Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
The one is not the only.
Taika Waititi’s previous entry into the MCU, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) was undeniably one of the most fun and energized movies the franchise had made up until that point. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 (2013) was a good template of how the MCU could integrate a director’s sensibilities and particular humor while still remaining within the structure the cinematic universe allowed. Waititi took the template one step further with Ragnarok, which was imprinted with the previously indie director’s sense of the absurd. In doing so, Waititi forged a visual blueprint for Thor that could best be described as 80’s retro meets swords and sorcery on an acid trip.
Thor: Love and Thunder picks up all the elements of Waititi’s previous flourishes yet somehow seems to water them down to a point where the humor feels like a rehash of Ragnarok, and the director front-loads the film to such an extent that by the end the blend of comedy and pathos doesn’t have the impact it requires.
The movie begins by giving the audience the origin story of the film’s main antagonist, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Gorr is a man trying to survive with his daughter (India Rose Hemsworth) on a planet that has become barren. Gorr begs his God to provide sustenance for his daughter, only to hold her while she perishes. Nearing his own death, Gorr sees an oasis where he finds his God celebrating the defeat of one who was sent to slay him. His God is a self-interested oaf who has long ago given up any notion of protecting those who worship him. Gorr, his eyes now open to the hypocrisy of those he worships, picks up the Necrosword that was wielded by the attacker and becomes bonded with it. He kills his God and makes a vow to kill every God from all realms.
Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy (sans Gamora, but plus Korg, voiced by Taika Waititi) and trying to reconcile his purpose. After suffering some crushing losses in the past that include his parents, his brother, his home realm, and members of his found family, The Avengers; Thor has become contemplative and is essentially suffering from a mid-life crisis (if such a thing can exist for an Asgardian who is over a thousand years old). Wielding Storm Breaker, Thor seems to have forgotten how to work with a team and has reverted somewhat to the arrogant grandstander of Branagh’s Thor. There’s a shade more complexity to what’s going on with Thor, but Waititi doesn’t truck with subtlety during the early portion of the movie. Korg gives a quick rundown of what’s happened to Thor and why he is feeling lost, which is also a quick way to update the audience on Thor’s journey over nine films — not that anyone watching the movie really needs it.
Elsewhere, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), astrophysicist and Thor’s ex-girlfriend, is dealing with problems of her own. She’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and no matter how hard she tries to find a cure via science, she simply can’t. Eventually, the call of magic in the form of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir acts as a temporary cure for her condition and transforms her into The Mighty Thor. In conjunction with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), she has been living in New Asgard and learning how to be a superhero. When Gorr attacks New Asgard, Thor and The Mighty Thor meet up again with a lot of uncomfortable small talk interspersed with a kinetic action sequence where they must fight off Gorr’s shadow creatures and stop New Asgard from falling.
Gorr manages to trap the children of Asgard, including Heimdall’s son named Axl — a shout-out to the enormous amount of Guns N’ Roses on the movie’s soundtrack. Axl (Kieron L. Dyer) has inherited his father’s gift of vision and guides Thor to where the children are being held — a shadow world devoid of color. Although Thor and his team want to rescue the children, they are aware that they are no match for Gorr and decide to journey to Omnipotence City, the dimension of the Gods, to ask them to build an army to defeat the God Butcher.
The Gods, led by Zeus (Russell Crowe doing his best Con the Fruiter accent), live in palatial luxury. They’re no longer interested in the affairs of their worshippers and instead live for feasts and orgies. Thor gives an impassioned speech about how they need to act, but Zeus isn’t convinced. A more cynical Valkyrie decides that it’s easier to steal Zeus’ thunderbolt, which the quartet does, much to the consternation of the remaining Gods.
The movie is a relatively straightforward affair in terms of action and heroic dangers. Thor has to save the universe from Gorr. Where it gets slightly more complicated is that, in effect, Gorr may be right about his opinion towards some of the Gods, even if his intent is dreadful. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was far from innocent, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela was proof of how Asgard came to its supremacy. Valkyrie lost her girlfriend in battle with Hela and was abandoned by her Gods. Thor is perhaps the only God left who is actually concerned with the lives of mortals, but even he left New Asgard to go on a journey to “find himself.”
Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Someone Great (2019), do try to inject some serious messaging into the movie, but it is so often countered by the need for there to be gags. Tonally what we’re left with is something that is desperately trying to entertain with low-stakes jokes (the best running gag is that Storm Breaker is jealous of Mjölnir) and what is, in the end, a reasonably low-stakes adventure. Some Gods are essential to peace in respective galaxies, and of course, if Gorr succeeds in wiping out Gods, then Thor is done for.
The unsubtle premise that “all you need is love” may count in terms of character growth for Thor, but it doesn’t make for much of a movie. By the time the audience has encountered all the comic callbacks from Ragnarok and dealt with Korg’s narration of Thor and Jane Foster, the emotional impact has rapidly declined. What worked in a movie that was pre-Avengers: Endgame (2019) doesn’t really gel. The Thor that could be goofy in Ragnarok can’t really exist after everything the character went through in 2018’s Infinity War and Endgame. Waititi insisting that Thor just needs to open up his heart again to heal is more than a little shrug worthy after audiences have seen the actual effects of trauma on other Avengers.
Visually the film skirts between the sublime and the ridiculous. Cinematographer Barry Idoine, The Mandalorian (2019), is clearly at the mercy of the VFX team. There are some sections of the film that stand out as particularly well done, especially Gorr’s black and white Shadow realm. In comparison to the hyper-saturation that Waititi employs in almost every other part of the movie, the Shadow realm does produce some chills. For a movie with so much turned up to eleven, it’s sadly quite bland and repetitive. Of course, there are some winning scenes, but it really feels that Waititi has stretched himself too far as both a storyteller and a director.
Chris Hemsworth does his best to deliver Waititi’s version of Thor. He’s a competent comic performer, but he increasingly feels like he’s doing a ‘bit’ rather than acting a part. Natalie Portman, Black Swan (2010), doesn’t really sell the comedy written for her as The Mighty Thor, but I fear this comes down to Waititi’s writing more than her talents. Only Tessa Thompson, Creed (2015), seems to get off relatively unscathed as King Valkyrie — she manages dry wit with assurance and works as a foil to the more ludicrous aspects of both Thors. Korg, who was one of the best parts of Ragnarok, is simultaneously underused and overused. As a character who is much wiser than he appears, he’s fantastic, but as the narrator of this story, he’s tiresome. Christian Bale as Gorr seems to relish his role, and he’s generally such an accomplished actor that he can elevate any part.
Thor: Love and Thunder is very much a curate’s egg. There is good, there is bad, and there is a whole lot of indifferent. Audience enjoyment of the film is going to come down to how much they can swallow the meager offerings Waititi serves up after seemingly using all his best material in Ragnarok. Emotional investment in Thor and Jane is also key — if only Hemsworth and Portman could make it work. There’s enough meat on the bones for the film to provide middling entertainment, but it’s a shame Waititi seemed to have so little to really flesh the movie out. Apparently, Thor will return, but to paraphrase Thor’s catchphrase, “This ends now,” seems a better response.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Nadine Whitney