Maybe more common than we realize, a critical piece of knowledge about a Marvel film was confirmed by, um, LEGO. In this case, a new LEGO set comprising 564 pieces, including the Goat Boat, has confirmed that the people of Asgaard have a new monarch in Thor: Love and Thunder: King Valkyrie.
This is not that surprising. Thor bestows the crown and kingdom on Valkyrie after Avengers: Endgame, tasked with constructing a new home for their people.
Additionally, Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie, hinted at the title’s gender-bending nature by saying: “As the new King, she is responsible for finding a new queen; this will be her first order of business, and she already has some ideas. I will keep you informed.”
This statement and her new mantle are intended to accomplish two things: first, they position Valkyrie as Asgard’s ruler and as someone tolerant of gender restrictions.
Second, it establishes her as canonically bisexual — after all, she is searching for a queen.
Naturally, we’re delighted to see Valkyrie in such a powerful and authoritative role, as well as being one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first out LGBTQ+ characters.
While Thompson has stated that she has always portrayed Valkyrie as bisexual, this was not established canonically until recently. Her on-screen coming out occurs after Eternals, which technically claimed the mantle of having the first openly LGBT+ characters. (In case you’re wondering, no, that cameo is not included.)
Discussing gender and superheroes is akin to untangling a ball of yarn previously coiled up by a sugar-crazed youngster. Everything is knotted into an incomprehensible jumble, and removing one thread always snags another.
The initial response to King Valkyrie is enthusiastic – Valkyrie is, without a doubt, Asgaard’s new monarch. Her title is the same as Thor’s.
However, behind that comes a concern regarding language’s gender-coded power structure. Why is Valkyrie not the Queen? Or, more precisely, why does the title ‘queen’ not have the same ring as the word ‘king’?
The obvious and brief explanation is that King refers to men, the traditional bearers of power under patriarchy – called the real world.
While the inner realms of Thor and all of Marvel’s films are set in a world that is not reality, as works of fiction, they are still informed by and reinforce the constraints of the world in which we all live.
Making Valkryie king follows the same reasoning as gender-neutralizing the term ‘men,’ which can refer to any group of people regardless of gender. This instrument, however, continues to assume that the dominant and powerful class is masculine.
Until we also refer to a group of people who are not the same gender as ‘gals,’ the term ‘guys’ is not gender-neutral.
This logic technique can then be applied to superhero films in general. While the films are beloved and liked by audiences of both genders, they are frequently filmed from a male perspective (the male gaze).
Films and characters that defy that gaze is frequently chastised for being too feminine or focused with that gaze in the first place.
Perhaps ironically, this demonstrates the same power imbalance being fought. The male gaze is still seen as the default and valid yardstick for determining what constitutes a good superhero film.
This creates a catch-22 situation for characters like Captain Marvel, who present in an untypically feminine manner to promote the sense that she is powerful and is then mocked for it.
Birds of Prey are another example. Cathy Yan’s hyper-real pop-art-inspired images and palette spoke directly to Harley Quinn’s point of view.
Much of the female gaze introduced to Birds of Prey occurred organically due to the abundance of women not only in front of the camera but also behind it.
These same aesthetic signals were eventually employed in The Suicide Squad. They succeeded because they had become an indelible part of her internal reality due to the female-gaze-driven Birds of Prey.
They worked because we had subconsciously accepted them as integral to Harley’s personality.
Thor: Love and Thunder are attempting to accomplish something similar – establishing something basic about Valkyrie through the use of language rather than graphics.
Taking on the mantle of King is intended to demonstrate a complete disregard for gender. Still, because she has not been given a chance to fully examine what that means for her (via her gender identification and bisexuality), it risks sounding empty a box-ticking shortcut.
Language is inherently coded according to power and gender; this is the trap that even the best intentions fall into. We’re all prepared to salute King Valkyrie as long as the film backs up this moniker with a fleshed-out character narrative that supports the film’s gender-neutral claims.
Thor: Love and Thunder are scheduled to open in theatres on July 8, 2022.