Thor: Love and Thunder might struggle to live rent-free in the minds of Marvel’s most devout fans.
Thankfully, director and Korg actor Taika Waititi helms Love and Thunder with confidence. The winning pieces from 2017’s Thor: Ragnarök are there. The God of Thunder would find his groove across a cosmic Heavy Metal-esque fantasy. Waititi found rock music, drowning out a familiar medieval noise that plagued Thor (2011) and sequel The Dark World (2013). It’s important to mention Ragnarök’s impact in cementing Thor’s own identity. Love and Thunder entertains by staying in the cosmos while strumming that electric guitar louder.
Post-Endgame, viewers catch up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) a bit too quickly. The story in Love and Thunder moves far too quickly for any emotions to stick. As revealed in the trailers, Thor recovers from alcoholism and regains his centre. Love and Thunder sees him struggle to find inner peace as he helps out the Guardians of the Galaxy. This plot element is surprisingly thrown out the window fairly quickly in order to speed things along. Thor shows his best qualities from chemistry with other MCU characters. But he’s quickly left to his own devices (and Stormbreaker) after a strong set of opening scenes.
Without any leverage of fellow MCU heroes, Love and Thunder goes back to its mystical roots. For worse, it borrows heavily from The Dark World with typical universe-ending stakes and a less remarkable villain. It doesn’t take spoilers to reveal that Odinson and friends are on another journey stopping a bad guy from creating big CGI destruction. In fact, this is the same drill Thor is stuck with. Where Ragnarök kept Odinson from saving Asgard, Love and Thunder lacks any real curveballs.
Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) makes his debut from a 2013 Thor comic arc. Bale makes a strong case for a broken individual who became creepy, depraved and vengeful. But sadly, he falls into place as said bad guy, creating a big CGI disaster. Love and Thunder finds challenges in selling viewers to Gorr’s mission. Taking notes from Kratos, Gorr sets on a journey of wiping out every god. But Love and Thunder fails to show more of this in a universe chock-full of them. Bale puts on a serious performance akin to Malekith in The Dark World, but viewers will be disarmed at Bale’s own funny moments. More attention will go towards Gorr’s unique powers of manipulating shadow. Marvel gets creative with Gorr across those inevitable fight scenes. Extra eyes should stay peeled for a crafty black-and-white sequence that shows off Love and Thunder’s cinematography.
Throwaway montages are a pattern in Love and Thunder. The film loves using them to quickly dump exposition. But it doesn’t help make up for lost time around a hero who lost everything. While Love and Thunder could have used its story to further heal Odinson’s trauma. Shang-Chi used flashbacks to develop strong characters and world building. Instead, Thor barrels his way from one set piece to another. In the constraints of a two-hour runtime, Love and Thunder doesn’t make the best use of its pacing. This hurts Waititi’s focus on a romance-driven narrative fans have been waiting for since The Dark World. In other words, Love and Thunder is full of awesome action with an ambitious scale. The film’s story struggles to stitch it all together as seamlessly as Ragnarök did.
Hemsworth’s performance isn’t to blame for Love and Thunder’s pacing issues. In fact, Thor is as fun as ever to be around. His newfound brand of tone-deaf banter is in overdrive. Supporting characters and people in need roll their eyes at poorly-timed one-liners. Audiences will have a handful of laughs from Thor’s lack of self-awareness. Marvel finds its humour through his endearing, but immature charm. Hemsworth fans will find plenty of redeeming value in a film short of story substance. A strong character development which held Thor together across his films isn’t prominent here. He’s no longer vulnerable as he was in previous Thor appearances. Viewers might find little thrills or stakes as Odinson takes on waves of CGI enemies.
Natalie Portman makes her return as Dr. Jane Foster, nine years after The Dark World. She also debuts as the anticipated Mighty Thor from a 2014 comic arc (and a 1978 What If? issue). Love and Thunder gladly lets Jane take the lead. Her abilities with the reforged Mjölnir add new eye-candy across fight scenes. It’s an absolute joy to see Marvel follow closely to her comic arc. Love and Thunder makes a strong case for Portman’s performance. Without Hemsworth’s Thor, she adds an incredibly grounded and human impact throughout. It’s a much-needed angle as Thor’s power, banter and cape start to grow old. Jane Foster wields her newfound power with extra confidence, wit and curiosity. Viewers will be hooked at Portman’s own take on Thor, even if Love and Thunder fails to acknowledge her absence from the “snappening”.
Inevitably, Jane and Thor share the screen together. But the rushed pacing and overused montages take a toll on chemistry. There’s a hint of an awkward reunion. But their overdue romance is always cut short by Love and Thunder’s stakes. Just as viewers blush over some adorable banter, it’s swept away. There are missed opportunities to capture what made Steve and Peggy work in Endgame. Or Tony and Pepper in Iron Man 2. The angle of love is there. Sadly, Jane and Thor aren’t taking themselves seriously enough when it’s supposed to matter. By the climax, Waititi doesn’t exactly do one of the MCU’s longest relationships any justice.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are sidelined in what could have been a strong cosmic adventure. Without spoilers, they aren’t fully used to their potential. Its ensemble cast (Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillian, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel and Bradly Cooper) could have brought something to Love and Thunder’s table throughout. In a few short minutes, Endgame had set up lots of potential. But this is a Thor movie first and Waititi squanders some much-needed MCU chemistry. Simply imagine Thor: Ragnarök without Hulk.
Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) plays an even bigger role in Love and Thunder. Luckily, she becomes more involved as a companion in Odinson’s journey. There’s plenty of humour seeing her tolerate Thor’s antics. But viewers will wish for a buddy spin-off with Valkyrie and Jane. Both Thompson and Portman actually share the most fun chemistry of Thor’s team. They wasted no time comparing notes on Thor and I couldn’t get enough of it throughout the middle act. Taika Waititi steps back into the earnest role of Korg, but he was best in short bursts. The understated Kronan rock gladiator pleases viewers with a bit more screen time. A few more laughs come from his own poorly-timed voice-overs. It doesn’t help that Korg and Thor barely get screen time together. Their chemistry played a key part for Ragnarök’s magic. Love and Thunder still throws Korg into the action.
The fourth instalment isn’t by far the worst film of the Thor series. Nor is it the most memorable following the god’s MCU resurgence. Director Taika Waititi continues to send guitar riffs and refined action which made Ragnarök rejuvenating, but as Love and Thunder distances itself further from the MCU, Thor starts to make less of a dent for viewers.
Yes, there are two post-credit scenes worth skipping.