Directed by Taika Waititi — Screenplay by Taika Waititi & Jennifer Kaytin Robinson.
When it was first announced that Chris Hemsworth was going to play ‘Thor’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I don’t think anyone expected him to be the first Avengers character to have four solo movie. Although, to be honest, back then I’m not sure anyone expected Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe to go this far. Since the 2011 Kenneth Branagh film Thor, the titular character has been going through some changes. I still quite like the original film. The sequel, Thor: The Dark World has become a bit of a punching bag in the franchise, with it receiving a lot of criticism time and time again for the tone, the visuals, and the forgettable antagonists. Thor went from being a Shakespearean inspired (by way of Branagh’s influence) Norse God to being a space viking and true comedic lead thanks to Taika Waititi who, with his immensely popular Thor: Ragnarok, reminded everyone of Hemsworth’s fantastic comedic talent, while reinventing the character at the same time.
With Thor: Love and Thunder, the Ragnarok follow-up, Marvel hoped that Taika Waititi could do more of the same. Love and Thunder is exactly that (only this time the soundtrack focuses more on Guns n’ Roses hits than Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”). It leans into the same brand of humor that Taika Waititi is known for, it’s a really entertaining family action comedy film with a bit of romance sprinkled on top, and it also features a villain that looks like a the Conjuring demon. It has a lot of things going for it, but there are a couple of things that hold it back from being a top tier film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder obviously still follows Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth), who, after the events of Avengers: Endgame, is at peace again after having saved the world from Thanos once and for all. At the same time, he also left New Asgard to be watched over by Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), while he went with the Guardians of the Galaxy to discover the universe. Thor is in a midlife crisis and he is desperate for a new purpose, when he finds out that the cursed god-butchering Gorr (played by Christian Bale) is on his way to New Asgard. When he gets there he doesn’t just meet a scary villain, he also finds out that his old flame Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), now wields his trusty hammer Mjølnir and also holds the power of Thor.
Taika Waititi flipped the Norse corner of the MCU upside down with Thor: Ragnarok, and the titular character hasn’t been the same ever since. That has mostly been for the better as it looks like Chris Hemsworth (who is predictably really good here) is having so much more fun with his character since that film. But to lean completely into that goofy, silly, and irreverent brand of comedy that Taika Waititi has made his own does hinder this film somewhat because this film isn’t completely silly. It is a standalone Marvel adventure, but the subplots involving Christian Bale and Natalie Portman’s characters, both of which have quite serious elements to them, don’t get the kind of breathing room they need to fulfill their potential.
Jane Foster and Gorr are tragic characters, but the tongue-in-cheek material that Portman and Bale are given to work with or work alongside sometimes gets very close to overwhelming their very serious and quite engrossing scenes. This tonal tug-of-war is best exemplified in the film’s opening introduction to Gorr, in which Christian Bale acts his heart out to communicate the desperate appeal that Gorr faces his god with. Bale is excellent in this scene, but the ‘god character’ that he shares the scene with is over-the-top in a way that almost completely undercuts Bale’s emotion. Sometimes Waititi’s latest film struggles to find that balance, and it is the biggest problem in a film that also suffers from an overuse of expositional dialogue.
With all of that having been said, Thor: Love and Thunder is very funny. Like any major comedic blockbuster, the comedy is hit-or-miss from time to time, but Waititi’s comedy hits more than it misses. There are several returning gags or characters from Ragnarok that were really fun to see again — like the Asgardian theater actors — and there is a new exciting character (that is seen in very few scenes) who almost steals the film away from its main cast. Russell Crowe’s Zeus is really entertaining here, and that is because Crowe completely throws himself into this hammy version of the Greek god. The much advertised appearance of the Guardians of the Galaxy is quite short, but, then again, this film already has so much crammed into it. This is also the first time that Taika Waititi has gotten to work with Natalie Portman in a Thor film, but, even though Portman does a good job of keeping up with the material, this version of Jane Foster has a change in personality that seemed a bit too steep since when we last saw her.
Although I think he could’ve benefitted from additional scenes to build his character out more, I really do think that Christian Bale is stellar as Gorr the god-butcher. The film sets Gorr up with a backstory — a motivation — that is easy to understand, and the ‘creature design’ is just splendid. In his ‘realm,’ everything is in black-and-white and this aesthetic, when added to his minimalist costume and creepy make-up, genuinely makes him look like the demonic nun from James Wan’s The Conjuring 2. Bale should’ve had more scenes, but he shines in what little he is given. He communicates one of the film’s themes quite well, and he even has this playful little evil monologue at one point. Even though it is a film about love and finding a new purpose, Gorr and Foster’s subplots both indicated, to me, that this film is also about people asking gods for mercy or help. It’s a crisis of faith one can find oneself in when one’s deity allows bad things to happen to good, innocent people. This was one of the film’s strongest ideas, to me, and I think Waititi should’ve focused more on that.
Still, what Taika Waititi has made here is a genuine crowd-pleaser. It’s the kind of film that longtime Marvel fans, like myself will eat up, but it’s also a film that will create many young new fans thanks to its late focus on empowering its young characters. Ultimately, this fourth Thor film suffers from some pacing issues and tonal clashes, but if you liked Thor: Ragnarok, then I’m pretty sure you’ll also enjoy Thor: Love and Thunder, which, in short, is more of the same plus a genuinely creepy villain played by superhero movie royalty (it just isn’t as good).
6 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.
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