Thor’s latest trip to the big screen can’t quite reach the bat-out-of-hell bonkers highs of Thor: Ragnarok. Still, the signature humor of the series is in amply supply. For most MCU fans, that will surely be enough, right? As the first Avenger to get a fourth solo entry, Thor: Love and Thunder witnesses the Norse God fully committed to being the kind of superhero he should be: arrogant, kind, and not afraid to look silly.
Even though Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Asgard’s favorite son often leaned into humor, it wasn’t until writer/director Taika Waititi arrived that Thor, as a series, became a comedy first and whatever else a distant second and third. Plus, those classic rock songs are certainly a big plus. For those about to rock, the MCU salutes you, now with Guns N’ Roses stacking the playlist.
Alongside Hemsworth, there’s a strong cast, both returning and new to the MCU. Most notably, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster returns from a near-decade absence (if you don’t include her voice as Jane in Marvel’s What If… we certainly don’t). Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is also back, as is the lovable, no-nonsense rock dude Korg (voiced/performed by Waititi). The two biggest newcomers are Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. One as the film’s central villain and the other as another kind of antagonist.
Mild spoilers on previous MCU films to follow…
Storywise, this is Thor and (briefly) the Guardians of the Galaxy’s first appearance since 2018’s Endgame. Last we saw them, Thor was planning to tag along with Star-Lord and his pals for interstellar hijinks. However, those looking forward to a Peter Parker/Dr. Strange-type team-up… prepare to be disappointed. After all, this is a Thor film, so beyond an early rushed but fun action scene, the Guardians are quickly out of the picture.
The main plot concerns Thor and his own team on a quest to save Asgardian children who’ve been kidnapped by Gorr the God Butcher (Bale). The plot is merely a serviceable excuse for Watiti and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson to set up hilarious exchanges between Thor, Valkyrie, Korg, and back-in-black Jane Foster. The best moments of Love and Thunder come from cast chemistry.
Like What We Do in the Shadows (the film and FX series), Waititi excels at a particular brand of scenarios where friends/co-workers bring out the best and the worst in each other. Still, beyond line deliveries, the New Zealand filmmaker has a real gift for visual flourishes, even from the mundane. Thor tales are clearly more extravagant in design than Shadows’ Staten Island setting, but the jokes land nearly every time. One of my favorites, involving a pair of loud oversized space goats, is funny the entire run time.
Clocking in under two hours (with credits), this is better-paced, although less a “full meal” than Ragnarok. Like the Doctor Strange sequel earlier this year, thin plotting can only go so far, even with terrific humor. Some well-earned emotional beats, especially with Jane Foster’s character, also worked great despite having minimal setup.
Conversely, despite a strong performance by Christian Bale, Gorr is pretty forgettable and, worse, generically conceived. Without spoiling too much, he’s essentially furious at the gods, gets a special sword, and plans to kill them all off (Hence his moniker). Unlike Killmonger in Black Panther, while Gorr’s backstory is undoubtedly empathetic, it lacks any kind of weight. Killmonger’s arc had genuine issues of race and socioeconomic inequality to pull from. I suppose you could say Gorr’s battle with “the gods” is a stand-in for any government, corporation, or faceless power that exploits its people, but it’s too nondescript to leave any real impact. Still, Bale being a great actor, he delivers the best he can.
On the (mostly) positive side, I liked the use of multiple tracks from 80s hard rock band Guns N’ Roses (Ragnorak only used Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”). The music choice sets the stage for the kind of Thor outing Love and Thunder chooses to be. Shot during COIVD with extensive use of “the volume” – a sort of virtual set used on Disney+ shows like Obi Wan – there’s a lack of epicness. Part of that is the result of shooting during a pandemic, but I think the story here is better served on a smaller scale anyway. While getting the Led out made sense in the world-ending plot of Ragnarok, a down-and-dirty band like GnR makes more sense as the stakes are far more personal. So in that way, it’s a win, but in other scenes like Russell Crowe’s big moment as Zeus feels, well, like a scene from a Disney+ show, not a $200 million blockbuster.
Thor: Love and Thunder is an enjoyable entry in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may lack the heft of the previous entry, but it’s still a notch above the first two Thor films. Oh, and stay around for two Easter eggs that hint at the franchise’s future!