Taika Waititi as the director of the third installment of the Thor franchise...the fall from grace for this once-epic god had already begun….
Ragnarok & Endgame
Marvel’s plan to revive the ol’ god of thunder was fully revealed and shifted into full gear with the release of Thor: Ragnarok. Now Thor: Ragnarok is a very interesting film. I say this because the film falls into the strange category of unique circumstances where it succeeded at what it set out to do...but failed miserably at what it was supposed to do. Thor: Ragnarok succeeded majorly at being a ridiculously entertaining and quite hilarious action/popcorn flick...but that’s not what it was supposed to be. That’s not what Thor is. That’s not what Ragnarok is. Yes, the big guy can indeed be the butt of a joke from time to time within the Marvel Comicbook Universe...but he’s not a comedic character, and Ragnarok is NOT a funny story. In fact, if you asked me which character in the Marvel pantheon of Heroes is the least comedic...I would have probably said Thor. Before Thor: Ragnarok that is. You see, in their valiant attempts to make Thor an interesting character again, Marvel Studios has lost what made Thor a unique character in the first place...which is, of course, a character that is epic in scope, immense in power, and serious in purpose. He is a noble character that understands the responsibilities that lie before him as king of Asgard and protector of Earth. He wields his power and intellect with grace and responds to the many tragedies that befall him with fortitude. He has failures (like any good character)...but he mainly has successes. He is a character that demands respect and almost always gets it. Other heroes look to him in times of trial and tribulation...when even their own power isn’t enough to get the job done. His power is so awesome and so immense, that he often faces off against the biggest and baddest the universe has to offer (he is a God after all…). He is a hero in every sense of the word and in every fiber of his being.
That’s not the character we got. Instead we got this:
Which wasn’t always the case! Marvel almost redeemed itself with Thor’s arc in Infinity War! I thought they were back on track! I absolutely lost my marbles in the theater when Thor screamed “BRING ME THANOS” while going god-mode in Wakanda... but sadly, this is now our reality. The Thor we were introduced to in Phase One and the character as seen in Infinity War is long gone and has been replaced with a ghostly shell. We now live in a world where Thor is a fat, pizza-eating, hormonally unstable, weak, and incapable surfer bro who plays Fortnite, gets into arguments with children via internet chat and allowed for the slaughter of half of the people that survived the destruction of his homeworld and his kingdom. He is no longer noble. He is no longer reliable. He can’t even go toe to toe with the watered-down cinematic version of Thanos with two of the most powerful weapons in existence at his disposal...and the second someone else other than him wields one of them (Cap with Mojlnier) they make him look like an absolute scrub. This is the Thor we got....This is the Thor we have graciously accepted as an audience...but it’s not the Thor that I grew up reading and loving, and it deeply disheartens me.
I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok. I really did. To say I didn’t would be a lie, and in an age of journalistic and academic dishonesty...telling the truth has never been more important. Yes, I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok as comedic action film, but I absolutely despise it for how it impacted the character moving forward. At the time I just thought that the light-hearted comedic tone of Ragnarok would be a temporary and fun distraction in wake of the inevitably more serious tones of Infinity War and Endgame. I thought that, surely, Marvel wouldn’t make one of the most epic characters in all of classic (and modern) storytelling into a complete joke forever...which is of course what ended up happening because god forbid we criticize anything the MCU does. By the end of Endgame (one of my top ten favorite films of all time) I was so disgusted with how the character of Thor had been treated, that I was completely okay with the MCU abandoning him altogether. At least I would be put out of my misery.
...then the unthinkable happened.
Fall From Grace
3 long months had gone by since the release of Avengers: Endgame, and with the premier of Spider-Man: Far From Home still fresh in the minds of many fans...we were all eagerly waiting to see exactly what the movie studio had up its sleeve for the much-anticipated fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As San Diego Comic Con 2019 loomed over the comic book loving community, theories and “leaks” of Marvel’s Phase 4 announcements ran rampant across the internet. Would there be a new Avengers film? Spider-Man 3? Surely they would announce the X-Men and the Fantastic Four right?
Nope. None of that. Instead we got something literally no one asked for….
Thor 4. Directed by Taika Waititi. Featuring Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as Thor.
Now before I dive into this dumpster fire, I just want to make something very abundantly clear. I absolutely positively do NOT hate this announcement solely because they are making Thor a female. I am not one of those soy-boys who completely lacks self-confidence and any measurable amount of testosterone. I don’t have this giant ego complex that is so prevalent among many of the men in today’s society. I love female superheroes. I absolutely adore characters like Batgirl, She-Hulk, etc. This is not what this is about. However, I do have issues with the timing and execution of this announcement, and although Marvel Studios has proven itself very capable over the past decade, I believe that Thor: Love and Thunder could very well be the beginning of the end for this Hollywood mega-giant.
Marvel has done very well with almost every hero it has decided to include in its ever-expanding film universe. Very well. The first two and a half phases were particularly fantastic as they perfectly balanced it’s overall light-hearted and heroic tone with slightly darker and heavier themes and ideas. There were funny heroes and stories (Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man) but there were also darker and more serious ones to maintain the balance (Captain America and Thor). Then there were the characters that did both (Iron Man). This kept up for a while...until certain characters started getting more attention than anyone thought they would. Characters like Drax and Star-Lord are prime examples. Believe it or not, Drax the Destroyer is not a comedic character at all in the comics...yet they have taken his seriousness and made a complete joke out of it.
However, I don’t really have an issue with this because Drax is a C-list character in the comics, and something needed to be done in order to make him more appealing to the wider audience. It worked extremely well, and in response, Marvel has resorted to implementing what I am calling “The Drax Formula” to any character garnering lackluster support from the mainstream audiences. Especially ones they deem “too serious” or “too dry” or “too weak” for audiences to take seriously. This formula has been used on the Guardians of the Galaxy to great effect...and it has extended to Thor and his entire corner of the MCU. In an attempt to make Thor relevant again, Marvel injected him with “The Drax Formula” which, if they were confident that a serious third movie would have failed, was an extremely brilliant quick fix to rake in some serious cash. Humor sells in the MCU. But that’s all it was meant to be. A quick fix. As we can see, the Drax Formula hasn’t been too kind to the God of Thunder. Like any other hard drug, it gave him a quick high followed by a very lowest of lows, and by the end of Endgame his entire mythos had been reduced to rubble. The formula did what it was supposed to do...which was to extend the life of Thor just long enough to reach the finish line.
However, Marvel was shocked at just how well fans have responded to this imposter they are calling “Thor” (as was I), and equally shocked at how willing Chris Hemsworth was to continue playing the character as long as Taika was directing and as long as he was allowed to keep eating ice cream and cracking farts. So in a desperate attempt to keep the character alive even longer, they have hooked him up to an IV bag full of The Drax Formula to power him through one last phase in the MCU...just long enough to give his identity to Natalie Portman.
A Stark Warning
Again, I don’t have an issue with there being a female Thor. A female Thor exists in the comics, so including her in the MCU isn’t out of bounds (whether it’s necessary or economically smart is another issue). I have an issue with Marvel completely destroying and spitting on the character of Thor in attempts to make more money and draw a bigger crowd...dumbing his power down to the point of no return...and then announcing his replacement while he still exists in the MCU and while his story is still incomplete. Had they kept this a secret and revealed it in the final scenes of Love and Thunder...the blow would have probably been softened. However, they chose to announce it years before the film is even released, which not only makes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor even more irrelevant than he already was (which I didn’t think was possible), but it signals to the fans that they have an agenda. An agenda that requires pandering to a mainstream audience that cares more about the “message” and the social ramifications of children looking up characters that were created and written during World War II, than they care about the actual characters themselves. An agenda that places monetary gain and social status over good storytelling and compelling characters. An agenda that is no longer concerned with telling any of the thousands of incredible stories already written in the comics...instead deciding to write their own and bringing the politics of the real world into them.
I could be completely wrong about all of this. I really hope I am. I love the MCU and it has quite literally changed my life, as well as the movie business as a whole. What it has done for the comic book community and nerd culture has been nothing short of miraculous. It has made reading comic books...something that used to be looked down upon by society...into something that’s cool again. That’s something I will never forget. However, I must issue a stark warning to the creative team over at Marvel:
You want to include more Female heroes? Great. Bring them on. There are hundreds to pick from.
You want to ignore the stories told in the comics and write your own? Fine. Not the smartest thing to do, but I could see it working. Give the director creative freedom, but reign them in for gosh sakes.
You want to make a character gay? That’s fine too. As long as he/she is gay in the comics (or it is heavily implied) and as long as you don’t change any character that has already been established as straight (i.e. Peter Parker…)
All of that and more is fine...but if you (Marvel Studios) start changing these characters just to fit an external social agenda, I promise you it will backfire on you and you will lose money. I do not want this to happen. This is the last thing I want to happen. I want nothing more than for these movies to succeed and do well. Please don’t fall for it...I’m begging you. I want these movies to remain as controversy-free as humanly possible. Please...if you do anything at all...please just respect and treat all of these beloved characters with the care they deserve. It’s the least you could do for the fanbase that made you relevant.
As for Thor: Love and Thunder.....
Well let’s just hope I’m wrong and it does indeed bring the thunder and not the blunder (again).