How Marvel Studios is selling the next thunderous series installment
After making a big splash with the funny, creative and off-kilter Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with this week’s Thor: Love and Thunder.
Chris Hemsworth once again stars as Thor, the God of Thunder. After losing his hammer Mjolnir in the last film and going through lots of trials fighting Thanos in the Infinity War/Endgame duology, Thor is wandering around with the Guardians of the Galaxy before being summoned back to New Asgard, now established on Earth. The realm is being targeted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who is seeking revenge on all deities for the loss of his family. To stop him he’s aided by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and, to his surprise, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who now wields Mjolnir under the guise of The Mighty Thor.
So there’s a lot going on there, not least of which is the return of Portman to the franchise after taking the third movie (and most of the team movies and crossovers) off for various reasons. And of course this comes out as the sixth film in “Phase Four” of the MCU, though the fact there have also been a half-dozen Disney+ series means this phase is rather over-stuffed, especially since there are several more movies and series planned.
But before all that happens, let’s take a look at how Marvel and Disney have presented this one to the public.
announcement and casting
Marvel Studios’ presentation at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 acted as the first big publicity pop for the movie. While Waititi had been announced as the returning director a week or so prior – news that came at the same time his work on Akira for Warner Bros. was said to be paused – it was at SDCC that Marvel revealed the title as well as that Portman would not only be returning but taking up Mjolnir in the story. Thompson hinted and the Kevin Fiege confirmed that Valkyrie would indeed be portrayed as LGBTQ in the film, satisfying speculation begun when Ragnorak came out.
Waititi commented on how things were progressing with pre-production and what kinds of stories he had in mind while promoting JoJo Rabbit in late 2019. That included adding to speculation the story could include the arc from the comics that had Jane Foster dealing with breast cancer, something Portman also weighed in on. Just how flexible the story was and how the final version may or may not pull points from the source material was emphasized by Waititi in a valiant attempt to manage fan expectations.
Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the writer/director of Someone Great, was brought on to help with the script in February of 2020. Several months later in November there were reports that Chris Pratt had signed on to appear in the film.
Some new details about the movie were dropped by Waititi and Ruffalo in April when they offered Covid-19 shut-ins streaming commentary of Ragnarok. A few months later Portman commented on the workout routine she was getting ready for, her anticipation at working with Waititi and living in Australia during production. Thompson made similar comments when she appeared on “Kimmel” in January 2021 while Dennings spoke about preparing for the shoot while promoting her appearance on “WandaVision.”
Bale’s casting was revealed during Disney’s December 2020 investors presentation. Crowe then broke the secret of his casting as Zeus in April 2021.
The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.
Hemsworth shared a muscular pic in early June to mark the end of primary filming.
Gillan spoke briefly about the movie during the Gunpowder Milkshake publicity cycle. An interview with Waititi had him promising an absolutely insane story that audiences wouldn’t believe, continuing to speak about the movie during other stops.
Later in 2021 Thompson kept teasing the movie during her press appearances for Passing.
Giacchino was brought on to provide the movie’s score.
the marketing campaign
As more time passed there was more anxiety over when exactly the first trailer and other marketing materials would finally appear.
Those anxieties were quenched in mid-April with the release of the first trailer and poster. In fact, Marvel Studios seemed to snap back a bit at that hand-wringing, writing simply “Here it is” when the trailer was shared on Twitter and elsewhere.
That teaser starts off with shots of Thor in younger years – and sporting a very Kirby-esque costume as a teenager – running through the forest before showing he’s focused on peace at the moment as we hear about how his days as a super hero are over. After some scenes with the Guardians and shots of Valkyrie in New Asgard, it ends with a reconstructed Mjölnir flying into the hand of a now costumed Jane Foster.
The trailer also generated tons of backlash directed at Disney, largely because of one shot that was pulled directly from a comics panel while the studio has a track record of not paying comics artists or writers whose work is adapted for film or series. This seemed particularly egregious, with the panel in question essentially serving as a storyboard for the film shot.
Despite that criticism, the trailer accumulated 209 million views in the first 24 hours after release.
Just before the teaser was released, Marvel Comics put out a video explaining the backstory of Jane Foster and her relationship with Thor leading up to her assuming the title.
Waitit was interviewed about the movie and focused on how he wasn’t going to bring Portman back into the fold and not give her something to do.
The full trailer then came out in late May, debuting during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. It opens with Korg narrating Thor’s story to a bunch of kids. But the story of Thor’s redemption hits a snag with Jane taking on the mantle, leading to an awkward reunion between the former flames. We then meet God Butcher, who will provide both heroes – all three, counting Valkyrie – with a bad guy to fight. The Guardians make a brief appearance before a scene with Zeus offers Jane and Valkyrie a moment of bonding.
Both Thors are featured on the poster released at that time with Valkyrie, God Butcher and Korg assembled around them as New Asgard provides the backdrop.
TV spots began running in early June in advance of tickets going on sale showing more of the story along with the humor and the group of heroes Thor assembles. The cast introduces some of what the audience can expect in a video announcing tickets are available now.
Character posters released at this time included one for Dude Thor and the goats that are seen in the trailers and which seem to be a major focus of everything because…they’re goats.
Those were followed by exhibitor-exclusive posters for RealD 3D (showing the company’s logo tattooed on Dude Thor’s muscled arm), Dolby Cinemas (showing the rest of the heroes springing into action while Dude Thor meditates in the center), ScreenXUSA (showing the heroes in a very neon lighting situation) and IMAX (showing the characters in kind of a dime store novel arrangement).
An extended spot showed a bit of new footage framed mostly around an inspirational speech Thor is giving to the citizens of New Asgard.
A Variety cover story on Portman had her talking about the process behind getting so physically bulked up for her role, the production challenges of making her appear a foot taller than she actually is and overall what it was like coming back to the series.
An interview with Hemsworth included him appearing to be open to returning to the role in future films.
Another extended spot focuses less on the threat the heroes face and more on the team Thor has assembled to take it on.
The cast and crew, as well as others from the MCU orbit, turned out for the red carpet premiere of the movie a couple weeks ago. While there they all commented on what audiences could expect while throwing quite a bit of praise at Waititi for his creative, loose energy on set.
Right after that Portman appeared on “Kimmel” to talk more about returning to the character of Jane Foster as well as debuting a new clip from the film.
A featurette delves into the history of Thor in the cinematic realm, going all the way back to Hemsworth being cast in the first film and tracking through the various sequels, Avengers movies and more.
Waititi and Hemsworth were on hand at the movie’s Australian premiere. Around that same time a profile of the director covered how he became connected with Thor in the first place, how he’s tried to bring his own sensibilities to the films and what other projects he’s currently involved in.
As release approached there were more and more TV commercials like this that covered various angles on the story, from the humor to the action and more. A longer commercial emphasized how this is the culmination of Thor’s journey to date.
More of the cast appeared on “Kimmel” to engage in various hijinks and promote the movie.
The creativity of Waititi was covered in another featurette that had the cast once more lavishing him with praise for the energy and style he brings to the production. The cast then shows up in a video where they uncover some of the toys and figures that are on store shelves now.
Marvel brought some of the costumes from the movie to a display at Essence Fest in New Orleans at the beginning of July.
A joint interview with Thompson and Waititi had the two talking about Valkyrie’s journey in the two movies she’s been in and whether the character finds love in this new one.
One more premiere event happened in London just days before release.
The narrative of the box office recovery should continue given the movie is projected to enjoy an opening weekend of around $150 million.
That speaks to the effectiveness of the campaign recapped above as well as to the continued desire among the audience for more sequels, franchises and so on.
But the most interesting part of the marketing push here is the focus, especially in the last few weeks, on making sure to show Waititi as much love as possible. Featurettes, commercials, feature profiles and more all have people talking about how amazing he is to work with and so on.
With all that in mind, the audience is being promised a funny, adventure-filled time at the theater, with the main message being that this is a continuation of the style found in Thor: Ragnarok, but with the addition of Portman returning to actually be part of the story this time.
Oh…and a couple of huge goats. Can’t forget about them.