The God of Thunder is back. In his fourth solo MCU film, Chris Hemsworth suits up as the former king of Asgard and self-proclaimed strongest Avenger for his most absurd adventure yet. Thor: Love and Thunder, Marvel Studios’ 29th movie, features dumpling gods, Russell Crowe committing to a ridiculous, vaguely Greek accent as he plays the almighty Zeus, and a pair of goats who scream like humans. And they scream a lot.
Director Taika Waititi’s follow-up to Thor: Ragnarok has his unique brand of humor written all over it, and Love and Thunder stormed into theaters this past weekend to the tune of $302 million at the global box office, including an estimated $143 million domestically, according to Disney. That puts it behind the opening weekend of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May, but it’s still a strong showing that speaks to Marvel’s staying power.
Despite the movie’s unsurprising box office success, though, Love and Thunder has not fared as well in its reviews from critics and fans alike. While Waititi’s Ragnarok helped turn the Thor franchise around, earning an aggregated critics’ rating of 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an A for its CinemaScore audience grade, Love and Thunder currently sits at a middling 68 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and received a B+ from the viewers polled by CinemaScore. (For context, while a B+ is still good, that ranks as the MCU’s second-worst CinemaScore grade ever, tied with Multiverse of Madness and Thor, and ahead of only Eternals.)
Even still, Love and Thunder is an entertaining entry in Marvel Studios’ library of films, and the low scores may also speak to a growing superhero fatigue resulting from an overabundance of MCU content in recent years, as well as the aimless direction Marvel Studios has had overall since the climactic conclusion of the Infinity Saga. (Consider the fact that Multiverse of Madness, Eternals, and Love and Thunder have all been released within the past nine months. While they’re all imperfect in their own ways, they’re by no means the three worst Marvel movies to date out of almost 30 of them.) There’s plenty to discuss about the film given the wild reveal in its first post-credits scene, the fact that Thor is apparently a father now, and Jane Foster’s death. Here are my biggest takeaways.
Roy Kent really is everywhere, isn’t he?
Brett Goldstein of Ted Lasso fame has officially landed in the MCU, portraying the mighty son of Zeus: Hercules. Goldstein’s surprise post-credits cameo in Love and Thunder is the latest in a string of shocking stinger appearances in Phase 4, as Marvel Studios continues to add new stars after the Infinity Saga. Goldstein’s Hercules follows the introductions of Charlize Theron as Clea in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Harry Styles as Eros in Eternals.
Hercules, whom Thor mentioned in passing earlier in the film, arrives in the final moments of Love and Thunder’s first post-credits scene. An angry Zeus, who has just survived having his thunderbolt hurled through his chest, is complaining about how mortals no longer fear the gods like they once did, and instead worship superheroes. “Now, they look to the sky, and they don’t ask us for lightning,” Zeus bemoans (in Russell Crowe’s impeccable accent). “They don’t ask us for rain. They just want to see one of their so-called superheroes. When did we become the joke? No. No, they will fear us again, when Thor Odinson falls from the sky. Do you understand me, Hercules?”
You probably already know Hercules, the famed hero of Greek and Roman mythology, as the one who went the distance in the Disney animated classic, or really from any one of the countless other depictions of him in popular culture—from Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson to Arnold Schwarzenegger and beyond. (Marvel uses the more popular Latin equivalent of the name, as opposed to the Greek spelling of “Heracles” or “Herakles,” despite the fact that the Romans adapted the Greek divinity.) Marvel Comics keeps Hercules’s ancient Greek history intact but has built the character a new history in its modern world of superheroes ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby reintroduced him in the mid ’60s. Hercules’s debut during the Silver Age of comics arrived within the pages of Journey Into Mystery, fittingly as a rival of Thor’s.
Billed like a boxing match, the two heavyweights face off against each other for the first time in Journey Into Mystery Annual no. 1, when Thor makes a visit to Olympus. They’re alike in many ways, not only in their royal parentage but also because the strong-armed, quick-tempered egomaniacs are always eager to show off their fighting prowess when opportunities arise. Their fight in this instance erupts over the important matter of who gets to cross a bridge before the other:
I wasn’t joking! Of course, by the end of their sparring match, the two are complimenting each other’s strength between punches like the bros that they are. Zeus settles their bout in a draw, and the pair become fast frenemies. The Incredible Hercules has had his famous strength tested in battles against Hulk and others in the many years since, but the Greek divine hero has also joined the ranks of the Avengers and another super team called the Champions.
Assuming that Goldstein’s cameo isn’t an elaborate final bit from Waititi in Love and Thunder, when Hercules next appears in the MCU it’ll be to answer his father’s call for a fight against Thor in a potential Thor 5 or, perhaps more likely, in a crossover event ahead of it. Before long, though, Hercules will almost certainly find himself among the ranks of the next Avengers-like team that forms in the next doomsday crossover event in Phase 5. And given that some of his teammates—such as Sersi, Black Knight, and White Vision—have already arrived in recent Phase 4 films or TV shows, that day may come soon.
Was Gorr Right?
Without getting too into the weeds, there’s a story line in the comics called Original Sin (2014) in which Nick Fury, who has assumed the omniscient abilities of the Watcher (as seen in the animated anthology What If … ?), whispers a phrase to Thor that rattles him to the point that the god no longer believes himself to be worthy. Thor loses the ability to pick up Mjolnir, paving the way for Jane Foster to become the Mighty Thor. As is later revealed in Unworthy Thor, the phrase Fury whispered to Thor was “Gorr was right.”
When writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic began their Thor: God of Thunder run in 2012, they opened their series with a story line that introduced Gorr the God Butcher. In a narrative that spans 11 issues, Thor investigates a growing mystery surrounding the disappearances of gods across the universe, which he traces back to Gorr. Everyone in Gorr’s family, from his mother to his children, believed in the gods despite their people’s continuous suffering. After they all die in vain and Gorr meets a god in the flesh, he vows to kill the rest of their divine kind. The God Butcher is a terrific villain, and not just because he has a cool character design and a badass weapon called the Necrosword. Gorr works so well because he does have a point about the gods and their vanity, and—most interesting of all—Thor knows it, too.
Love and Thunder borrows a lot of story elements from God of Thunder, but it also simplifies them, thereby minimizing the gravity of the threat the gods face in Gorr. Here, the God Butcher story line is reduced in order to leave more room to develop the rekindled romance between Thor and Jane. While the comics favor the tension between Gorr and Thor, this dynamic is largely sacrificed in the film, which uses Gorr as more of a standard villain in what is probably best defined as a superhero space rom-com. Thor witnesses the failure of the gods when he visits Omnipotence City and receives no help from Zeus and his followers, but he never questions his own worthiness or the existence of the gods in the same ways that he does in Aaron and Ribic’s God of Thunder. Love and Thunder ostensibly maintains the stakes of the comics—namely, the potential end of all gods—and yet due to the over-the-top humor that defines the movie, it never really feels like the universe is actually in jeopardy.
Christian Bale is still great as Gorr; he’s a scary villain who channels a chaotic, Joker-like energy at times, while possessing a sympathetic side that makes his motivations to kill gods understandable. But his screen time is limited, his backstory hardly fleshed out, and he’s also just about the only character who’s actually taking anything seriously. Consequently, Gorr’s presence often feels at odds with the irreverent tone of the rest of the film.
The Ragnarok follow-up is still a ton of fun and a major improvement from the earlier films in the Thor franchise, but Love and Thunder fails to live up to its predecessor in part because of its handling of Gorr. Hela brought an end to Asgard in Ragnarok, while New Asgard and the universe at large returns to business as usual at the end of Love and Thunder. With a different approach, or in a different brand of superhero movie, Gorr might’ve been an all-time villain with an actor like Bale behind him, but here his story ends as something of a wasted opportunity.
The Death of Jane Foster
Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster made her grand return in Love and Thunder after sitting out Ragnarok, but by the end of the new movie, she’s already gone again. Foster fades into a lovely mist of golden space dust after the climactic fight against Gorr, just as Odin did in Ragnarok, but the film doesn’t wait long to seal her fate and reveal exactly where she ends up. The second stinger shows Jane’s arrival in Valhalla; having died a warrior’s death, she receives a warm welcome from none other than the all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elba).
Given how many times Hemsworth has appeared as Thor, it seemed like there was a decent chance that Love and Thunder would end with Portman taking over the mantle full time. Instead, Odinson lives to fight another day, and Foster is dead before she ever had a chance to perfect a superhero catchphrase.
However, remember this: Almost no one is ever truly dead in the world of comics. While Jane may have died in the MCU, she met the same fate in the comics and came back from it just fine. After suiting up as the Mighty Thor one last time to defend the city of Asgardia—a modernized version of Asgard founded after the original was destroyed—from a colossal creature named the Mangog, Jane loses Mjolnir. In turn, her body loses its ability to temporarily fight the cancer that’s killing her.
In a Mighty Thor story line called “The Death of the Mighty Thor,” Jane dies in Odinson’s arms, much like she does in Love and Thunder. But it doesn’t take long for Thor and the all-father Odin to work together to resurrect her as she waits at the gates of Valhalla. Alive again, she no longer has Mjolnir to transform into the Mighty Thor, so she resumes her chemotherapy and makes a full recovery. Her hero days don’t end there, though, as Jane later becomes a Valkyrie.
The circumstances surrounding Jane’s death in the comics are very different from those of Love and Thunder, and her potential resurrection in the MCU would have to be as well. But given that the movie dedicated one of its post-credits scenes to Jane’s arrival in Valhalla, along with the “Thor will return” message that followed it (ambiguously referring to either Odinson, Foster, or both), it seems possible that she’ll be back again soon enough. Jane plays a role as the Mighty Thor in Jonathan Hickman and Ribic’s popular reboot of Secret Wars from 2015, and all signs point to that major comic book crossover event serving as the next big thing in the MCU. Thanks to the power of the multiverse, and all of the universe rule-breaking that comes with it (as seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Multiverse of Madness), a version of the character from an alternate world may soon appear without anyone even needing to worry about the whole pesky resurrection process. But if her post-credits scene truly is the end of Jane Foster after all, at least the good doctor can rest at last in eternal paradise.
Thor Will Return
So, Thor has a kid now, huh?
The God of Thunder started the movie having lost his sense of purpose, and he ends it by finding one in parenthood. (And his adopted child is Gorr’s kid!) Hemsworth has now appeared in nine MCU movies since 2011’s Thor, and he may still be back for more. Which Thor does that last line of text refer to? Unless the Australian actor is playing mind games with fans and the media, even he doesn’t know the answer to that question. “Can I be honest?” Hemsworth said to USA Today in a recent interview when discussing the meaning behind the credits’ final words. “I asked Natalie today, I was like, is that you or me? ... That was a surprise to me. I literally said that to Natalie, ‘Are they talking about you or me?’ Because I don’t know.”
The ending of Love and Thunder positions Gorr’s daughter (played by Hemsworth’s real-life daughter, India) as Thor’s new partner in fighting crime. She receives powerful new abilities during her rebirth at the Gates of Eternity, as well as a hilariously large weapon, Stormbreaker, that’s gifted to her by her new god-dad. Korg narrates their union as heroes (after narrating a union of his own with a rock man who just so happens to be named Dwayne) to close out the movie in fitting fashion, but that’s a major departure from how the God of Thunder story line ends in the comics. Gorr’s daughter is an original character for the movie, as is this development of her adoption by Thor. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
According to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, Phase 4 is nearing its end, and fans will supposedly “start to see where this next saga is going” soon enough. Love and Thunder left no such clues as to what awaits the MCU in Phase 5, so that leaves this week’s finale of Ms. Marvel, or more likely, the upcoming D23 Expo in September, as the best chances to see what Marvel Studios has in store for its next act. Until then, we at least know that Hemsworth’s Thor is still alive, and that if the studio lets him, he’ll be back for more, albeit with a little less muscle. “I love playing this character,” Hemsworth said in the same USA Today interview. “And until someone says ‘We’re done with you,’ I’ll keep giving it a crack.”