Movie Review – Thor: Love & Thunder
Principal Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, ,Russell Crowe, Jaimie Alexander, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillen, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper.
Synopsis: Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster to fight Gorr the God Butcher, who intends to make the gods extinct.
The most popular of all remaining OG Avengers, Thor Odinson, sees a return to the big screen for his fourth solo film – although considering this film is almost entirely an ensemble piece, calling it a “solo” movie is disingenuous indeed – as well as the heralded return of filmmaker Taika Waititi, taking the director’s chair for the second time in this franchise. This is both a good and a bad thing, as Thor: Love & Thunder’s operatic, galaxy-spanning nonsense amps up the director’s off-the-wall humour often at the expense of character and story, shoehorning in all manner of sidebar and non-sequitur gags, a vastly underused Christian Bale as one of the MCU’s more menacing villains in recent memory (certainly in Phase 4), and a complete waste of the hugely anticipated return of Natalie Portman to the franchise.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Hemsworth) was last seen skiving off on adventures with the Guardians of The Galaxy, who appear here in protracted cameo form led by Chris Pratt’s Star Lord and Karen Gillen’s Nebula, before he encounters a wounded Siff (Jaime Alexander) who describes an attack by a vicious hunter known as Gorr The God Butcher (Christian Bale). Thor realizes that Gorr’s next target will be New Asgard, located on Earth, and travels there to protect the former residents of his homeworld before his bold actions are usurped by a powerful Mjolnir-wielding Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is using the power of Thor to prevent her body from fading away following a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Gorr manages to secret away the children of New Asgard, forcing Thor, Jane, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi) to travel to Omnipotence City, an enormous citadel of all universal deities, to plead with Zeus (Russell Crowe) for help. Finding none forthcoming, Thor steals Zeus’ thunderbolt and heads to the Shadow Realm, where Gorr lies in wait, hoping to take Stormbreaker, Thor’s mystical axe, and use it to enter the realm of Eternity, therefore destroying all the Gods.
Before I dig into what makes Love & Thunder a pretty mediocre film, I should point out that despite my problems with the movie I did have a blast watching it. The film is availably in its IMAX ratio on Disney+ and this was the format in which I finally saw it, and I have to say that despite a few gargantuan plot issues and a pervading feeling of only getting half a story overall, at a technical level Thor: Love & Thunder is a beautiful, beautifully made visual effects extravaganza. Where he may fail in storytelling, Waititi makes up for in sheer visual flourish, and the film wants for nothing in epic scope and scale as Thor and his cohort of heroes traverse the galaxy with a pair of screaming goats. Yes, giant screaming goats seem to gather the lions share of laughs in this insistently strident cartoon come to life, as if Waititi has taken the more humorous aspects of his work on Ragnarok and stripped away all the emotion and gravitas.
It’s a film in which comedy is the overriding principal, for better or worse; Waititi’s screenplay finds the soul of Thor’s charisma boiled away to leave only deadened minor chuckles from Hemsworth’s game performance, an insufficient arc for Portman’s Jane Foster, and a wasted opportunity for Christian Bale to cement himself as a truly sympathetic villain in his first Marvel role. Unfortunately, Waititi hasn’t balanced the pathos with the gags, the crazy with the compelling – Ragnarok did this perfectly, in my opinion – and Love & Thunder, while thunderously produced, is deeply unsatisfying. The film feels like a middle-movie in a trilogy, somehow, like if you started watching Lord Of The Rings only at The Two Towers; Jane’s return is overshadowed by her cancer diagnosis which in and of itself might have been a truly powerful throughline for the entire film, and yet Waititi treats it as a C-level plot at best. Portman, sporting a rippled physique and superb costuming, is underserviced remarkably by a piecemeal plot and story arc that never fulfils, never feels completed, and comes to a halt without the emotional import I suspect Waititi might have expected. How do you take such a potentially devastating plot point for the love of Thor’s life and turn it into such an indifferent and cobbled-together sub-sub-plot and do Natalie Portman such a disservice, I’ll never understand. So too, Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher, who is given a tragically haunting backstory and character setup, somehow becomes a bystander in his own machinations as Hemsworth’s Thor takes center stage, leaving the Oscar-winning actor to flounder beneath ghastly (excellent) makeup effects and a terrifying screen presence that’s neutered by indifferent focus on his motivations. For a dude calling himself a “God butcher” he really doesn’t do much butchering of Gods, at least on screen.
Hemsworth, as Thor, is back to his hulking buff self, ripped muscles on display as often as the screen will allow it, and as always the actor isn’t afraid to make himself look the fool if it services the character or story – unfortunately, the film constantly belittles Thor as a character, making him nigh redundant in his own movie, and never allows Hemsworth to flex the dramatic muscles we saw in the last two Avengers films. Hemsworth’s capability is badly underutilised here, in favour of cheap one-liners and Thor’s inability to grow as a character. This is the most puzzling aspect of all; how can a character so effortlessly full of himself in all the previous Thor films, who is comprehensively changed completely by the actions of Thanos and the Infinity Stones, suddenly revert back to type as if his personal growth in those films never happened? Introspection? Nope. Empathy? Very little. Instead, let’s revert back to the braggadocio Thor we all loved earlier on and push away all the subtlety and nuance his character has endured and encapsulated over the last four or five years. Hell, a tacit reminder that Thor still thinks Loki (a character this film could have sorely used) is dead and gone is played solely for laughs in one of the film’s true bright spots – watching Hemsworth go up against Russell Crowe’s lothario-esque Zeus is almost worth the price of admission – but it just shows how indifferent Waititi is to the audience’s expectations for the character, and how he’d rather play for laughs than for anything resembling character growth.
Love & Thunder is a film that looks and feels more like a comic book brought to life than any MCU film before it, at least any MCU film since the Infinity Saga wound up. The bright colours, populist needle-drop soundtrack (replacing “The Immigrant Song” from Ragnarok with Guns N Roses’ “November Rain” is a stroke of genius, one of few in the film) and hyperbolic camerawork, editing and production design all do a lot to try and paper over the feeling of thinness the plot evokes, so for what it’s worth at least your eyes and ears will be having fun even if your brain starts to feel the tug of disappointment about half way through. The shortcomings of Waititi’s story choices hamstring the potency of his visual tenacity with an abundant drive for laughs – at times the film’s insistence on going for the joke instead of landing a solid dramatic beat made my eye twitch, it was so frustrating – and the film can’t withstand the three-pronged character narrative with such an ill-toned mandate. Either make Gorr truly terrifying and Jane’s plight truly devastating and have Thor wrangle with both, with dramatic weight, or do something else. Love & Thunder feels like it wasted two Oscar-winning performers in potentially franchise-high moments and that’s the biggest takeaway I had with the movie.
You know when you’re stuck at a kid’s party and there’s that one child who just wants you to hear every single one of his knock-knock jokes, even the ones he made up in the car on the way there? That’s what Love & Thunder is like. Unfortunately, Love & Thunder is one of those films where you feel like you’ve come in half-way through a story and have to try and play catchup to the storyteller. It also lacks a cohesive throughline – what is the overall point of this film, entirely? – and misses the mark in growing the character as a whole, something even lesser MCU entries, such as Thor: The Dark World, managed to accomplish in spite of everything else. Unfettered access to the MCU pantheon and an unrestrained director showcasing the whacky comedic streak he has imbued in all his film and television projects to-date have proven to be Thor’s Achilles heel (if you’ll pardon my mixing of theological metaphors), with the film’s frivolity and formless focus leaving a sense of underwhelming incompleteness for the viewer. Franchise fans will probably find a lot to whoop about but the casual viewers will likely not return to the film’s bespoke charms again.