Considering the various Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor is in an intriguing position. Given the events of Thor: Ragnarök, let alone the last two Avengers films, Infinity War and Endgame, his prime journey has seemingly been completed. And yet, here we are with Thor: Love and Thunder, making Chris Hemsworth’s signature character the first in the MCU to receive a fourth solo feature. Fittingly, Thor is in a state of not knowing his purpose, and co-writer/director Taika Waititi has found a way to explore this notion in a manner befitting of an Oscar-winning filmmaker with lots of oddball sensibilities. The result is a film that’s perhaps not as well-rounded as it needs to be, but certainly lively, colorful, funny, and a proponent of the idea that love conquers all.
At the start of this film, we deal not with Thor but with Love and Thunder‘s villain, Gorr. Christian Bale embodies this man in the way one would expect – with utter commitment. Bald, frail, and pale, it would not appear Gorr is long for this world, only for him to lose everything and realize the God he worships has not been worthy of such prayer. Armed with a sword that can destroy deities, Gorr rebrands himself as “The God Butcher,” and his ultimate goal could have drastic consequences.
So, why lay out all this description of the villain when it comes to what is primarily a fun lark for the God of Thunder? Well, Waititi sees a challenge in attempting to combine tension and stakes with a character who works well as a lumbering oaf who can get the job done. Can the job of balancing a variety of tones work in a film like this? The easy answer is yes, as the film is ultimately successful, but it’s still a bit more complicated.
As good as Bale is in this film (and I’d argue he’s one of the best MCU villains we’ve seen), Hemsworth knows his way around Thor at this point, and I like what the film is trying to do with him. Essentially, with most of his family dead or gone and not feeling like New Asgard is the place for him, Thor may have gotten back in shape and is better at taking down enemies than ever, with help from his trusty axe, Stormbreaker, but he’s still all alone. Using these angles, Hemsworth pushes himself to play into the reflective side of Thor, as well as the big 80s cartoon hero he feels like, and another version – lovelorn.
After leaving the franchise due to dissatisfaction with Thor: The Dark World, let alone not wanting to be little more than the girlfriend character, Natalie Portman has returned as Jane Foster, with Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson utilizing the Lady Thor plotline as a means to have her in on the action, as well as the ridiculous comedy scattered throughout.
There is a deeper meaning to why Jane is back and now superpowered as well, but while l can leave it to the film to explain, credit does go to what Portman brings to this slightly recalculated version of the character. The key to its success is how Jane still has the same personality she had in the first two Thor movies (geeking out when it comes to science and magic), only now she also happens to have superpowers.
Bringing her back means delving into why she and Thor broke up and the nature of loving relationships as a whole. Love is the primary theme of Thor: Love and Thunder, and I very much enjoyed the lengths Waititi went to make sure that registers. Whether looking at the chances of Thor and Jane getting back together, or the casual mentions of various partners by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) or Korg (Waititi), for all the action and spectacle in this film, love is constantly a factor. I only wish it was able to balance out better.
It’s funny, as I’m not suggesting I needed a Thor series, but looking at these various MCU shows that have come out on Disney+ and how they’ve mostly felt like stretched-out features, Love and Thunder really tries to pack a lot into a two-hour movie (shorter than the average MCU film at this point). In addition to the romantic plotline, there’s also the God Butcher running amok, some side quests, such as an opening featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, and an attempt to recruit Zeus (Russell Crowe) to help stop Gorr.
Having various grand Thor adventures is all well and good, but there’s a level of momentum that never quite feels as consistent as it needs to be. Still, the movie is never not compelling in its various sequences (whether leaning on comedy or drama), and it must be said – every choice Crowe makes in his depiction of Zeus, accent included, deserves an A+.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Love and Thunder has to be one of the more interesting-looking films in this universe when considering the art direction. That’s not too surprising, as Ragnarok was a delightfully colorful feature (even while set mainly on a trash planet), and The Dark World is still one of the best-shot MCU films due to being one of the last to go to a variety of locations and not just Atlanta. Due to the pandemic, as well as the success found in utilizing what’s known as “The Volume” for Disney’s The Mandalorian, while largely using a contained and elaborate soundstage for Love and Thunder, this film still continues the Thor movie tradition of trying to explore new visual ideas.
Yes, there’s a plainness to some indoor scenes set on Earth, but the tendency for Thor movies to go cosmic leads to interesting concepts coming to life. Gorr has a section where his location is devoid of all color. The way this film plays with that allows for striking moments playing up his threat as a character and what we expect from the action. Similarly, finding ways to portray a variety of Gods or even moments featuring the Guardians and whoever allows for some dynamic ideas that serve the film well.
Additionally, while juggling so many ideas can be tricky, the sense of humor on display leads to terrific gags, running jokes, and more. Given more of a chance to do whatever he wants, the weirdness Waititi brings to this film extends to Thor’s weapons having their own personality, screaming goats that never stop being funny to hear, and a general glibness when it comes to the standard Marvel stuff. As goofy as he can be, Waititi is all about building characters, and it’s a neat joy to see him play with the personalities while finding ways to undercut the action beats required for this superhero franchise.
That’s not to say Thor: Love and Thunder comes up lacking in the action department. There are plenty of ways to see the Thunder God, Lady Thor, Valkyrie, and Korg show off their battle skills, some more surprising than others. Plus, since Ragnarok had to get the Led out, this time, Waititi emphasizes Guns N’ Roses, which very much plays to this film’s advantage. Given the shiny costumes and various references, whether or not the story feels fully satisfying, there’s undoubtedly a beat this movie wants to march to, whether it comes to the fights, the funny, or the pure bombast.
Labeling a film as unusual seems like an excellent way to go for an ever-expanding cinematic universe that could use more shaking up. Waititi’s good-natured humor, his attempts to bring in some sturdy drama, and the overall vibe that suggests an 80s rollercoaster of emotion allow Thor: Love and Thunder to serve as a fine outing for the big lug Hemsworth loves playing. Whether or not that’s good enough to have all involved allowed to enter Valhalla, at the very least, they can take a trip to Paradise City.