Thor’s journey from sullen princeling to selfless hero and down to beer-swilling layabout (then once again to hero) has perhaps been the most radical of any main player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s also the ultimate rebuff to the naysayers who declare that superhero movies are lazy money-making vehicles that simply repeat the same storylines over and over again. It has certainly given Chris Hemsworth a gargantuan sandpit to play in, especially since director Taika Waititi spotted the obvious comic potential and began to play up his lovable buffoon persona in 2017’s brilliant Thor: Ragnarok.
That journey is a big reason why the forthcoming Thor: Love and Thunder (also directed by Waititi) is such a tantalising prospect: we just don’t know where the film-maker is going to take the superhero next. No longer king of Asgard, a title he relinquished to Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Hemsworth’s Thor is theoretically free to hop through space in the company of the Guardians of the Galaxy for as long as it takes him to find his place in the cosmos.
Unfortunately for Hemsworth, the debut trailer for Love and Thunder, which landed this week, seems to suggest that Marvel has other plans for the son of Odin. The concept of a female Thor replacing the male incumbent has already been played out at length in the Jason Aaron-penned The Mighty Thor comics. Now we get our first look at Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir and apparently ready to take on the mantle of Thor – presumably because Hemsworth’s god of thunder is no longer cutting it.
All of this makes a certain sense, if you think about Thor’s past adventures and where he’s ended up. You might think the idea of the superhero gadding about the universe on a journey of self-discovery perfectly reasonable after the horrors he has faced over the past few movies. Let us not forget that Thor has lost his parents and his brother Loki, plus at one point felt himself responsible for the deaths of half the population of the galaxy after he failed to take his chance to tonk Thanos during the events of Avengers: Infinity War. If he needs some time off, good on him.
The off the grid version of Thor has also been hugely more entertaining for audiences than the slightly po-faced iteration introduced by Kenneth Branagh in 2011, whether it be teaming up with the Hulk to defeat Cate Blanchett’s Hela in Ragnarok, or growing a splendid beer belly in Endgame.
Ultimately, though, this is not really who Thor is supposed to be. Branagh’s version learned early on that his powers and position come at a price: fall short, and they are ripped from him by Odin, who in the 2011 movie banishes him to Earth without his superpowers or ability to wield Mjolnir. Back then it was arrogance that caused Thor to be punished – could it be that indolence is the cause this time around? The one-time heir to Asgard even says in the trailer that he no longer wishes to be a superhero.
The problem for Waititi and the Marvel team is that there are only so many times Thor can hit rock bottom before even this bounteous plot device becomes boring. Moreover, it is hard to see how the studio can elevate the new, Portman-portrayed god of thunder without denigrating the original.
Might female Thor only hang around for a couple of movies before passing the mantle back to her predecessor, as happened in the comics? Let’s hope not, for that would be a strange way to bring Portman back into the Marvel fold, nine years after her last appearance as Foster in the underwhelming Thor: The Dark World. Let’s also hope the weird and rather unsavoury comic book line, which sees the new Thor becoming increasingly riven by cancer every time she wields Mjolnir, is left out of the big-screen adaptation altogether.
Most of all, let’s hope Hemsworth’s Thor finds a path back to courage and valour that still allows us to benefit from the Australian actor’s fabulous comedy chops. At some point, we need to remember that he really is still a superhero, and not just a clownish sidekick.