How 'Thor: Love and Thunder' Fails Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie
Not only does she not get a romance, she gets fully sidelined.
During one of the first big battles in Thor: Love and Thunder, there's a big costume reveal. Naturally, you may think I'm talking about when Chris Hemsworth's godly superhero sees his ex-girlfriend Jane assume the mantle of the Mighty Thor for the first time wearing a silver helmet and a breastplate. And, yeah, sure that happens. But instead I'm talking about Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie wearing an oversized Phantom of the Opera t-shirt as she strikes down shadow monsters. Aesthetically, Valkyrie is the most interesting character on screen in the two Thor movies in which she has starred. And, yet, somehow it always feels like she's failed by the narrative.
In Taika Waititi's first Marvel outing, she's introduced as a Asgardian expat with a tragic past who guzzles beer and doms Hemsworth when she feels like it before eventually teaming up with him. One war with Thanos later, she's been crowned King of New Asgard, a community of displaced Asgardians-slash-tourist attraction where she hawks Old Spice in a tux. (As I said: She looks extremely cool.) When Christian Bale's Gorr the God Butcher threatens the galaxy and kidnaps a bunch of children, she joins the crew, which includes Thor, Jane, and Waiti's rock monster Korg. But this time around she feels even more like a sidekick, and is eventually completely sidelined for the finale so that Thor and Jane can have their big moment without her interference. It's almost as if two female heroines were just too much for anyone to figure out how to handle—especially when one is bisexual.
In part, this disappointment is all a matter of expectations. Shortly after the release of Ragnarok, Thompson confirmed that, even though any explicit reference to the character's sexuality was cut, she played Valkyrie as queer, like she is in the comics. Thompson promised that there would be follow through when teasing Love and Thunder at Comic-Con in 2019, declaring: "As new king, she needs to find her queen. That will be her first order of business. She has some ideas. Keep you posted." And, despite Marvel's parent company Disney's crappy track record of LGBTQ+ inclusion, there was reason to be a teensy bit hopeful that maybe love for Thompson's character would merit more than a wink.
Disney hasn't come a long way since the pitiful "exclusively gay moment" in the 2017 Beauty and the Beast wherein Josh Gad's LeFou danced with another man, but it has inched closer toward inclusivity. In the animated Lightyear, the titular hero's Space Ranger partner voiced by Uzo Aduba eventually falls in love with a woman in a story told largely through montage. A kiss between the eventually married couple got the film banned in countries with regressive laws including Saudi Arabia. So where's Valkyrie's queen? Basically nonexistent. She gets none of the "love" in the Love and Thunder, even though Waititi and Portman have called the movie "so gay."
Yes, Valkyrie's queerness is referenced, but only in a half-hearted way. She seductively kisses the hand of one of Zeus's handmaidens after stealing the lightning bolt of the Greek god played bombastically by Russell Crowe. Shortly thereafter, she drinks with Korg on their magic ship, and when the topic turns to romance, he mentions her dead ex-girlfriend, one of the other Valkyrie slain in battle years prior. So, yes, our Val has a beau, but she's a dead one, which is just a hop skip and a jump away from the "bury your gays" trope that has plagued TV and movies for generations. Instead of getting to just exist, gay characters are quite literally shafted. The prime example of this is Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whose murder leads her girlfriend Willow to turn to dark magic, but there have been so many more.
For her part, Thompson has already begun to defend the treatment of Valkyrie in Love and Thunder, arguing that she didn't want the character to only be reduced to her sexuality and bemoaning the constraints of the running time. "Whether or not she finds love in this movie doesn’t mean she’s not still a fabulous queer character that is open to finding love when it makes sense," she said. That's all well and good except for the fact that romance is sort of the name of the game here, and even Korg is coupled up by the end. In fact, Korg links up with another Kronan named Dwayne, so there is an LGBTQ+ couple in the movie—they just happen to be made of rocks, which feels a bit insulting when you really think about it.
But even ignoring her love life, Valkyrie gets the short shrift here. With attention turned back to Jane, we're left with just snippets of Val's inner life. There's a hint that the two women in Thor's life develop a relationship off screen, but it's just a hint, the same way we get just a taste of Valkyrie's existence as King of the seaside vista.
Her vibes, however, are unmatched. Thompson's very presence is electric on screen. She radiates swag whether she's bumping Mary J. Blige from a tiny speaker or wielding multiple weapons at once. It's just a shame she doesn't get more to do.