Thor: Love and Thunder debuted to mixed reviews from critics and fans, continuing a trend of Marvel projects that feel a little disappointing. Taika Waititi’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed Ragnarok feels less focused, louder, dumber, and a lot less charming. Chris Hemsworth is back as Thor, continuing the lovable idiot shtick he’s been doing since Ghostbusters and selling the hell out of it. Waititi’s Korg is also in it — excessively in it, to be honest — and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie also gets in on the action. Newcomers Christian Bale and Russell Crowe steal the spotlight despite being criminally underused, confirming why they’re two of the last surviving movie stars. The real attraction, however, is the return of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, or at least it should be. So why isn’t it?
Portman famously left the MCU following the disappointing Thor: The Dark Worlda film so boring and inconsequential that most casual fans forget about its existence. She agreed to return after a meeting with Waititi promised her a new take on the character, a chance to be “adventurous, fun, and funny.” However, the main change was superpowers, as Waititi chose to adapt the well-received Mighty Thor comic book storyline that sees Jane Foster take the Thor mantle and wield Mjolnir after Thor becomes unworthy. In short, Portman would finally play the hero, not the love interest.
Love and Thunder doesn’t have nearly enough Jane Foster to deliver on the pledge made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, back when the world was still on a post-Endgame high, and COVID was only a nightmare waiting to happen. Most egregiously, the film isn’t as daring as it tries to be, especially when it comes to its LGBTQ+ representation. There is something there — don’t worry, no spoilers here –, but it’s the bare minimum. And considering a) this is 2022, and b) Taika Waititi directed this, supposedly under the guise of full creative freedom from the Marvel honchos, what’s there feels minimal to the point of non-existence.
And it’s such a shame! Especially when the perfect opportunity for proper, genuine, meaningful LGBTQ+ representation was sitting right in front of their faces. Because who better to become the MCU’s first sapphic couple than Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie? A recent clip from the Love and Thunder premiere made the rounds; in it, Natalie Portman says the film is “so gay,” to a loud cheer from the audience. But how is it “so gay?” It could’ve been if only Waititi and company had the guts to have Mighty Thor and Valkyrie ditch Thor for each other. So why didn’t they?
To understand why Jane and Valkyrie would’ve been perfect together, one must first understand why Jane and Thor make no sense. Comic book canon states they are one of Marvel’s most prominent couples, but the MCU is its own thing, and unfortunately, Portman and Hemsworth have zero romantic chemistry together. Indeed, their romance makes Padmé and Anakin look like Casablanca‘s famous lovebirds Rick and Ilsa.
Don’t get us wrong, Portman and Hemsworth are great actors — she’s a freaking Oscar winner! And he’s set to play Hulk Hogan! But their interactions in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor seem forced, like two unbelievably pretty people getting together just because there’s no one else as pretty around. The setup for their romance is poor, mainly because the film is far more interested in the plot’s heroic shenanigans. The MCU has never been great at romance, and Jane and Thor’s ill-conceived relationship is the perfect example. They get together not because they make sense as a couple but because the script says so.
Things don’t get any better in Thor: The Dark World. They spend more time together in that one, which only exacerbates their lack of chemistry. There’s no heat, no passion, and no effort. They’re Dua Lipa performing at the 2018 Brit Awards. However, unlike Dua, they didn’t improve with the years. Despite Portman, Hemsworth, and Waititi’s best efforts, Thor and Jane remain as sparkless as they were in 2011 and 2013. Love and Thunder‘s paraphernalia does considerable work to disguise their lack of passion, but it isn’t enough to sell their supposed romance.
What do these two have in common? What do they see in each other besides the obvious physical beauty? When Thor cried over Jane in Avengers: Endgamemore than one laughed, not at the obvious joke but at the fact that Thor even remembered Jane. Like, come on, Odinson, you haven’t seen her in half a decade! If your couple inspires nothing in your audience, even after two films desperately tried to set them up, then it’s time you consider a change of pace. Waititi should’ve known better.
Knowing Jane and Thor make zero sense together opened the door for new opportunities, mainly the chance to explore Jane and Valkyrie as a couple. The two never met prior to Love and Thundermeaning the film had a blank slate to work with. Unfortunately, it does nothing with it.
When the trailer for Love and Thunder debuted, fans expressed their surprise at the brief interaction between Valkyrie and Mighty Thor. Those three seconds were more interesting and engaging than Thor and Jane’s entire story throughout the past two movies. The Mary Sue even ran an article about it, stating their desire for the film to explore the characters’ relationship and sensing the potential for a romance between the two.
Because there was something there or at least the potential for it. On the other hand, perhaps we are so starved for LGBTQ+ content that we look for it anywhere. Still, many people saw the possibility of something happening between Valkyrie and Jane. After all, Taika Waititi directed this film, the same man who snuck one of 2022’s most complex and meaningful LGBT romances into the pirate comedy Our Flags Mean Death. Surely, he had the guts and vision to see what an inspired choice would be to bring these two characters together.
Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
Valkyrie and Jane spend considerable time together, but it somehow feels meaningless. Love and Thunder is a Thor movie, but why bring Natalie Portman — as Mighty Thor, no less — and Tessa Thompson if you’re not going to do anything with them? There was a lot of talk about Valkyrie’s bisexuality playing a role in the film — other characters even refer to her as “king.” However, the so-called representation limits to a few nods here and there and other characters referring to her as “king.”
????BREAKING THOR NEWS???? Natalie Portman and Taika Waititi reveal that #thorloveandthunder is…????SUPER GAY???? and we are here for it! #thor #marvel #taikawaititi #natalieportman #tessathompson (????: @Haushinka)
It’s not like Thompson and Portman wouldn’t have been down for it. Something tells us they would’ve jumped at the chance to become the MCU’s first sapphic relationship. Why ignore the genuine and exciting possibility of having a same-sex relationship between two badass women? To spare Thor’s feelings? He’s a simpleton and would’ve been fine! He might’ve even cheered for them; he’s that kind of dude. Did the thought of bringing Valkyrie and Mighty Thor didn’t even cross Waititi’s mind? Did the Marvel honchos prevent it? The answer is probably somewhere in between.
These days, genuine and meaningful representation is hard to come by. Waititi had the perfect opportunity to do it in Love and Thunder with two major characters who were supposed to be front and center. Marvel was intelligent enough to realize Thor wasn’t working as a stoic, Shakespearean figure and changed him into the loveable goofball he is today under Waititi’s direction. They should’ve also been clever enough to see Thor and Jane didn’t work together.
The missed opportunity of exploring Jane’s potential with Valkyrie seems even more egregious considering — major spoilers ahead; read at your own peril — Jane dies at the film’s ending. This is yet another baffling choice on Waititi’s part — perhaps brought about by Portman’s reluctance to commit to more than one film? However, Jane’s stint as the Mighty Thor is short and, unfortunately, forgettable. Utterly, devastatingly, excruciatingly forgettable. It might’ve been a tad more meaningful and memorable had she found solace in a certain Asgardian king looking for purpose. Her death might’ve perpetuated the “bury your gays” tropebut that’s a story for a different day.
The point here is that Mighty Thor should’ve absolutely been a bisexual and should’ve explored a romance with Valkyrie. Cinema is supposed to be daring and limitless, willing to explore new and unconventional ideas. The MCU is notoriously risk-averse, but that’s where a director like Taika Waititi comes in — that’s why you bring him in. This is the man who often includes jokes about orgies in films that are supposed to be PG-13. Is his brand all about suggestion and not execution?
The opportunity for a Jane-Valkyrie romance is obvious to anyone willing to see it, and it’s frankly shocking that the film didn’t explore it. Because if a director as experimental and out there as Taika Waititi isn’t willing to take a risk like that, what can we expect from the Jon Wattses and Peyton Reeds of the MCU? Are we forever doomed to have only vanilla romances in our superhero content? Are Thor and Jane truly the best Marvel has to offer?
It all comes down to you now, James Gunn. Save the MCU from its boring, self-imposed, uninspired confinements if you can. And we’ve seen Peacemaker; we know you can.