Thor: Love and Thunder has finally hit theaters, and continues the summer with an entertaining and electrifying story. Not only does the film see the return of Chris Hemsworth‘s God of Thunder, but it also marks Natalie Portman‘s return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster, who becomes the Mighty Thor when she picks up Thor’s reforged hammer Mjlonir. Taika Waititi also returns to direct and co-write Love and Thunder after the critical and commercial success of Thor: Ragnarok, while also playing the Kronan gladiator Korg.
Both Love and Thunder and Ragnarok feature similar elements. They give deeply alien worlds a bright color palette, as well as plenty of Waititi’s irreverent humor. But most importantly, all the lightning and laughs are hiding major themes, including the horror of colonialism and struggles with faith. In that vein, here are eight movies that feature one or more of those elements — and even a cast member or two from Love and Thunder.
Though Marvel and DC often dominate the conversation when it comes to films based on comic books, there have been plenty of cinematic endeavors that focus on lesser-known characters. And the biggest of these is Flash Gordon, which is based on the legendary space adventurer created by Alex Raymond. The film finds Gordon (Sam J. Jones) traveling into space with scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). They soon encounter the intergalactic conqueror Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) and Flash eventually leads a revolution to topple Ming’s empire before he destroys Earth.
Flash Gordon possesses many of the elements that are a part of Waititi’s Thor films, including a vast collection of alien worlds that include the winged Hawkmen and Ming’s right-hand man, the metal masked General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde). And it boasts a star-studded cast for a fantasy/sci-fi adventure, including Brian Blessed as the Hawkmen’s Prince Vultan and former James Bond Timothy Dalton as Flash’s rival-turned-ally Prince Barin. And while Love and Thunder is scored to multiple Guns’n’Roses songs, Flash Gordon had Queen delivering a spectacular theme song that hails the title character as the “Savior of the Universe”. Waititi even joined Joe & Anthony Russo‘s Pizza Film School series on YouTube to discuss the film, so it’s clear it had a major impact on how he approaches the God of Thunder.
The 1980s were full of swashbuckling fantasy films, including Krull. Krull begins when the titular planet is invaded by a reptilian tyrant known as the Beast (voiced by Trevor Martin) and his armies. The Beast interrupts a wedding between Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony), wounding Colwyn and kidnapping Lyssa — and preventing them from forming an alliance that could topple his reign. Colwyn sets out to defeat the Beast once he learns of an ancient weapon known as the Glaive, and is joined by a group of companions such as the Old One Ynyr (Freddie Jones), the diminutive magician Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) and the massive Cyclops Rell (Bernard Bresslaw). Krull is less famous for its story and more for the production problems that plagued it at every step. There were multiple rewrites, Anthony had her voice dubbed over by Lindsay Crouse, and director Peter Yates had to take a vacation in the middle of shooting. Despite these troubles, Krull is now considered a cult classic due to its allusions to Arthurian lore — the Glaive is essentially a stand-in for King Arthur’s sword Excalibur — and its soaring score, courtesy of James Horner.
Krull is available to stream on Hulu and HBO Max.
The Last Starfighter
Films based on video games tend to have one of two receptions: either they’re very popular (see the Sonic the Hedgehog films) or they’re roundly rejected (see every film that attempts to tackle Resident Evil). The Last Starfighter falls into the former category, and it’s not even based on a pre-existing video game! Video game expert Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) learns that the “Starfighter” game he’s mastered is secretly a test to find pilots to defend the Rylan Star League against the Ko-Dan Empire. With the original Star Wars trilogy having concluded and WarGames debuting a year prior to critical and commercial success, The Last Starfighter followed in their footsteps and delivered a rousing sci-fi adventure. It’s also a major pioneer in the world of computer-generated effects, as many of the film’s space battles feature CG effects. This has the effect of lending a certain charm, and actual video game visuals, to the story. And The Last Starfighter may live again, as Rogue One screenwriter Gary Whitta is developing a reboot.
Love and Thunder marks Christian Bale‘s return to a comic book franchise after playing Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy. But before he put on the Dark Knight’s cape, Bale starred in Kurt Wimmer‘s dystopian action thriller Equilibrium. After a third world war, the new ruling state known as Libria outlaws anything that would trigger human emotion, and develops a drug to suppress said emotions. John Preston (Bale) is a Grammaton Cleric dedicated to rooting out “sense offenders,” but eventually begins to experience human emotion himself, and leads a revolution meant to topple Libria. Now 20 years after its debut, Equilibrium has become a cult classic — mainly due to the ridiculously awesome fighting style known as “Gun Kata,” which involves using guns and geometry to deliver kills with insane precision. But the film also deserves credit for Bale’s layered performance as Preston. He starts out cold and emotionless, but as his walls slowly break down he’s shown breaking down in tears upon seeing the sunrise or listening to Beethoven. Bale has brought that same level of intensity to every one of his performances, including Gorr the God Butcher in Love and Thunder.
Equilibrium is available to stream on HBO Max.
Masters of the Universe
Masters of the Universe will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, and in that time it’s spawned a veritable franchise that includes TV shows such as the continuation series Masters of the Universe: Revelation. In 1987, director Gary Goddard would bring the Masters of the Universe to the silver screen with a live-action film adaptation. But fans were in for a shock: rather than exploring the battle between He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and his archnemesis Skeletor (Frank Langella), the film opts to send He-Man and his allies to Earth where they meet teenager Julie Winston (Courtney Cox). While Masters of the Universe was critically and commercially panned, it’s become a cult classic over the years, and a large part of that is due to Langella’s performance. Langella opted to portray Skeletor as his son was a huge fan of the Masters franchise, and treats the villain as a Shakesperean character rather than the cackling madman he is in the original animated series. This lends the film an unexpected gravity, not to mention some pure nightmare fuel due to the heavy makeup Langella is wearing to make him look like an actual human skeleton.
Masters of the Universe is available to stream on HBO Max.
The Kid Who Would Be King
In the pantheon of myth, King Arthur remains one of the majorly influential figures — and for good reason. The story of a boy who learns that he’s destined to be a great leader and possesses a magic weapon has permeated many fictional characters from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter. And Joe Cornish chose to examine the power of that myth with his sophomore film The Kid Who Would Be King. Alex Elliot (Louis Ashborn Serkis) discovers King Arthur’s sword Excalibur in a parking lot and is approached by the wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie), who tells him that Arthur’s sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) has awakened and seeks dominion over all mankind. In the same way that Attack the Block put a new spin on the alien invasion genre, The Kid Who Would Be King chooses to explore and even deconstruct Arthurian myth. And once again, Cornish puts together an incredible cast: Serkis is a wonderful lead and Excalibur alum Patrick Stewart makes frequent appearances as the elder version of Merlin.
The Kid Who Would Be King is available to stream on Disney+.
What We Do In The Shadows
Outside of the Thor films, Taika Waititi has a rather unorthodox filmography. He’s added his unique mix of humor and emotion to films and TV projects such as Reservation Dogs and Jojo Rabbit, but the film that put him on the map is What We Do In The Shadows. Shadows centers on a group of vampires including Viago (Waititi) and Vladislav (Jermaine Clement, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film with Waititi). The film’s mockumentary approach provides a humorous approach to the supernatural, especially with Viago’s strict rules and Vladislav’s issue with his ex-girlfriend Pauline (Elena Stjeko) as well as the pack of “werewolves not swearwolves” led by Anton (Rhys Darby). Shadows even led to a TV adaptation on FX, which features many of the elements that made the film a major hit.
Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans
Netflix is slowly carving a space for itself in the world of genre fare, and one of its most underrated efforts is the Trollhunters franchise spearheaded by Guillermo del Toro. Trollhunters had its grand conclusion last year with the Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans feature film. Jim Lake Jr. (Anton Yelchin/Emile Hirsch), the titular Trollhunter, races against time to stop the wizards known as the Arcane Order from unleashing the mythical Titans and laying waste to the world. He’s helped by his friend Toby (Charlie Saxton), girlfriend Claire (Lexi Medrano) and other heroes from the Trollhunters spinoffs including the Akridon princess Aja (Tatiana Maslany) and wizard Hisirdoux “Douxie” Casperan (Colin O’Donoghue). Not only does Rise of the Titans feature sleeker animation than the series it preceded, but it also manages to juggle a massive cast of characters in a way that’ll draw longtime fans of Trollhunters as well as newcomers. And there’s even a homage to Pacific Rim!
Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans is currently available to stream on Netflix.
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