This story includes spoilers for Thor: Love & Thunder.
Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in full swing, and fans of the superhero franchise are being treated to a slate of exciting stories that weaves new characters into the expansive television and film canon. And while most of the original Avengers have since been phased out of the universe — we’ll never forget you, Tony Stark — the god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth as Thor) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; Thor: Love & Thunder takes him to the outskirts of the universe to defeat a deadly nemesis (Christian Bale as the very menacing Gorr the God Butcher) with a serious chip on his shoulder. The film has received drastically mixed reviews since its release, but there’s one thing that I think everyone can agree on: Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is undeniably one of its best parts. Long live the king — forever may she reign.
We first met Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, which saw the viking god stranded in space after his long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) violently took over the kingdom of Asgard. After being forced into a tournament of the strongest fighters from across the galaxy, Thor reunited with Valkyrie; she was the surviving member of Asgard's prestigious all-female calvary after Hela massacred them in battle. Although she was bitter and disillusioned by her trauma, Valkyrie unwillingly joined Thor’s cause to protect their homeland.
Fast forward a few years, and the aimless, perpetually-drunk Valkyrie we first met is long gone because she’s been crowned the new king of Asgard-on-Earth. Dressed in sharply tailored pantsuits instead of her signature Asgardian armor, Valkyrie now spends her days elbows deep in administrative duties to make sure that her kingdom is running smoothly. Sure, it’s not as glamorous or as exciting as being on the frontlines of war (though she does land a swanky Old Spice campaign), but making sure that the people of Asgard are safe from both earthly and extraterrestrial threats is a full-time job. And since Thor, the heir to the throne, is galavanting through the galaxy instead of fulfilling his royal duties, somebody has to be king.
Thankfully, that warrior spirit doesn’t just disappear overnight. When the universe is put in harm’s way by Gorr the God Butcher, Valkyrie is more than happy to suit up. The dream team — Thor, Korg (voiced by director Taika Waititi), and newly super powered Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) — embark on an epic journey to the shadow realm to stop Gorr from slaying every god in existence. Armed with Zeus’ lightning bolt — it’s a long story — Valkyrie fights the supervillian with everything that she has in defense of Asgard’s most innocent population, hip-length knotless braids swinging all the while. No matter the mission, Valkyrie is ready and willing to step up. We can’t say that about every hero in the MCU.
Love & Thunder is a Thor film through and through, focusing on the last Avenger’s journey to self-discovery after a period of seemingly endless trauma. But, just as importantly, it’s a reminder that even the god of thunder is helpless without the support of the people around him. There’s no one on or off Asgard who knows his pain more intimately; just as Thor was helpless in the deaths of his family, Valkyrie also had to watch her family be slaughtered in war. Still, she was able to heal that tragic wound and turn her pain into fuel for the future, rising up to once again become the protector of her kingdom.
Without Valkyrie shouldering the responsibility of ruling Asgard-on-Earth, Thor would have never been able to fight the big bads of the universe. Through her more grassroots approach to saving the world, Valkyrie does what Thor, in many ways, cannot. Her labor in Asgard speaks to a frequently occurring trope within the MCU and in real life: Black women doing the work. Although Valkyrie is technically a supporting character in Thor’s story, her contributions can’t be understated because they lay the groundwork for Thor to do his thing as a superhero. The same can be said for other Black women in the MCU who have been the backbone of their story arcs.
In Black Panther, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) plays a pivotal role in T’Challa’s (the late Chadwick Boseman) trajectory as king of Wakanda, interrupting his dated, traditional leadership style by teaching him the importance of solidarity across the diaspora. Also part of T’Challa’s inner circle is Okoye (Danai Gurira), the fearless commander of the Dora Milaje who has sworn to protect her king and her country with her life, and his younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), the brains behind Wakanda’s first class technology. With Nakia on his left, Okoye on his right, and Shuri in his ear, T’Challa was a smarter, more well-rounded leader — and in his wake, these women will ensure that Wakanda remains in good hands.
Outside of Wakanda, Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau provided some of the only defense against Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her hostile takeover of the tiny town of Westview as seen in Disney+ original series Wandavision. While S.W.O.R.D. clumsily attempted to neutralize Wanda’s magic, Monica approached the hostage situation with more finesse and intention, and ultimately played a pivotal part in breaking through Wanda’s altered reality. Even in The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson’s (Anthony Mackey) sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) served as the grounding force for his lofty heroic aspirations, reminding him of the many challenges that come with being a Black superhero in America.
Knowing how crucial Valkyrie and other Black women are to the MCU — whether the franchise recognizes it or not — one can’t help but wonder if they’ll ever get more time in the spotlight. Black Panther 2 will have no choice but to center the efforts of the Black women in Wakanda because of the painful absence of its leading man, but the fates of Valkyrie and Monica Rambeau are less certain. Though Thor and his partner-in-heroism will return for another film, and Monica is predicted to clash against Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) in the forthcoming sequel, we don’t know how big or how involved their storylines are going to be. If you ask me, there’s a quick fix: give them a TV show. Each Black woman character in the MCU could carry their own show, and there’s more than enough material in Valkyrie’s backstory for a fascinating series. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) even got his own Disney+ spin-off, and he is by far the most mid Avenger. Disney+ is pumping out original series like no tomorrow...what’s another few titles focusing on the Black girl magic of the MCU?
Thor: Love & Thunder is now available in theaters.