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Movie of the Week

Thor teaches love, and a little thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder, opening this week in South African cinemas, is at heart a fast-paced comedy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

When the premise of a superhero movie is a quest to kill all the gods, comedy is not expected to dominate. Especially not when it starts with the death of a loved one, and the shadow of death hanging over every love interest.

But Thor: Love and Thunder is above all a fast-based comedy, with few characters taking themselves seriously. More significantly, director Taika Waititi doesn’t take the characters seriously, and especially not the gods of the Marvel universe.

Some balance is achieved with the introduction of a new “galactic killer”, Gorr the God Butcher, who wants nothing less than the extinction of the gods – and has a good chance of getting to that goal. Thor is the hero who has to stop him, but his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster may well be the secret weapon. Her calling by the magical hammer Mjolnir, sparks a startling transformation that also calls into question the identity of “The Mighty Thor”.

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth navigate the rekindling of their doomed romance in a somewhat clumsy fashion, but a combination of humour and emotion allows it to drive the story effectively. If the plot sometimes feels weightless, Christian Bale as Gorr lends it some gravity with a striking performance utterly devoid of humour. The cinematography also plays a role in anchoring the movie, and is spectacular in evoking the wonders of deep space.

The gods, on the other hand, are almost, err, universally treated as figures of fun. Russel Crowe Zeuss is nothing but a parody of the Greek god, even down to his accent and lightning bolt. Tessa Thompson puts on a serious face as King Valkyrie, despite the silly premise of her rule over the tourist village of New Asgard. She, too, succumbs to the temptations of popcorn comedy, in more ways than one.

The director himself, Taika Waititi, delivers a fun and refreshing performance as Korg, a pure-hearted Kronan gladiator who has befriended Thor. Even when his role disintegrates, so to speak, he still provides neat lines as the straight man to Thor’s clownishness.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are always a fun presence in the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU), but fans will wish more had been made of them.

MCU followers will love the movie, although they may not find it essential viewing – more like a respite from some of the MCU’s darker days.

Ultimately, the movie is not too big on thunder, but Thor learns the true meaning of love, and teaches a little of that, with a lot of help from Jane Foster.

Marvel Studios provided the following information about the movie:

“Thor: Love and Thunder” is directed by Taika Waititi from a screenplay by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Kevin Feige and Brad Winderbaum produce, joined by executive producers Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Brian Chapek, Todd Hallowell and Chris Hemsworth.

Waititi made his Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) directorial debut with 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” a comedic, cosmic adventure, which was a departure for the God of Thunder, portrayed by Hemsworth.

“I don’t think it’s far-fetched to expect change in a character like Thor,” says Waititi. “He’s been around for a long time, so there’s time for him to go through different phases. I was relieved when I knew how high he was testing in the ‘Ragnarok’ screenings, but it was also a sense of pride that we’d managed to reinvent this character in a way that made the film do well but also made people want to see more of him.”

Since 2011, Thor has appeared in seven MCU features as well as Marvel Studios’ “What If…?” animated series, becoming the first character to lead four franchise films. To fans around the world, Chris Hemsworth simply is Thor and, yet, he still feels compelled to explore and evolve his role. “There was a huge amount of pressure coming into this,” admits Hemsworth. “Thor is the only character to make a fourth film so far, so I wanted to do something different. I want to always do better with this character.”

“One of the cool things about Marvel films is this ability to embrace various genres within a single film,” says Waititi. “It keeps audiences guessing, and the characters within these different genres then feel different all the time. When we came up with ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ we knew the fans would really freak out about it, and it really does suggest a lot of what the film is about.”

“What sets this movie apart is that, at its heart, it’s a love story,” says Chapek. “We’ve seen Thor grow so much over the years. After the events of ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ we started to see cracks in his armour. He started to feel some ownership over all the people he’s lost in his life.”

Love is a resounding theme that carries throughout the film, but Waititi and team most definitely bring the thunder. “‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ feels similar to Ragnarok in terms of tone and style, but we wanted to double down on how vibrant and crazy the worlds are and the situations we put Thor in,” says Waititi. “Because when you’re dealing with outer space and a Viking, if you run and embrace that incredible combination as the thing that powers the story, you’re only really limited by your imagination.”

“If Ragnarok was a 1980s synth-pop album, ‘Love and Thunder’ is a metal album,” says Winderbaum. “We knew we wanted a title that would evoke a 1980s rock ‘n’ roll feeling. And ‘Love and Thunder’ just seemed to do that.”

When Thor first appears in “Avengers: Endgame,” he’s clearly experiencing an existential crisis, having recently suffered a series of brutal blows. He’s lost family and friends, his home of Asgard, Mjolnir and his battle with Thanos — not to mention his god-like physique.

He’s also lost his will to lead, as King of New Asgard, and after Iron Man’s snap restores the Universe, Thor bestows his title upon Valkyrie and hitches a ride with the Guardians of the Galaxy. “Thor travels off with the Guardians and — much to their discomfort and irritation — plants himself firmly in the centre of their posse and tries to dictate how things should be run,” says Hemsworth.

Waititi says he takes inspiration from the film’s main character. “I really feel like Thor, more than any other character in the MCU, lends himself towards big, inventive, colourful creatures from different worlds,” says Waititi. “He has a casualness and a sort of swagger about him when he encounters these aliens. I really feel like we’re making it a funnier, bigger adventure with even cooler characters and a really kickass soundtrack.”

But no matter the size of his conquests, Thor’s internal void is even bigger. He declares his Super Hero days over and sets out to discover the man he’s truly meant to be. “Most people who are trying to find themselves are running away from something,” says Winderbaum. “What he’s running from is love because, in his experience, everyone he loves dies. Whether or not he can articulate it, he believes he’s cursed.”

Unfortunately, Thor’s seclusion is short-lived, as a terrifying new foe threatens to upend the galaxy. Gorr the God Butcher has waged a war on the gods, killing them one by one with a weapon of immense, dark power.

Thor has faced off against countless enemies — from Laufey, King of the Frost Giants, to his sister Hela, the Goddess of Death, to Thanos, the Mad Titan — but filmmakers chose to raise the stakes even higher in “Thor: Love and Thunder.” “We needed to step up from Hela and find a villain who was somehow even more formidable,” says Waititi, “and we found that in Gorr, who is played by the remarkable Christian Bale.”

Once a peaceful, pious man, a crushing loss propels Gorr on a mission fueled by his desperate need for revenge. “Gorr played by the rules, and so when he realises he’s been betrayed by the gods, he’s overtaken by a rage that hits such a fever pitch that he gains an evil, ancient power and sets out to rid the universe of these gods, who don’t take care of their humans,” says Winderbaum.

“There’s so much drama and insanity around Gorr, but Christian Bale managed to pull the focus right into each moment,” says Hemsworth. “You can’t take your eyes off him. The character is fascinating, because like all good villains, Gorr has a point. He may not be going about it the right way, but there’s empathy in the script and Christian brought so many more layers and so much more depth to Gorr.”

Hemsworth’s costars were also taken aback by Bale’s performance, with Portman confessing, “All of us were actually a little scared in Gorr’s presence,” and Thompson revealing, “Christian as Gorr was mesmerizing. He does that thing that Marvel villains do so well, which is that you see their villainy comes from pain, from some unprocessed trauma.”

On his search for meaning, Thor makes a stunning discovery: Jane Foster, his ex-girlfriend and a world-renowned astrophysicist, has proven herself worthy of wielding his magical hammer, Mjolnir, as the Mighty Thor — a transformation that masks a very personal battle.

Natalie Portman, who portrayed Jane Foster in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World,” was thrilled about her return to the MCU. “Taika came over to my house to talk because I’d been out of the Marvel world for a while,” says Portman. “When he explained how Jane would become the Mighty Thor, it was fascinating to consider what that experience could be like. Working on the film was a really exciting challenge because it was so improvisatory, and Taika really keeps you on your toes.”

“To bring her back in this new iteration, in this storyline from ‘The Mighty Thor’ in which Jane Foster becomes a Super Hero, is exciting,” says Waititi. “It’s brilliant to see Natalie in a way that we don’t expect. She’s such a great actor, and in keeping with reinventing this franchise again and again, we didn’t want to go back to seeing her in the same role. We don’t want to see her just being a scientist on Earth waiting for Thor.”

“Jane is a really interesting character because she’s human, but she gets this amazing power,” says Chapek. “How is she going to deal with having that power? I think audiences are going to be able to relate to Jane and her journey in a really meaningful way because she is a mortal who is dealing with very human issues.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” also reveals more about Jane and Thor’s relationship and eventual breakup, allowing both Hemsworth and Portman to showcase their comedic chops. “Natalie was hugely enthusiastic and up for anything collaborative, with a great sense of humour,” says Hemsworth. “This is a very different direction for the character, so it was like a rebirth. She was down for it. It was so much fun.”

The cast

Chris Hemsworth (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Extraction”) returns to the title role of Thor, God of Thunder, joined by Oscar winner Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” “Jackie”) as Jane Foster/the Mighty Thor;  Oscar winner Christian Bale (“The Fighter,” “The Dark Knight”) as the villainous Gorr the God Butcher; Tessa Thompson (“Creed,” “Selma”) as Valkyrie/King of New Asgard; Oscar winner Russell Crowe (“Gladiator,” “The Insider”) as Zeus, king of the gods; Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Jojo Rabbit”) as Korg; and featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy — Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, and Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot.

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