Following the theatrical release of Thor: Love and Thunder, reactions from fans and critics have been mixed in terms of its comedic tone and its all-star cast's disproportionate screentime. While some members of the audience wanted more of Natalie Portman's Mighty Thor and Christian Bale's Gorr the God Butcher, certain characters - like the Guardians of the Galaxy - were barely in the film and seemingly wasted.
Chris Hemsworth's Thor first crossed paths with the Guardians of the Galaxy in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, shortly after the God of Thunder had to watch Thanos kill Heimdall and Loki.
The interaction between Thor and the Guardians crew was one of the film's best crossover moments; and then, it's with Rocket Raccoon (aka "Sweet Rabbit") and Groot that Thor travels to Nidavellir for a weapon of the Thanos-killing kind.
When Thor chooses to join the Guardians at the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame, many expected an As-guardians of the Galaxy project or more of this winning crossover heading into Thor: Love and Thunder. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what happened.
Expectation vs. Reality
Warning - The rest of this article contains spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder.
Due to Thor and the Guardians' interactions in both Infinity War and Endgame, fans were understandably excited to learn that the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a role in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Audiences had yet to see Thor or Star-Lord and company in Phase 4; and since the early marketing for Love and Thunder highlighted Thor's amusing interactions with Star-Lord, audiences expected these bits and exchanges to be only the tip of the comedic, cosmic iceberg.
But, in the end, most of what was shown in Thor 4 trailers and TV spots was the extent of the Guardians' role in the film.
Now, due to Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, and Russell Crowe being cast in the project, few expected the Guardians to be part of the whole movie due to its already crowded call sheet. However, few predicted the hilarious rag-tag crew would be relegated to background characters with less to say than the nondescript alien king who gifted Thor his screaming goats.
Why Thor 4 Needed More Star-Lord
Before the Guardians parted ways with Thor, each member of the cast had a brief moment of dialogue, with Star-Lord being the only character sharing an actual conversation with the film's star.
Even though Quill was instrumental in helping Thor lower his emotional defenses and choose love despite the risk of heartbreak, the state of their own relationship lacked context.
In Infinity War, Quill clearly feels the need to compete with the God of Thunder. Their final scene together in Endgame seemed to set the stage for a comical power struggle over just who's in charge of crew.
But in Love and Thunder, while Thor is still vying for that power position, Quill has seemingly resigned himself to Thor's antics and merely tolerates him.
Again, this is a reversal from Infinity War and Endgame where Quill was so desperate for respect. Clearly, there's been a shift in their dynamic, but that flip is never explained. Not only does it deny the audience that humorous relationship, but also an opportunity to connect back to prior MCU films.
Also, given the threat Gorr posed to all gods, it's a bit surprising that Quill wasn't brought in for that particular part of the plot. Granted, Quill gave up his godlike abilities in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but given his heritage, there was an opportunity for him to contribute to that story.
Why Thor 4 Needed More Rocket
In Infinity War, Thor and Rocket became a hilarious, unlikely duo. And, even though Rocket has been wrestling with his own issues, he coached Thor through Infinity War and Endgame and even provided the God of Thunder with a new eye.
But apart from a quick quip or two in Love and Thunder, there was no catch-up with Thor and his "Sweet Rabbit," which was especially jarring given their prior intimate exchanges. In fact, from one perspective, it would've made more sense for Rocket to be Thor's voice of reason instead of Star-Lord.
Why Thor 4 Needed More Groot
While Thor's arsenal has always been integral to his story, Love and Thunder established that Thor's hammer Mjolnir and his new ax Stormbreaker are actually sentient.
Given Stormbreaker's jealous feelings toward Mjolnir in Thor 4, and the ax serving as a MacGuffin for the film's third act, it's a bit surprising that Groot was never factored back into the tale or even referenced since he sacrificed his arm to make Stormbreaker's handle.
And, even though Rocket and Thor had the tightest bond in the most recent Avengers films, Groot was along for the ride. Plus, Thor is one of the few who actually speaks Groot!
Why Taika Waititi Limited the Guardians in Thor 4
According to the director:
"The plan was always to have them in the beginning and then move one. Because they have their own movie. There was talk about having them come back at the end."
As to why they didn't return as a source of reinforcements, Waititi felt that it would've been too redundant and wanted Jane instead, saying:
"The thing is that happens in every movie. No more. No more of the cavalry coming at the end. So we shelved that idea. We just wanted Jane to come in at the end."
Waititi certainly has a point. A long-standing trope in film and television is that at a hero's darkest moment, when all hope is lost, someone will swoop in at the last second to turn the tide.
The problem here is that Waititi set up the very trope he said he wanted to avoid and, as he also said, subbed out the Guardians because they wanted Jane.
Now, did the decision make sense for the story being told?
Absolutely. However, in deciding not to use the Guardians at this point in the film, their limited presence at the start of the film feels all the more inconsequential and more like an obligation.
While the film confirmed that the Guardians would go and help other planets dealing with the loss of their gods, not having the MCU's cosmic, comedic team appear in any of that on-screen action - or even bothering to check in on their buddy Thor - makes their minimal screentime seem all the more glaring.
How Thor 4 Hurts Infinity War, Endgame, & Guardians Vol. 3
The problem now is that Thor's team-up with Guardians in Endgame isn't going to have the same impact or excitement post-Love and Thunder.
Since Thor's time with the crew barely moved the needle of his own journey and ended as quickly as it began, it's going to seem more like a meaningless detour or hiatus as opposed to an exciting next chapter in the God of Thunder's story.
Also, while Guardians director James Gunn has kept the script for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 under wraps, many anticipated that Love and Thunder would handle some of the post-Endgame legwork, allowing Vol. 3 to jump right into its own story.
But apart from Star-Lord referencing his grief over losing Gamora, there was no mention of his intention to find her Variant (which is something Endgame seemingly laid the groundwork for).
Not only will Vol. 3 need to revisit that plot point, but also the Guardians helping the planets that lost their gods in Thor 4 and Thor's own departure from the team. It's almost as if they were given things to do in lieu of their own story as opposed to contributing to this one.
Overall, Marvel Studios giving directors and writers creative freedom is a great thing for filmmaking, storytelling, and the Marvel brand. But it can also be a bad thing.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe set the stage for the Guardians of the Galaxy to influence Thor Odinson's story, it's clear that Taika didn't want that. Instead, he wanted a Jane Foster story.
When looking at Thor: Love and Thunder from the perspective of the Thor franchise, Taika's decision is a good one. The issue is that he's bigger than that.
Thor is a major player within the greater cinematic universe; and in one of the biggest crossover films in cinema history, he was paired with an ensemble cast whose characters were instrumental in Thor's journey.
Seemingly ignoring that, as well as the Guardians' only capability for humor and action in the cosmos, is why their minimal roles in Love and Thunder weren't just jarring but a waste.
If there is an argument to be made about what Thor: The Dark World did better than Thor: Love and Thunder, it's that the original Thor sequel incorporated the events of both 2011's Thor and 2012's The Avengers into its story.
Apart from a training montage and the presence of Stormbreaker, Thor 4 seemingly had no interest in carrying on or paying off storylines introduced in Endgame.
Yes, Thor: Love and Thunder is a Thor film and a Taika Waititi film, but apart from a few Easter eggs, it had no interest in being an MCU film.
Thor: Love and Thunder is currently playing in theaters.