There are 29 movies in the Marvel universe – and until recently, I had seen none of them.
Once there are that many movies, that many heroes, villains, plots, deaths, worlds lost, worlds regained, monsters destroyed, it’s too late to start. But out of the blue, an email arrived from Marvel Studios. It was an invitation to enter the universe – albeit at this late, decadent stage of the empire. Would I attend the Australian premiere of Thor: Love and Thunder?
The Daily Mail described this premiere as emblematic of the sad decline of Sydney, from an exciting nightlife capital to a boring city full of fake celebrities. “The Thor screening bizarrely saw bona fide celebrities like Chris Hemsworth share the red carpet with obscure reality TV has-beens,” the Mail moaned. “There were just a handful of genuine A-listers spotted among the sea of low-tier ‘celebrities’ at Monday’s premiere.”
I was one of the “unknown losers” on the red carpet mentioned by the Mail – as was my brother Justin, a primary school teacher from Geelong who knows and loves all the Marvel movies.
After collecting our lanyards, we were released on to the red carpet. The crowd along the barriers was three deep with Marvel fans who had been waiting in the rain for a glimpse of the director, Taika Waititi, or Hemsworth. And there was us – emerging a little dazed into a carpeted area the size of a small stockyard pen.
The silence was deafening. The crowd, once straining in anticipation at the barriers, was now looking at their phones, or down the line for the real celebrities.
This experience was alarming for my brother and I – part of a sibling trauma bond that we will neither forget nor speak of again. We left as quickly as possible, entering a foyer that peeled off to … two more red carpets! No!
One was for famous people (Jessica Rowe was just ahead of us), with paparazzi and TV crews waiting. The other red carpet was crowded with non-famous people taking selfies. These were our people!
There were Thor G&Ts, Thor-branded water bottles, Thor popcorn, Thor baseball caps. But just who was Thor? What was so great about the guy that he had a G&T named after him? I tried to find out as much as I could from my brother before it started:
Where is it set? New Asgard.
Why was it filmed in Australia? For tax breaks and because Chris Hemsworth likes to film here.
What number Thor movie is this? Four.
Why don’t they call it Thor 4. (Withering look.)
Or Four Thor? (Silence.)
Before the film started, Waititi and Hemsworth joined the audience for a chat, which highlighted just how little I knew about the franchise.
“We wanted to put Thor through more human problems and what better way to do that than put him through a midlife crisis?” Waititi said, but I wondered if a midlife crisis would make sense without knowing what came before. “What’s the one thing Thor fans would really be annoyed by?” Waititi asked. “Love! My mission with Thor is to give fans something that they didn’t know they wanted but they actually needed.” Love, I could get behind. Love, I could understand.
But the opening scenes of the movie were not very promising. It looked totally bleak. There was a ghoul with a tattooed face. He looked desiccated, like a coconut – was there no water on his planet? Was this about climate change? Who was this grim man? “It’s Christian Bale!” exclaimed my brother.
Suddenly the vibe shifted. Thor appeared! He had great hair, and his voice had the tenor of Richard Burton if he got put in a blender with Russell Crowe. There were psychedelic colours, there were weird monsters with New Zealand accents. Was that Enya? And was that Guns N’ Roses? It was like a feature-length TikTok, like a lava lamp, like a pinball machine. It was unexpectedly, almost from the get-go, deeply hilarious.
I had avoided the Marvel Cinematic Universe because I thought it would be heavy and dull, full of self-important saviours and leaden plots. But this was light, funny and relatively easy to follow. It wasn’t quite satire – it took its world seriously – but the characters were really, really fun (except Christian Bale).
Possibly the funniest performance is Russell Crowe as Zeus, who delivers an incredible Greek accent that, to my ears, has Con the Fruiterer intonations. In a scene where Crowe’s accent had to compete with Hemsworth’s naked body, the accent won by a whisker.
Being a Marvel newbie, there was a lot I didn’t understand. Why is Natalie Portman’s character called Jane, but also called Thor? And what’s the deal with the almost anthropomorphic relationship between characters and their weapons? “It must be hard for you to see your ex-girlfriend and your ex-hammer hanging out and getting on so well,” Korg says to Thor. Huh?
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But I loved this movie, and I am now going back to watch the other Thors (backwards). In life, as in a superhero universe, it’s never too late to start.
• Thor: Love and Thunder is released on 6 July in Australia, 7 July in the UK, and 8 July in the US