By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
Few fantastical / superpowered characters have undergone as many different transformations and arcs as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thor. A once somewhat stale character was reborn with Taika Waititi’s singular perspective on the character that didn’t shy away from Thor’s vulnerabilities and humor. Then, the Russo Brothers oversaw peak, heroic Thor in Avengers: Infinity War, before showing the character’s tragic downfall in the face of trauma and heartbreak in Avengers: Endgame. Now, with Thor: Love and Thunder, the Asgardian god of thunder returns and becomes the first Marvel superhero to lead four solo outings.
Thor: Love and Thunder picks up sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Chris Hemsworth once again wielding the hammer in the titular role. Thor’s journeys with the Guardians of the Galaxy come to an end as he returns to Earth and New Asgard to face the threat of a god-butchering supervillain (played by Christian Bale). Meanwhile, Thor’s former love interest Jane Foster (played by returning star Natalie Portman) returns to the fold, now as the Mjölnir-wielding Mighty Thor.
It’s not long into Thor: Love and Thunder that it’s apparent the film is less refined than and polished as its predecessor Thor: Ragnarok. While Taika Waititi’s first MCU effort felt original, inspired, and thoughtfully put together, Love and Thunder comes across as a more haphazard, frantic endeavor. Propelling forward at a choppily brisk pace, the film features a variety of jarring, quick edits that move the audience from scene to scene a tad too quickly. Amidst some truly gorgeous visuals brought to life by Waititi and cinematographer Barry Idoine, there are too many shots with distractingly poor CGI and continuity errors attributable to clearly reshot scenes (Thor’s interrogation before Zeus and the other Gods is a particularly salient example of this). All of this makes for an experience that never quite comes together and disappointingly falls short of Ragnarok’s brilliance.
Moving at such a brisk pace is allowed by the refreshing simplicity of Thor: Love and Thunder’s main plot. An opening scene providing background for Christian Bale’s villain Gorr establishes the film’s narrative very effectively and efficiently. Unlike some other MCU installments (i.e. Captain Marvel, Thor: The Dark World), Love and Thunder is entirely free of convoluted and messy storytelling. Although some may see the narrative as inconsequential or underwhelming, an isolated story free of multiversal implications and teases for future projects is refreshing.
As for the journeys our characters go on, Love and Thunder yields mixed results. Thor’s arcs in Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Endgame are unique and developed the character in interesting and unexpected ways. The same can’t be said for Thor in Love and Thunder. Last time audiences saw him, Thor had a new lease on life as defeating Thanos and relinquishing his position as King of Asgard granted him freedom to join the Guardians of the Galaxy. Love and Thunder picks up with a brief, Korg-narrated montage showing Thor working out, losing his Endgame weight, and getting a new metal-inspired outfit. This makes for a cool, witty version of Thor, but not one that builds upon the character in any meaningful way.
In a separate but related point, the Guardians of the Galaxy’s inclusion felt obligatory to say the least. Avengers: Endgame clearly set up a collaboration with Thor and the Guardians in the future, which, at the time, was due to be Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Behind the scenes controversy involving director James Gunn and Gunn’s subsequent work on The Suicide Squad meant that Marvel Studios reshuffled their release schedule and, with this reshuffle, positioned a Thor 4 ahead of a Guardians 3. The Guardians play a surprisingly small and inconsequential role in the film, with some members not even uttering a line in the film. It’s not long after audiences see the Guardians again that they are abruptly written out of the film’s narrative and never return. Fans hoping for more of the banter between Thor and the Guardians that was on display in Avengers: Infinity War will be disappointed.
The (re)introduction of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster affords opportunities to explore Thor’s romantic leanings and perhaps develop the character in this manner. However, outside of a series of admittedly funny jokes about Jane and Thor’s relationship (and the hilarious personification of their respective weapons, with Stormbreaker becoming angry at Thor like a jealous spouse due to his lasting love for Mjölnir), the ‘love’ part of Love and Thunder falls flat.
Natalie Portman’s return, however, certainly does not fall flat. A rather sudden and off-screen transformation into the Mighty Thor aside, Jane Foster plays an unexpectedly emotional part in the film. It has been years since Jane and Thor were together and, with the passage of time, Jane has seemingly insurmountable struggles to overcome that will resonate very well with audiences. With the aid of Waititi’s writing, Portman also exercises her comedic skills, something she hasn’t had the opportunity to do enough in her accomplished career.
Indeed, one of Waititi’s strengths as a director and writer is his ability to balance action so well with comedy, a trait that shines in Thor: Love and Thunder. Not all the jokes land, which is to be expected in any comedy, but those that do are great. Chris Hemsworth proves once again that he has expert comedic timing, delivering witty one liners and quips with ease throughout the film. It’s great to see Tessa Thompson return as Valkyrie, now King of Asgard. Thompson’s ability to land jokes rivals Hemsworth’s as she, once again, is terrific. Waititi’s Korg comes out with some hilarious lines here and there, but the king of comedy here is Russell Crowe, who steals the show as an absurdly and brilliantly over-the-top Zeus. Although he only features in a single scene, Crowe has an immense effect on the film due to the strength of this performance. Every mannerism and line are performed to perfection and make it abundantly clear that fans will be clamoring for more of Crowe’s Zeus in future MCU projects. Overall, the film’s humor becomes a little heavy handed and borders on parody at times, but succeeds more than it fails.
Last but not least is Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher. It came somewhat as a surprise when the Academy Award winning actor and former Batman joined the MCU as a villain, and even more surprising when it was revealed he was playing a character covered in an elaborate costume and make-up. Thor: Love and Thunder opens with an exposition scene with Gorr that, as mentioned, succinctly kicks the film’s narrative into gear. After this scene, however, Gorr plays a disappointingly small role in the film. Bale’s few chances to show the audience what he is doing with this character are terrific – Gorr is frightening and creepy in a way unlike other MCU villains. But, there’s very little of substance to admire with the villain largely used in action set-pieces.
Thor: Love and Thunder is sure to please crowds with its dazzling visuals and witty one liners, but falls disappointingly short of the standard set by Thor: Ragnarok. Frenetic pacing, quick edits, inconsistent CGI, and continuity errors make for an unpolished and unrefined experience that, while wildly entertaining, feels haphazardly put together at times. Amidst a refreshingly straightforward story, Natalie Portman’s Mighty Thor shines, while Christian Bale and Russell Crowe excel in their limited roles. Little time is spent further developing Thor’s character, with the ‘love’ part of Love and Thunder not living up to expectations. Nonetheless, Thor: Love and Thunder proves to be an undeniably fun time at the movies and demonstrates that one of the MCU’s greatest accomplishments is the consistency with which its film entertain movie-goers.