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Love and Thunder’s King Valkyrie highlights a major issue

As perhaps more often than we think, key information about a Marvel film has been confirmed by, ahem, LEGO. In this case, a new LEGO set consisting of 564 pieces, including the goat boat, has confirmed it again Thor: Love and Thunderthe people of Asgaard have a new ruler: King Valkyrie.

That’s not entirely unexpected. At the end of Avengers: EndgameThor gives Valkyrie the crown and throne and tasks her with building a new homeland for her people.

Additionally, Valkyrie star Tessa Thompson sneered at the gendered title, saying: “As the new king, she needs to find her new queen, so that will be her first task, she has some ideas. I’ll keep you posted.”

Disney

This statement and her new mantle are intended to do two things: first, to establish Valkyrie not only as the ruler of Asgard, but also as someone whose attitude toward gender restrictions is laissez-faire. Second, it categorizes her as canonically bisexual – after all, she’s looking for a queen.

We’re obviously super excited to see Valkyrie in both a powerful and authoritative role Even as one of the first LGBTQ+ characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Thompson has said that she always played Valkyrie as bi, this was not confirmed by canon until recently, and her on-screen coming-out takes place after that eternal, which technically claimed the mantle of having the first openly LGTBQ+ characters. (In case you’re wondering, no, we’re not counting that cameo.)

Discussing gender and superheroes is like trying to unravel a ball of yarn previously unwound by a child on a sugar rush. Everything is twisted into an indecipherable mess, and when you pull out one thread, you inevitably get caught up in another.

tessa thompson valkyrie hulk parade sakar thor ragnarok

Disney

The first reaction to King Valkyrie is positive – Valkyrie is clearly the new ruler of Asgaard. Her title is the same as Thor’s.

But underneath, the question of the gender-coded power structure within language arises. Why is Valkyrie not a queen? Or rather, why not the title “Queen” feel the same as the word “king”?

The obvious and abridged answer is that King is referring to men, the traditional rulers in patriarchy – aka the real world. Although Thor and the inner worlds of all Marvel films take place in, well, not reality, as works of fiction they are still shaped by and amplify the limitations of the world we all live in.

Thor Ragnarok

Marvel Studios

The making of Valkryie King uses the same logic as the gender neutralization of the word “boys” to denote a group of people of any gender. However, this tool still assumes that the default and incumbent class is male. Until we also refer to a group of people of different sexes as “gals”, the term “guys” is not gender-neutral.

One can then apply this logical mechanism to superhero films in general. While the films themselves are loved and enjoyed by people of all genders, they are often shot from a male point of view (the male gaze). Those films or characters that defy this look are often criticized for being too feminine or too preoccupied with this look to begin with.

Ironically, this helpfully illustrates the same power imbalance being fought. The male gaze is still considered the standard and therefore the correct metric by which we measure what makes a good superhero film. This is a double bond for characters like Captain Marvel, presented in less typically feminine ways to reinforce the idea that she is powerful and then ridiculed for it.

ella jay basco as cassandra cain, margot robbie as harley quinn, birds of prey birds of prey

Warner Bros.

Another example is birds of prey. Cathy Yan’s hyper-real, pop-art inspired visuals and palette spoke directly to the main narrator Harley Quinn’s point of view. The female gaze revealed a lot birds of prey came about naturally because there were a lot of women not only in front of the camera, but also behind it.

The same aesthetic cues were used later The Suicide Squadand they were successful because they had established themselves as an indelible part of her inner world, driven by the female gaze birds of prey. They worked because we had already subconsciously absorbed them as part of who Harley is.

Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok

Disney

Thor: Love and Thunder tries to do something similar – create something fundamental about Valkyrie, instead of through images, through the use of language. Taking on the King mantle is intended to underscore an utter indifference to gender, but since she hasn’t been given the space to really explore what that means for her (through her own gender identity and bisexuality), it risks ringing the bell hollow, a shortcut to tick boxes.

Language is inherently coded by power and gender, which is the trap that even the best of intentions fall into. We’re all ready to hail King Valkyrie as long as the film supports that moniker with a fleshed-out character arc that backs up its claims to gender neutrality.

Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters on July 8, 2022.

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