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Thor: Love and Thunder’s ending exposes the source of Marvel fatigue

Love and Thunder was supposed to be the end of something ... but it wasn’t.

No matter how you feel about the way Steve Rogers and Tony Stark ended their run in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least they each had an objective ending.

Directed and co-written by Taika Waititi, Thor: Love and Thunder had sky-high expectations set for it by Waititi’s excellent Thor: Ragnarok. Maybe Love and Thunder never stood a chance in that regard, but the fact remains that the film feels so weightless, distracted, and woefully unimportant because Marvel Studios is no longer the purveyor of must-see event releases. It has instead transformed into a branding house for Saturday morning cartoons that never end.

What’s most maddening about the newest Thor aren’t its many flaws and misguided execution, but a failure to follow through on its implied functions. Many of us safely assumed this was the curtain call for Chris Hemsworth from the Marvel franchise. Yet the only thing it does effectively is to make it abundantly clear that Marvel Studios doesn’t seem to know what it wants from Thor in the next phase.

The cost of this inaction falls on the audience, who are deprived of a meaningful and fulfilling story that these kinds of movies are meant to offer in the first place.

Warning: Spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder ahead.

By the end of Love and Thunder, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster — after having been crowned the “new” Thor — is dead and invited to paradise in Valhalla. Meanwhile, Hemsworth’s Thor is a sitcom dad, obligated to raise an adopted girl prone to gluing googly eyes on on his weapons.

While the message of Love and Thunder is that love requires sacrifice and happy endings aren’t always what you expect, there is still the nagging feeling the film’s ending doesn’t come as the result of a confident creative vision but instead happens because Hemsworth and Portman’s agents are negotiating new deals. Marvel is presumably producing another Thor sequel and more Avengers movies, and Thor — any Thor — has to be part of the puzzle. Love and Thunder proves that instead of closing the door on Thor, Marvel has instead cracked open two windows to see which one people sniff at.

Thor: Love and Thunder reintroduces Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, having become a superhero herself (as her character did in the comics). But was Portman meant to take over as the new Thor?Marvel Studios

Love and Thunder itself ends in a maddeningly open-ended manner. Everything about the ending, from Jane being dead but not really, to Thor being retired as a superhero except not really, is non-committal. The ending reads like a text from a crush saying they’re free but not following up with concrete plans or timing.

To be clear: Marvel never said Hemsworth was out the door. As far back as the movie’s announcement at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, nobody mentioned the words “finale” or “retirement” or anything of the sort. But they were heavily implied as the winds of change blew in Marvel’s presence at Hall H that year. That presentation was when fans saw the injection of new blood into the franchise, with the likes of Simu Liu, Florence Pugh, and Mahershala Ali, as well as familiar faces taking new roles. When Portman held the hammer of Mjolnir before the cheering masses, it signaled the post-Avengers: Endgame MCU would be all-new, all-different. Instead of passing on a baton, Thor was passing on his iconic hammer.

But how different would it be in reality? In November 2020, Hemsworth told Polish magazine Elle Man he is “not going into any retirement” and that Love and Thunder is “definitely not a film that I say goodbye to this brand.” But his tune changed a year later when in December 2021 he told Australia’s The Today Show that Marvel “might be waning on that kind of enthusiasm for me to keep going.” Now, in the lead-up to Love and Thunder, Hemsworth ominously said in a June 2022 interview with WIRED that Love and Thunder “may be my last” in the franchise.

At Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios hinted the new Phase 4 would have a sweeping changing of the guard. But after Love and Thunder, is anyone really going anywhere?Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It’s irresistible to wonder what has soured between Hemswoth and Marvel, if anything. Hemsworth could be growing tired or the role or maybe Marvel isn’t giving something Hemsworth hoped for. Regardless, Hemsworth now finds himself at a wide-open crossroads of possibilities, one that his Thor ought to have experienced on the screen rather than on the side of it.

If Hemsworth never said Love and Thunder would be his last, Thor sure did. In the first trailer for the movie, set to Guns N Roses’ sentimental anthem “Sweet Child of Mine,” Thor says in voice-over (not used in the film), “My superhero-ing days are over.” A wistful guitar sheds with lyrics about “eyes of the bluest skies” (Hemsworth’s eyes happen to be a striking shade of azure). The closing shot of Portman hoisting Mjolnir therefore took on a more significant meaning. It would be mistaken to not assume Love and Thunder was going to wrap up Thor’s story in a neat bow.

The ongoing nature of the MCU means endings, good ones anyway, are hard to come by. Three years after Avengers: Endgame, fans still express horror over the way Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha was written off (and subsequently the lack of stakes in her own solo film). Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers also has an ending that has generated debate within fandom, with complaints rightfully rooted in Steve hypocritically turning back on his own words of moving on. About the only character who has been given a proper ending was Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, who enjoyed a full arc that took eight complete movies to tell.

Stark is the exception, not the rule. Marvel has long struggled with ending a character’s story because doing so means the end of a franchise. But Phase 4, with its promise of new beginnings, indicates that now is the time for torches — or epic hammers — to be passed along. Instead, the hammer of Thor is dangling in the air, and it’s anyone’s guess who is going to grab it.

Of its many flaws, the biggest problem of Thor: Love and Thunder is its inability to tell a satisfying conclusion for Thor, regardless of Hemsworth’s future in the franchise.Marvel Studios

Again, to be clear, nobody said it was Hemsworth’s last Marvel film. Unlike most of his Avengers colleagues, Hemsworth has been enthusiastic about his place in the franchise. (Much of it thanks to his collaboration with Waititi, someone Hemsworth credits as the party responsible for reinvigorating his interest.) But three is a nice number. It tells a beginning, middle, and end. Love and Thunder all but suggested it was meant to bring the MCU from one phase to the next. Instead, it’s just undecided over the path it actually wants to take. All fans can do is sit and watch.

Thor: Love and Thunder is now playing in theaters.