Marvel Studios and Walt Disney used the NBA playoffs as the launching pad for what really should have been the first trailer for this summer’s other big MCU movie. The first teaser for Thor: Love & Thunder, released in mid-April, was seemingly a capitulation to online fandoms demanding a trailer “right now.” It was frankly a halfhearted affair. That’s no discredit to the folks who put it together, but it was one of those cases, like the first teaser for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, where no one wanted to put a trailer out then and needed to cobble together 110-seconds worth of footage while saving most of the goodies for the next reveal.
No harm, no foul, because this is the real deal. And, as frankly prophesized three years ago, it is essentially “Marvel stomps on Sony or Netflix’s attempts to make a He-Man movie.” I discussed this back in August of 2019, but one side effect, intentional or not, of Marvel’s genre appropriation as a means of diversifying their theatrical features, was the notion of MCU movies essentially canceling out the rival franchises from rival studios.
Who needs G.I. Joe movies when you have Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Who cares about new Star Trek movies when you have Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on the way? Including DC as well, but who needs new King Arthur movies when you’ve got Aquaman? I still maintain one reason James Cameron was oddly grumpy about Wonder Woman was that he realized that Alita: Battle Angel was essentially the same movie. Who cares if Sony and/or Netflix ever gets around to making a He-Man movie when you have both Thor: Ragnarök and now Thor: Love & Thunder?
The poster and the trailer, including specific images, are reminiscent of the He-Man property. The first Thor was a loose remake of Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella’s Masters of the Universe, which turns 35 in August. Cliff Notes: A fantastical hero spent the first 20 minutes in their respective (and expensive) fantasy world only to spend most of the movie on Earth before returning home for the action climax.
In this case, Chris Hemsworth is He-Man, Natalie Portman is now She-Ra and Christian Bale is Skeletor. Hell, a different franchise from the same nostalgic era, but Tessa Thompson’s Pegasus-riding heroine is Rainbow Brite. If you’re wondering where Evil-Lyn is, I refer you to Cate Blanchett in Thor: Ragnarök. We even get a major sequence where our strapping male hero is naked/mostly naked as he’s tied to the floor with chains and forced to confront a potential antagonist (Russell Crowe’s Zeus).
Now I’m sure you’d find plenty of “inspiration” in 1980’s fantasy flicks (Sword and the Sorcerer, Conan the Destroyer, etc.), and these similarities, coincidental or not, are no scandal. However, it highlights a key advantage Marvel (and DC) has amassed for itself over the last 13 years. They can approximate other genres and even other franchises with unlimited financial resources and a built-in fanbase that A) will show up and B) will automatically hold MCU products in higher regard.
There is also a generation that has grown up with so much of their media diet filled with 20 years’ worth of big fantasy franchise tentpoles (Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, The Avengers, The Dark Knight, The Fast Saga, etc.) that they are less likely to be familiar with the films and genres being referenced or homaged. If you barely watch old-school character studies or pre-Internet serial killer flicks, then DC and WB’s Joker or The Batman is downright revolutionary.
It’s a little depressing that Thor would still be pining for Jane Foster (and apparently, she for him) 11 years after their first meeting, as you’d hope that both respective A+ dating specimens would have moved on. However, the visuals surrounding Bale’s “killer of Gods” seem to be playing with color and contrast, while the interplay between Jane and Valkryie will surely make for onscreen entertainment and online obsession.
Jane becoming “the Mighty Thor” seems like a subtext-becomes-text example of online folks claiming to want a Black James Bond or a female Indiana Jones while not showing up for newer franchises with newer “not a white guy” protagonists, but we’ll see if the film is sharp enough to comment upon that. Love & Thunder’s biggest commercial advantage is the mere fact that audiences who aren’t still obsessed with the MCU as a brand will still show up because they liked Thor: Ragnarök. How old-fashioned…