When it comes to name-dropping pop culture in its films, Marvel is no spring chicken. But doing so within the already complicated Marvel Cinematic Universe always creates a confounding conundrum for audiences — and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunderhas a pretty convoluted one. Get out your red string and pins, we’re mapping this multiverse of movie madness.
There’s a fleeting moment early in the latest Thor sequel when leading astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) explains the Einstein-Rosen Bridge by referencing Interstellar and Event Horizon. She tells a fellow chemo patient that they should watch these films in order to understand the mechanics of the wormhole — or in Thor’s case, the rainbow Bifrost Bridge that connects Asgard to the other nine realms.
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This reference is not only a bit of flash in the pan fun but also a ‘Wait a second…’ moment for those who obsess. Jane’s namedropping means Interstellar helmer Christopher Nolan is a real film director within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Does this mean that on one of his days off killing gods, Gorr (played by Christian Bale) could plonk himself down in front Nolan’s other work, perhaps Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, —and watch Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) kick ass in the DC Extended Universe? What does this mean for Tom Hardy from Rises? If Nolan is a director within the reality of the MCU, can Hardy’s Venom character Eddie Brock just pop to the cinema to watch Bane (also played by Hardy) do his thing?
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I know, I know, there are plenty of other actors who have been in both MCU and DC films: Chris Evans (Avengers series/The Losers), Idris Elba (Thor series/The Suicide Squad), Angela Bassett (Black Panther/Green Lantern), David Harbour (Black Widow/Suicide Squad), Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy/Aquaman), Florence Kasumba (Captain America: Civil War/Wonder Woman), and JK Simmons (Spider-Man series, Justice League series). Even Thor: Love and Thunder director Taika Waititi appeared in the MCU’s Thor movies and DC’s Green Lantern. But they’re playing different characters in movies that don’t get a direct reference like Jane Foster drops.
Remember the whole question of whether the actor Sebastian Stan exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after that whole Hot Tub Time Machine ref? We do.
This level of mindfuckery is why adding real pop culture nods — beyond a Stan Lee cameo — to the MCU is always risky business — and Marvel’s been doing it for an age, including a Star Trek reference in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Chris Hemsworth has appeared in the franchise. Plus, there are Star Wars mentions in Eternals and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which complicates things for MCU actors Samuel L. Jackson and, yep, Natalie Portman, who’ve starred in both major franchises.
“Referencing real entertainment is nothing new for Marvel,” writes Alison Foreman, who dug into this for Mashable for the release of Eternals, which namedrops Lizzo and BTS. “Captain America famously caught up on everything from Nirvana to James Bond following his multi-decade ice-nap. That proved to be a necessity with Tony Stark throwing around topical insults throughout the Iron Man trilogy and Avengers crossovers.” Angie Han mentioned this too, writing for Mashable of Stark’s “reference to The Big Lebowski, starring Jeff Bridges, whom you’d think Tony would notice is a dead ringer for Obadiah Stane, his mentor-turned-nemesis from Iron Man.”
Why Marvel continues to do this is likely a form of relatability among superhero-sized contexts. Tony Stark watches Lebowski like we do, co-existing in the same reality. If Jane Foster watches and recommends Interstellar and Event Horizon maybe we do get wormhole theory! Maybe…
As smoothly as a sudden segue between cinematic universes, this brings us to Event Horizon, the other film Jane Foster recommends watching if you want to truly understand the Bifrost Bridge. Paul W. S. Anderson’s cult classic 1997 sci-fi film stars Sam Neill as Captain S.J. Miller, on a mission to investigate a distress signal from a missing starship. Neill, however, also appears in two Thor movies — including this one! In Thor: Love and Thunder, he reprises his role as the other Odin, a member of an Asgardian acting troupe that dramatises events from the previous films. Making this wormhole all the weirder, Interstellar’s Matt Damon plays Loki to his Odin!
Does this mean Neill is playing himself in Thor: Love and Thunder? Does it mean that “Actor Odin” — as the character is credited — is Human Actor Sam Neill, who just happened to find himself in a fictional Asgardian acting troupe alongside Human Actors Matt Damon and Luke Hemsworth, co-existing between onscreen reality and ours? Don’t expect an answer from Sam Neill. He has said in an interview he “never understood any of the Thor films” and was “completely baffled” by his own role in them, so you’re in good company.
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Just for fun (and buckle up), Event Horizon also stars Laurence Fishburne, who has also played Bill Foster in Ant-Man and The Wasp and was the voice of Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. But Fishburne also famously starred in The Matrix so…could Thor hypothetically sit down on a Friday night with Steve Rogers, watch Neo and Morpheus take on Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, who also played Johann Schmidt/Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger, but who also played V in V for Vendetta which he starred in alongside Natalie Portman who PLAYS. JANE. FOSTER. So, if she’s out here recommending Event Horizon do all roads lead to Jane Foster streaming V for Vendetta one night and watching Natalie Portman act? HELP. See what I meeeeean?
They might seem like throwaway lines intended for easy exposition or simply fun. But Marvel’s casual references to movies outside its own cinematic universe create a puzzle for viewers who are already scrambling to keep up with internal in-jokes scattered into each film like flakes down Salt Bae’s forearm. Staying on top of almost 30 films and an ever-growing list of TV series in the MCU takes enough energy in itself, but throwing a spanner in the logic of it all with a real-world reference to Event Horizon in Thor: Love and Thunder? How can we not get distracted when Sam Neill and Matt Damon are right there onscreen moments after Jane’s movie recommendation of their movies? The possibilities of Neill and Damon either having Asgardian actor doppelgangers or quite literally starring in the MCU versions of Event Horizon and Interstellar were all I could think about instead of the plot of Love and Thunder.
There’s plenty to reference within the MCU itself! For the love of Thor and thunder, give my easily distracted brain a little break.