What is it with straight people and writing checks they can’t cash? The cast of Thor: Love and Thunder promised us the movie would be, as director Taika Waititi’s put it, “super gay.” Star Natalie Portman said it was “so gay.” But I’m here to report back that it was only a little bit gay.
In one of Marvel’s gazillion offerings this year, Thor, the god of thunder, is (literally) getting back in shape following the events of Avengers: Endgame, and traversing the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy. That is, until Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher kidnaps a bunch of children and threatens to kill all gods in one fell swoop. To stop this, Thor and co. swing into action.
Much of the movie is super colorful and very upbeat—which I loved—so maybe that’s what Waititi and Portman were referring to? But beyond that, it definitely could have been a lot gayer.
The much-exaggerated gayness in question is primarily backstory, or hinges on Tessa Thompson’s unflinching sexual charisma as King Valkyrie, the new leader of the Asgardian people (after Thor handed her the reins at the end of Endgame). In a fleeting moment in Love and Thunder, Valkyrie sensually kisses the hand of a woman, before flying away—but that’s it.
Valkyrie also opens up to Waititi’s jolly rock-man, Korg, about losing the love of her life (notably, a woman) in battle years ago, and avoiding love ever since. Korg himself shares the story of how his dads met, and, as their Kronan species does, conceived Korg by sitting and holding hands over hot lava for three days. (It should be noted that, in the comics’ canon, all Kronans are male.) At the end of Love and Thunder, Korg appears to find love himself, as we see him engaged in the same ritual with another Kronan.
We get a few glimpses of Valkyrie in a suit—and don’t get me wrong, that was excellent (Tessa Thompson in a suit?!). But I had been told this movie would be “super gay”—when you make promises like that, forgive me for imagining a bit more.
I am, of course, mostly joking; in interviews prior to Love and Thunder’s release, Waititi made plenty of important points about how the movie would approach LGBTQ+ representation through normalization—not through wild, 10-minute long, hyper-sexualized make-out scenes, but just an implicit understanding that people throughout the multiverse are gay as hell. “It’s where we should have been probably 1000 years ago,” Waititi told the Daily Telegraph. “It’s 2022 and we’re still having this conversation. It’s insane.”
He added, “The good thing about [including LGBTQ+ characters] in these films, it’s mainstream movies where we get to see this and it’s normalized, and I think that’s what’s cool.”
Marvel has recently put some effort into depict LGBTQ characters, including its first openly gay hero who shares an on-screen kiss with his partner in Eternals (2021) and, shortly before that, in the Disney+ show Loki, in which Thor’s brother (Tom Hiddleston) casually refers to his bisexuality. Nonetheless, the franchise remains widely accused of “queer-baiting”—not-so-subtly writing characters as gay to appeal to LGBTQ audiences and start conversations, while not actually delivering meaningful LGBTQ storylines and representation. (Case in point: the intimate, time-transcending bond between Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, who were so obviously in love.)
One of the main reasons that Marvel falls short at delivering queer love stories is that, as many a critic has pointed out, it isn’t really delivering love stories at all. The Avengers are co-workers, and their relationships—familial, platonic, romantic—can often feel two-dimensional or nonexistent, because their stories revolve around work (saving the world). If there isn’t a lot of queer love in the MCU, that’s also because there isn’t a lot of love, period.
To that end, Thor: Love and Thunder is a step in the right direction, focusing heavily on Thor’s relationship with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, and by the end of the movie, we see Thor become a doting father-figure to a little girl. Hopefully the rest of the MCU’s Phase 4 (and beyond) will take a page from Love and Thunder by focusing more on relationships. And, please god(s), may future Marvel movies strive to out-gay this one.