This past week was an interesting one with popular long-form storytelling. I was able to catch the final two episodes of Stranger Things 4 while also watching the fourth Thor movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed them both, one stood out more than the other (and it wasn’t the one I thought it would be).
Taika Waititi has been a favorite movie-maker for me for a while now. His work with Thor: Ragnarok brought new life to the franchise and set up Thor for some great moments in Avengers: Infinity War. Ragnarok was something of a buddy movie with more humor in 15 minutes than the first two Thor movies combined. So I was looking forward to what Waititi would do with Love and Thunder, how the characters might progress and how they would fold a more recent comic book story (Jane Foster and Gorr) into the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are some really good moments in the movie. The cast does well with what they are given. Much like with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, you get a real sense of the director’s unique vision. And yet, when the final stinger went to black, I found myself more tired than anything. The story itself was pretty tight without being minimalist. There were some good, emotional moments. Was the humor too much? I think so. And I say that as someone who found the goats pretty funny. I think the story went off the rails for me when Zeus came into the picture. Which is also why the Zeus-centric stinger fell flatter than usual for me. It was a well-told tale, I think. I just find myself a bit fatigued with things (and I say that as someone who loves serial story-telling). With Phase Four, I’m kind of losing a sense of caring about what is next. I’m glad that Marvel is getting to build someone beyond the Infinity Saga. It’s possible, though, that their TV shows have become more enjoyable than their movies. We’ll see how Ms. Marvel ends this week.
On the other hand, I didn’t have too high expectations for Stranger Things 4. It had been so long since the last series. Humor has also been a hallmark for the show. But the humor is there to humanize things and to keep things from getting too heavy. And this season was quite heavy. The show also took the risk of sending its characters in different directions for the entire run: three groups, actually. Sometimes that can backfire. But as with stories like Harry Potter, the adventures of Eleven and her friends gets better the more it digs into the past of things. And I really think the show benefits from having set an actual conclusion to the story (which also helped immensely with shows like Lost). And so the final scene, which isn’t quite a cliffhanger but definitely leaves you hanging, doesn’t grate as much as the conclusion and stingers for Love and Thunder. And it sets you up for what you know will be the real finale. The show has stuck with what makes it great: friendship, spiritual struggle, and something about life in the 80s. Such an interesting story: so consistently tense with super-high stakes but with something of a simple set-up. I’m glad that it still resonates on multiple levels.
It will be interesting to see what happens next, both with Thor and with Stranger Things. Both are coming back, of course, though I’m not sure what timeline exists for Thor’s next chronological appearance. Writing is about to start up for Stranger Things. Until then, there’s all kinds of reading that can be done for behind-the-scenes information. But the story is what carries it. And the hope of resolution is a good hope. It will be interesting to see how everything ends.
(image from express.co.uk)