Thor: Love and Thunder (United States, 2022)

July 05, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Thor: Love and Thunder Poster

Boiled down to its essence, Thor: Love and Thunder is just another comic book movie – a celebration of the tropes that have made each new MCU entry an opportunity for Disney to fatten its coffers. Nevertheless, “it” director Taika Waititi shows a better grasp of how to wring humor out of the formula than he did in his uncertain previous Thor outing, Ragnarok. While not going full Deadpool, Waititi strays farther down the road than any pure Marvel movie has thus far done. This gives Love and Thunder a free-spirited sense of fun and mischief that allows the viewer to uncover something more enjoyable than the monotonous sameness of the fight sequences and CGI overload. There’s a downside, however – comedic action movies lack the gravitas necessary for dramatic moments to have the desired impact. It’s hard to take this movie seriously even when it wants us to do so.

Although Love and Thunder fits firmly into the Thor quartet of films (and the larger MCU tapestry), it has a refreshing stand-alone quality. Waititi employs a voiceover narration (provided by him) to fill in background details and establish backstory and there are numerous obvious connections to other Marvel movies franchises (the most obvious being the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy during the first 20 minutes). Despite that, however, the movie feels more like an interlude than a critical cog in a building story. This is a chance to catch up with how things are going in Thor’s corner of the galaxy without worrying about the cosmological crap of Eternals or the deus ex machina-rich muddle of the Multiverse. The movie works because it brings back a few veteran favorite characters, doesn’t rely on Big, Twisty Surprises™, and leans heavily into the comedy of the absurd.

Things don’t start out lighthearted. Weirdly, the opening scene is highly reminiscent of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Coincidence? Homage? Regardless, there’s a parched, dusty planet like Nimbus III and a balding alien looking for water. In this case, the alien is Gorr (Christian Bale), whose gods have abandoned him, resulting in the death of his daughter. But a series of coincidences presents Gorr with the opportunity to possess a malevolent sword with a thirst for divine blood and he decides that, since Gods are false, vain, and supercilious, he will hunt them all down and extinguish them. Of course, since Thor is a god, we can see where things are headed.

Next, we are re-introduced to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s ex from his debut movie. Nearly a decade later, Jane has become a prominent physicist but she’s suffering from terminal cancer and willing to try non-traditional means to give meaning to her last days. Her connection to Thor’s shattered hammer Mjölnir allows her to become “The Mighty Thor” (a female version of the Norse God). Unfortunately, while this transformation imparts her with tremendous powers, it doesn’t arrest her cancer. If anything, it accelerates it.

Thor is hanging out with the Guardians when he first learns of Gorr’s butchery of gods. They split up, with him going to New Asgaard while they head off to their streaming Christmas special. Thor arrives in time to join Jane and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in a special effects-laden confrontation with Gorr that, as must be the case in all Act I battles, ends inconclusively. To track the villain (and rescue the children he has kidnapped), Thor and the two women decide to approach the greatest god of all, Zeus (Russell Crowe), and seek his aid. That encounter results in the rarest of rare moments: nudity in the MCU! (Admittedly, it's only a quick shot of male buttocks, but it’s still much more than we’re used to seeing in Disney-funded Marvel productions.)

Hemsworth is no stranger to comedy but this is his first opportunity to employ it so fully as the occasionally clueless God of Thunder. Natalie Portman, who played the brainy love interest in her previous MCU appearance, gets an opportunity to kick ass and have a little friendly competition with her former lover. Christian Bale, known for changing his physical appearance depending on the demands of the role, eschews comedy in favor of tragedy, making Gorr the God Butcher one of the most conflicted and intriguing Marvel Baddies. Russell Crowe leans into the fatuousness of Zeus with an “opening number” that could have been straight out of Xanadu for its cheesiness.

Although Michael Giacchino gets credit as the composer, it’s evident that Waititi has a fondness for vintage (‘80s) hard rock because the movie is peppered with those songs (Guns N’ Roses especially). They do more than bleed into the overall aesthetic; they establish it. Visually, the CGI feels excessive. There are times when Love and Thunder treads the line between live action and animation, and not always in a good way. Filmmakers in the MCU often seem overwhelmed by their large budgets and lose all sense of restraint, forgetting that more, lavish special effects can actually be counterproductive to immersion (at least from a narrative/emotional perspective).

When Waititi employed a lighter tone for Ragnarok, he informed Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel cinematic team that his vision of their universe was less serious than that of some of the other directors. Since then, he has honed his approach so that Love and Thunder feels more natural in its use of slapstick and verbal humor. In four movies, Thor has done a complete 180-degree shift from the quasi-Shakespearean approach employed by Kenneth Branagh in the debut episode. Thus far, the 2021-22 roster of Disney/Marvel post-pandemic titles has struggled to advance the series beyond Thanos in a meaningful fashion. Although it’s questionable whether Thor: Love and Thunder changes that, it has a helluva lot of fun trying.

Thor: Love and Thunder (United States, 2022)

Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Chris Pratt, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe
Home Release Date: 2022-09-27
Screenplay: Taika Waititi
Cinematography: Barry Baz Idoine
Music: Michael Giacchino
U.S. Distributor: Marvel Studios
Run Time: 1:59
U.S. Home Release Date: 2022-09-27
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Brief Nudity)
Genre: Action/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1