Since director Taika Waititi redefined what a Thor movie could be with Thor: Ragnarok, his follow-up — ultimately titled Thor: Love and Thunder — has been one of the more anticipated Phase 4 Marvel Studios films since it was first announced. But if you’ll recall, we had a cold response to Ragnarok, although we enjoyed it more on a subsequent re-watch free of a particularly bad theater experience. Likewise, we saw Love and Thunder under more agreeable circumstances and it may have aided our appreciation of the film, something much closer to the “full-throated” wackiness we wanted from Ragnarok. It is the exact sort of lighter weight fun we needed at this point in the summer.
Picking up sometime after Avengers: Endgame, it opens with Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) still palling around with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but as Korg (Waititi) explains in a voice-over, the God of Thunder is once again spiritually empty. Doing the Guardians’ work is just too easy and as we’ve seen across most of Thor’s time in the MCU, he is prone to a form of ennui. But that all changes when he becomes aware of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), an alien hellbent on wiping out all the gods in the cosmos. Meanwhile, on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) comes into possession of Mjolnir under circumstances that are still spoilerific, but as previews have revealed, she becomes the Mighty Thor and ready to adventure alongside the heroes of New Asgard.
And to cautiously step into a spoiler zone, that setup only hints the movie to follow. In truth, it is a journey of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen proportions with a non-zero Monty Python influence. Even from Thor’s opening jaunt with the Guardians, he — and the eventually assembled team of Thor, Korg, The Mighty Thor, and King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) — saunters from set-piece to set-piece, introducing new ideas, situations, and visuals until, surprisingly, all of that falls away for a conclusion the most keen viewers will anticipate from the jump. We, in fact, did not guess the exact nature of the conclusion, although the thematic nature was obvious.
But unlike many Marvel movies, the conclusion is not the point of the film. In fact, Love and Thunder revels in its journey. The characters, colors, and score pop to life with rare panache (although we could’ve used more early metal songs to balance out the Guns ‘n’ Roses tracks) and each sequence is loudly marked by the two screaming space goats glimpsed in various trailers. It even attempts to say something about the precarious nature of love, although we have to admit that element is one of the weaker aspects of the film. In fact, just about every serious note feels out of place here, but that may be down to Waititi and his collaborators having much more fun with the lighter parts of the movie. A visit to the court of gods presided over by Zeus (Russell Crowe) proves to be a wonderful centerpiece. The action is fun, the jokiness at the right pitch, and everyone is just so damned committed to it.
Bale is also committed as the film’s primary antagonist. Initially presented as heartbroken, he quickly moves to terror and, at least for one scene, a figure of gallows humor worthy of Michael Palin. Also notable: the voices he adopts here are not as ready for parody as his Dark Knight. That’s definitely a step-up in terms of his work in tentpole films, which always betrays a little bit of embarrassment on his part. We’re tempted to say he is one of the better antagonists introduced in a while, although, we’d also entertain arguments to the contrary. Villains are, oddly enough, one of Marvel’s greatest stumbling blocks as they either become vaguely heroic (see Loki), more terrifying for what they represent (Thanos), or just cracked-mirror versions of the hero (Yellowjacket).
Another stumbling block for the studio is its ongoing narrative. While it is absolutely great when it works, it also generates an expectation that each film will be a vital chapter in that saga. Love and Thunder, at least at this point, does not appear to be the next link in a Phase 4, 5, and 6 chain and that may be disappointing to those anticipating a Thanos-like reveal or a greater understanding of the brewing storyline. But as we said earlier, the film is not about the destination. It is most confident in its goofy road-trip nature. The immediate moment matters more than any teaser for subsequent events (even the handful that do appear) and that, honestly, makes Love and Thunder a pleasure to watch.
One last criticism, though. For all of Thompson’s suggestions that King Valkyrie would find a queen, this aspect of the character’s personal journey is never once broached in the final version of the film. Whether this was just talk on the actor’s part or an idea transferred to a subsequent appearance remains to be seen. It also underscores a film which ultimately has little time for its supporting characters. But then again, a laser focus on two or three characters helps the overall lighter feel that we absolutely appreciated.
Thor: Love and Thunder is now in theaters.
Since director Taika Waititi redefined what a Thor movie could be with Thor: Ragnarok, his follow-up — ultimately titled Thor:COMICONRead More