“I trembled at the voice of God,
a voice of love and thunder deep,
with love he means to save us all,
and love has chosen you and me.”
– Andrew Peterson, “Canaan Bound”
Heavy spoilers below for Thor: Love and Thunder. You have been warned!
After the epic conclusion of the “Infinity Saga” in Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been freed up to explore stories a bit more off the beaten path. “Phase 4” has brought a raft of content – 5o hours and counting, double that of any one prior phase. The type of stories have ranged from feature-length explorations of past trauma for beloved characters to introductions of new characters such as Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and Shang-Chi. But, even as Hawkeye and Captain America’s mantles pass to protégés, one original Avenger still stands between the Nine Realms and certain doom: Thor Odinson, God of Thunder.
With Thor: Love and Thunder, Chris Hemsworth is the first MCU character to lead four solo films. To watch all of these movies consecutively is to watch a fascinating character arc. His initial appearance in 2011’s Thor was imbued with Shakespearean heft, almost embarrassed to discuss the divine by treating Asgard as an advanced realm of science, not magic. But, as the MCU evolved, Thor evolved with it. Ragnorak would see the independent filmmaker Taika Waititi take the helm, bringing his madcap mixture of off-beat comedy and emotional depth, serving to rejuvenate and revolutionize the character heading into the next two Avengers films.The story wrestles explicitly with “theodicy”: How can a good God allow evil to occur? The answer to the question comes not in an exposition-heavy scene, or an epic speech, but rather through the sacrificial love of the paradigm set by the Suffering Servant.
For Love and Thunder, Waititi and company double down on the off-the-wall jokes and the punch-to-the-gut emotional moments. The film tells many stories weaved together, much like myths of old that reminisce about life, love, and death, albeit punctuated by screaming space goats for comic relief. Waititi describes this film as a “mid-life crisis” for Thor, who’s figuring out who he is as a person, while our antagonist is questioning the nature of the divine. The story wrestles explicitly with “theodicy”: How can a good God allow evil to occur? The answer to the question comes not in an exposition-heavy scene, or an epic speech, but rather through the sacrificial love of the paradigm set by the Suffering Servant.
Of Thor and Gorr
Gorr is a father desperately trying to save his daughter. The last residents of a desolate desert planet, Gorr fervently prays to his god that his daughter’s life be spared, but she nonetheless dies of thirst. Gorr lies down to die next to his daughter’s grave, but a whisper on the wind leads him to a seemingly magical oasis. It is the paradise of his god Rapu – lush with trees and filled with pools of water and fruit to spare. Gorr falls down to worship this being, whom he has faithfully served, but receives only mocking derision. Rapu cares nothing for his followers, only his own appetites. The whisper resumes and Gorr notices it is coming from a dark weapon lying on the ground next to a slain assassin. This is the Necrosword, an ancient evil capable of slaying deities. Gorr uses it to strike down Rapu and begins to travel the cosmos, earning his nickname: “The God Butcher.”
Thor soon learns of Gorr’s rampage across the galaxy, first fighting him and his army of shadow monsters at New Asgard. Gorr escapes the battle with the children of the city as hostages. Despite his dense perception, Thor immediately recognizes the threat of Gorr. Saving the children will require raising an army of deities, so he heads to Omnipotence City and meets his longtime hero, Zeus, who governs the assembled counsel of the gods. However, Zeus proves to be just as self-absorbed as Rapu – he uses his Thunderbolt for trick shots, not protection; he is focused on debauchery, not deliverance. Thor will have to save his people himself.
Thor is able to comfort the captives from across the galaxy. One of them possesses the same Asgardian magic as his late father, Heimdall, which leads Thor and Jane Foster (who now wields Mjolnir) to the gates of Eternity itself, where they battle Gorr for the last time. Gorr’s goal in reaching Eternity was to wish for the destruction of all the gods, but the two Thors convince him that he wish for love, as Eternity can bring his daughter back from the dead. Jane lies dying from cancer, accelerated by the power drain of wielding Mjonir, and Gorr lies dying from the corruption of the cursed blade, now destroyed. Before they both pass, Gorr does indeed choose to bring his daughter back from the dead, with the God of Thunder promising to raise the daughter, Love, as his own.
Christ on the World Tree
I’ve been surprised by the growing backlash against “Phase 4.” Thor: Love and Thunder has certainly received its share of critique, ranging from levelheaded takes on the CGI quality to hyperbolic assertions on social media that Taika Waititi has “ruined” Thor by making him into a laughing stock or joke. Many have zeroed in on the mixture of oddball comedy, such as Thor’s axe being jealous of his “old” weapon, with hyper serious themes like hunger, cancer, and death. To quote another Disney film, I believe that Waititi knows “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” (Or possibly, a serving of panflaps.)
The medicine, indeed, is bitter. In scene after scene, we encounter reminders of how broken the world is. Humor can only carry you so far through pain. Early on, Thor remains full of quips, but as he realizes more and more how serious the pain around him is, such as Jane’s cancer or the terror felt by the bereaved parents of New Asgard, drops the jokes so he can shoulder their burdens. Quietly, the film answers the problem of evil in a way remarkably similar to how the Bible does, too. We need a God who suffers not only for us – but with us.
The prophet Isaiah wrote of the Servant of God, describing him as “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:3b, 4a). This passage has been widely interpreted as pointing to the sufferings of Christ on the cross, as Isaiah continues, writing that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The entirety of that chapter is a rich read, a powerful meditation on suffering and grace. So often, in the face of hardship and difficulty, I see Christian friends speak of things like God’s power or wisdom. These things are true and there is comfort to be had in them. But, Jesus’ power and wisdom are also found in his suffering (2 Cor. 12:9b).This depiction of Christ, the Suffering Servant, moves me deeply, a powerful reminder to those ancient Vikings (and to us), that Christ died for the whole world, indeed, the whole of the cosmos.
I stumbled across an absolutely stunning image while scrolling through Twitter. The largest of the two Jelling Runestones, erected in Denmark in the 10th century. The image on the stone is Christ crucified, but instead of the classic Roman cross, he hangs on the looping boughs of Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse mythology. The world tree hung at the center of the Nine Worlds, and one myth tells of Odin hanging himself on Yggdrasil for nine days, that he might earn the knowledge of writing runes. Some might see this depiction of Christ as syncretism, thus corrupting Christian faith with pagan falsehood. But, I see this contextualization, wherein Christian faith and practice responds “to the dynamics of a particular context.” This depiction of Christ, the Suffering Servant, moves me deeply, a powerful reminder to those ancient Vikings (and to us), that Christ died for the whole world, indeed, the whole of the cosmos. We find, yet again, that the story of Christ is the “true myth.”
Thor: Love and Thunder’s titular hero is primarily here to have a good time. But, underneath his nervous smile, we see a quiet acknowledgement of our suffering and the need for a god who suffers with us. I’m more thankful still, that the God who suffers with us, and for us, isn’t fiction.