How Thor: Love and Thunder Can Bring Thor Closure in MCU Phase 4
Thor: Love and Thunder could be Chris Hemsworth's last ride as the God of Thunder, but how can Taika Waititi's fourquel resolve the character's arc in the MCU?
This article contains MCU spoilers.
The longevity of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken many by surprise. When Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans made Avengers: Endgame their swansong, many figured Hemsworth would join them. Instead, he’s becoming the first solo character to reach a fourth solo cinematic installment with Thor: Love and Thunder. Even more surprising was the news that Natalie Portman was coming back to the MCU to bring the story of Jane Foster lifting Mjolnir to the big screen.
As much as I want to see more from Taika Waititi’s rendition of what a Thor movie can be, one of the things I’m really looking forward to is closure to the story arc built on in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Many were annoyed by Thor being treated as a joke in Endgame and not having any huge moments during the final battle, but I always saw his pride in Captain America lifting Mjolnir to be a moment of catharsis for the thunder god.
Thor’s story in the later Avengers movies is best summed up by the Ancient One talking to Doctor Strange: “It is not about you.”
To Thine Own Self Be True
Going back to the original Thor movie and his backstory, you can see that Thor was born into a unique situation. Odin had hand-picked him to be King of Asgard one day and Thor was initially pumped about that. Loki, for all of his horrors, correctly understood that Thor as king would be an utter disaster since he carried himself like an idiot who wanted any excuse to smash through the Frost Giants. When Odin accepted that truth, he put a hex on Thor’s hammer so that only someone worthy could lift Mjolnir and have the power of Thor.
We side with Odin because Thor was very much out of line, but in retrospect, we are seeing an over-the-top fantasy take of a father basically choosing who his son is supposed to be. Thor has to earn the right to be king and his hammer only grants power based on how Odin envisioned his son would turn out. In subsequent films, Thor proves himself worthy to be king, but deep down, he doesn’t appear to really want it. What he does want is to play hero and damn if he isn’t great at it.
It’s partly about his status, though. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, he takes delight in watching the other Avengers fail at being able to lift Mjolnir. The brief instance when Captain America almost budges it causes Thor some visible distress, because his very identity – or the identity of the man he is supposed to be – is threatened by another. When Captain America fails to lift it, Thor feels relief. This is still his show.
By the end of Thor: Ragnarok, Thor ascends to the throne and becomes the rightful King of Asgard…for a good five minutes. Then Thanos happens. That brings us to Avengers: Infinity War.
Thor had already lost a lot going into Infinity War. His parents were dead, his hammer was destroyed, the Warriors Three bit the dust (not that he ever noticed), and his kingdom was physically destroyed. Then Thanos appeared, kicked the shit out of him, killed half of Asgard’s survivors, killed Heimdall, and killed Loki. Left to die in the emptiness of space, Thor warned Thanos that he would die for his actions.
A Victory Defined by Vengeance
Thor was discovered by the Guardians of the Galaxy and gained a handful of allies. Even though he knew exactly where Thanos was headed next, he ignored the opportunity to get the Reality Stone and instead insisted on going to Nidavellir to get a weapon capable of killing Thanos. This is where we started to see what was wrong with Thor’s mindset. His focus was on the fight against Thanos and the victory that came with it instead of simply preventing him from completing his cosmic scavenger hunt. Star-Lord and Gamora wanted to stop Thanos and save lives. Thor wanted to get Thanos and punish evil.
Dave Bautista once bemoaned on Twitter that he was annoyed that Drax didn’t get to kill Thanos. That seems to be missing the point and it’s parallel to Thor’s mistake. Drax learned the folly of revenge against Ronan, but ultimately helped destroy him. Rather than give up his obsession, he just moved the goalposts and focused his hate on Thanos. The same hate would have put Star-Lord’s plan on Knowhere in jeopardy if it wasn’t Thanos toying with them.
The fact is, a lot of people were right to want Thanos dead by their hands. Arguing over who would get the honors would be a pointless act of selfishness. More than that, it’s counterproductive.
Thor went to Eitri on Nidavellir to have him forge Stormbreaker, an ax that could end Thanos. What’s important here is that Thor showed no interest in saving the universe or foiling Thanos’ plans. He was very explicit that he wanted to kill Thanos and, in a vulnerable moment with Rocket, he made it seem that a rematch with the Mad Titan was all he really had left. That wasn’t true, but at the time, it was all he could think about to keep him going.
Thor’s mistake was that he considered this to be his story. He was a great hero and the whole adventure revolved around him. He was the one who lost. He was the one in need of redemption for not being strong enough. He was the one who sacrificed himself to create the ultimate weapon. He was the most powerful Avenger. He was the protagonist of Avengers: Infinity War. He, and only he, could stop Thanos and bring a fitting end to this nightmare.
Don’t get me wrong, Stormbreaker is a great weapon and it took apart Thanos’ space dogs like they were nothing. It’s just that Thor was very, very lucky and didn’t realize it. When he took his shot at Thanos, he took it at the one instant where Thanos’ head was swimming and he was distracted by the sudden power surge of wielding every Infinity Stone. Thor was lucky that Thanos decided to defend himself with a laser blast.
He should have gone for the head. He didn’t. Not because his aim was off. He was likely very aware that a headshot would have instantly ended Thanos’ threat. The issue was that Thor didn’t want that.
45 seconds. That’s how long it took in-between Stormbreaker burying itself in Thanos’ chest and Thanos snapping his fingers. Thor wanted to take his time and make it last. He wanted to torture Thanos, push the ax in just enough, and watch the suffering in his eyes. He wanted to enjoy his victory because his victory was defined by vengeance.
By going for a slow death he not only let Thanos win, but he gave him enough time to talk about how he won before doing the deed. Thor realized his folly, but it was too late. For the first time in the movie, he seemed to acknowledge that the universe was being threatened.
It was okay, though. Round 2 was a farce, but he could bring it all around with one more rematch. He could right his wrongs by defeating Thanos and getting it right. If he won, it would fix his failures.
The Measure of a Person
When Thor and the Avengers ambushed Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, it was a moot point. Thanos had not only won, but he destroyed the Infinity Stones, so they could not be used to undo his plans. Thor beheaded an injured Thanos and it meant absolutely nothing. Thor screwed up so badly and one big, epic fight was not going to make everything alright.
No longer seeing himself as the hero, Thor spent the next five years as the King of New Asgard, fulfilling a part of his destiny that he didn’t seem to care for. He wasn’t a tyrant and his surviving people didn’t seem to be suffering, but he also wasn’t much of a king. As a total shut-in, he lost himself to alcohol, junk food, TV, and playing video games with his alien friends.
Thor rejoining the Avengers seemed to come almost out of boredom, even if he deep down understood it was the right thing to do. He was relegated to being the joke of the group, stewing in his PTSD while the others regularly cracked jokes about his weight and shabby appearance.
He and Rocket went back in time to Asgard during the events of Thor: The Dark World, where Thor came across his mother. While there is humor in the scene, there’s also some real sweetness and heartbreak mixed in there, like the way Frigga can tell just by looking at her son that, “The future hasn’t been kind to you, has it?”
The importance of their meeting is that Frigga could understand Thor’s experiences and cut it down to its core. “Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are.”
The scene also ends brilliantly with Thor summoning that era’s Mjolnir and being afraid of whether it would still come to him. Meanwhile, Frigga shows full faith that it will. Despite his failures, bad decisions, and self-hatred, Thor finds with tearful glee that he’s still worthy.
What’s interesting here is that Thor knows what his problem is, but he doesn’t 100% fix it. He wants to do better, but he still has to work on himself, so he goes back and forth through the rest of the movie. For instance, when they create the Stark Gauntlet, Thor insists that he would be a better choice to wield it than the Hulk. It’s his last shot at redemption. He can be the hero who saved the universe from his own screw-up. He NEEDS this.
Luckily, the Avengers talked him down as Thor was not in the right state of mind to make it work without huge consequences. Hulk, as he put it, was literally made for this moment, bringing closure to his own long-running story arc.
In the final battle against Thanos, Thor brought both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker with him. Each weapon needed somebody to be worthy to lift them, but in different ways: one through heart and heroism, the other through pure physical might. Stormbreaker, Thor’s ultimate weapon to stop Thanos was almost his undoing as Thanos had no problem wielding it and nearly cutting Thor in half. The only thing stopping him was Captain America proving himself worthy by picking up Mjolnir and smacking Thanos upside the head with it.
Thor’s reaction was not of being threatened, but of being a happy bystander, proud of his friend. Though this development only goes so far. In the midst of battle, Thor wasn’t keen on Cap holding Stormbreaker, insisting that Cap was only allowed to use the smaller weapon. Then again, maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on a comic relief moment.
In the aftermath, Thor finally decided to move on from the identity his father envisioned for him. Valkyrie would rule New Asgard while Thor would go on his own intergalactic walkabout of self-discovery. It’s just that he can’t completely let go of the feeling that he is the center of all things. His final scene is a perfect balance, where he’s trying to make it completely clear that he is fine not being seen as the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Star-Lord is totally the guy who runs things, but…come on. We know who REALLY calls the shots.
Now that Hawkeye’s show is over with, Thor appears to be the only original Avenger who has unfinished business. Only now he’s set to star in what could very well be the final Thor movie. Jane Foster taking the Thor mantle is a major part of Thor: Love and Thunder, and the idea of the woman he loves becoming the idealized version of what he’s supposed to be and Thor coming around to being supportive of it is the way to see his story to its natural conclusion. He can move on and accept that the universe can thrive without him basking in his ego.
Could this be Hemsworth’s last ride? He appears to be having so much fun, but so many of the Phase 1 heroes have been put out to pasture. Bruce Banner and Jim Rhodes have future appearances, but unless Thor is still going to be tight with the Guardians of the Galaxy when their third movie kicks in, my gut tells me that there’s going to be some real closure in the near future.
Maybe it will be like the Earth X comic series, where Thor decided he wanted to live out his days as Donald Blake while allowing somebody else to become Thor and protect the world.
Then again, if he goes on to show up in Loki Season 2, I wouldn’t mind that either.