Thor: Love and Thunder, 2022.
Written and Directed by Taika Waititi.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Sean Gunn.
Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster to fight Gorr the God Butcher, who intends to make the gods extinct.
Writer/director Taika Waititi (alongside Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, who receives a story credit) is not joking around as Thor: Love and Thunder (the fourth in the series and second to be directed by Waititi, previously having helmed one of the most sumptuous treats the MCU has ever produced, Thor: Ragnarok) begins. This is in stark contrast to the committed jokey tone of Ragnarok, which played to many of his strengths as a filmmaker.
The scene in question depicts Christian Bale’s Gorr (born on a planet with no name) wandering a desert with his daughter. Tragedy strikes, the elder gods mock Gorr, and before you know it, he has a deadly blade powerful enough to strike down any god. It’s a segment played straight emotionally that, even with a few quips from the selfish gods, resonates due to Christian Bale’s relatively strong performance. Unfortunately, revenge comes at a price, with that sword corrupting him and draining him of his morality.
After that, Taika Waititi switches to Thor (Chris Hemsworth; a charismatic match made in Asgard for the director) and dials up the comedy. It’s to be expected. It worked last time, and in no way am I disputing Thor: Love and Thunder should have drifted away from jokes and stopped allowing Thor to be a bumbling buffoon kept in check by the many charming supporting characters around him. But Thor: Love and Thunder does introduce a compelling emotional core in Gorr the God Butcher, only to sideline the character majorly and, by extension, a slithering creepy turn from Christian Bale, who is 100% relishing the opportunity to play this sinister yet conflicted villain (one scene calls for him to terrify a bunch of caged children, and there’s no doubt he is having a blast).
Instead, roughly the first hour of Thor: Love and Thunder is a mishmash of various Thor montages and adventures (the former brings to mind a more family-friendly take on the first Deadpool, with the God of Thunder bickering his way through a failing relationship with a mortal woman). There’s an early side quest that sees Thor teaming up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, wasting that entire ensemble as it tries to make an amusing point about how Thor is too overpowered to be teaming up with anyone (or at least the Guardians of the Galaxy). This also paves the way for Thor to realize that ever since he was ditched by renowned astrophysicist Jane Foster (a returning Natalie Portman, who hasn’t appeared since MCU low point Thor: The Dark World), there’s a hole in his lonely heart and that he wants to pursue love again even if it leaves him broken and feeling shitty again because it’s better to have loved than not to have.
Meanwhile, Jane Foster is properly reintroduced and suffering from stage IV cancer. Naturally, she remains dedicated to bettering the world through science but is running out of time, which eventually brings her to New Asgard (a fishing village/tourist attraction on Earth) upon learning that something (I won’t spoil what) might be capable of curing her. It’s not long before Jane becomes a Thor herself (dubbed Mighty Thor and, in a funny running bit, is incapable of delivering a solid one-liner before finishing off Gorr’s shadow monster henchmen) and becomes embroiled in the quest to save the unknowing gods, and more importantly, children that Gorr has brought to his playground (a visually dazzling monochrome space that resembles the moon) to spring a trap and lure Thor and company there.
In addition to the winning playful banter between the two Thors, there are also returning smaller players, including hilarious rock-creature Korg (once again voiced by Taika Waititi), Tessa Thompson’s empowering Valkyrie (who also gets to riff back and forth with Natalie Portman making for a few funny lines), and others that pop up for a scene or two. There’s also another Asgard history stageplay packed with cameos, but less fun this time, and one of many short stretches that feel like it’s trying to recapture the magic of Ragnarok while staying within a familiar wheelhouse.
The issue is that much of this is executed through an onslaught of never-ending jokes that, while sometimes funny, fail to expand on any of these character dynamics. Once again, it’s also coming inside a messy movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do for two-thirds of its running time. The result is not only feeling beaten down by jokes but a pummeling so severe that the narrative loses all shape and form, leaving everyone begging and praying to the gods that Gorr the God Butcher will grace the screen again. Unfortunately, he (far and away from the best part of the movie aside from a pair of supersized goats that make the goofiest noises) is lucky to have 30 minutes of screen time.
Fortunately, Taika Waititi does eventually right the ship, but it’s not through comedy. The final portion drastically changes gears to a touching tale of love and loss and how we choose to cope. Marvel has always struggled with memorable villains, which is nowhere near an issue here aside from the fact that Christian Bale is underused. Yes, his performance lies between hammy and genuinely frightening, but there’s also a darkly engaging conflict to the character alongside a couple of showstopping battles against Thor and friends.
Furthermore, anyone that loved the Led Zeppelin needle drops in Ragnarok is going to light up and smile from ear to ear from Taika Waititi’s whipsmart deployment of some Guns N’ Roses classics (particularly the final usage of Sweet Child O’ Mine, resulting in an adrenaline-fueled spectacle with poignancy). Taika Waititi also knows how to balance licensed music with a noteworthy orchestral score from Michael Giacchino so that one doesn’t overpower the other.
On the flip side, some action beats have not survived whatever budget cuts must be going on at Marvel, equipped with CGI that could use some touching up (there’s a character reveal during one of the ending credit scenes that looks plain unfinished) and overly glossy stage backdrops. Mostly, this comes away unscathed because Taika Waititi is skilled at depicting these characters battling with exhilarating maneuvers and weapons. However, his greatest weapon for Thor: Love and Thunder, the real thunder, so to speak, would have been a more fine-tuned balancing act of comedy and drama.
The final 45 minutes do plenty of heavy lifting and carry serious stakes and consequences, but it’s nowhere near enough to love this. It’s certainly entertaining and flies by (hallelujah, a Marvel movie under two hours), but another middling MCU entry that suggests, regardless of how much money these movies make, they might be running on fumes creatively.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com