In Review: 'Thor: Love and Thunder'
Taika Waititi tries to recapture the irreverent fun of 'Thor: Ragnarok,' but his lightness registers more like indifference.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Dir. Taika Waititi
There don’t need to be four movies about Thor. We have learned all that we can learn about the God of Thunder a.k.a. Point Break a.k.a. One Divine Hammer (okay, that last one is mine), and the series has experienced a full evolution from the Shakespearean intrigue of the first Thor, which Kenneth Branagh occasionally treated like King Lear, to the goofy irreverence of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, which seized on Chris Hemsworth’s talent for mild self-deprecation. Between the four official Thor movies, his time as an Avenger, and the Asgardian mythology that’s spun out into the Disney+ series Loki, every possible layer of this hammer-wielding beefcake has been revealed. He is purely a market-driven deity now.
The plain boring truth of most movies, and certainly a superhero movie like the new Thor: Love and Thunder, is that they need some sense of narrative urgency, some sign that the people involved care about the story they’re telling. For Waititi, who returns as co-writer and director, there’s the added danger of being professionally clever, especially if that urgency is lacking and you start to believe that merely riffing around genre tropes is good enough. That may be true of What We Do in the Shadows, the inspired TV series spun off the film Waititi directed with Jemaine Clement, but Love and Thunder shouldn’t feel like a two-hour episode of an action-comedy show that doesn’t exist.
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By contrast, Christian Bale is constitutionally incapable of the indifference that plagues the film. As Gorr the God Butcher, a villain whose destructive rampage is rooted in tragedy, Bale invests himself deeply in a role that’s near-feral in its physicality yet full of genuine pathos. In the opening sequence, Gorr loses his daughter in the unforgiving drought of a barren planet and an encounter with an uncaring god, along with access to a “necrosword,” gives him the opportunity to slake his thirst for revenge. But in the polytheistic world of the MCU, there are plenty of other gods for Gorr to butcher, including a benevolent wisecracker like Thor, who’s once again summoned from sloth to save the world.
When Gorr kidnaps the children of New Asgard to lure Thor into battle on his terms, Thor turns to old friends for help, like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and his amiable rock buddy Korg (Waititi), and he’s gifted two gigantic, unruly screaming goats, who earn most of the film’s laughs. But the biggest ally is Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, who returns to the series as The Mighty Thor, looking less like a petite earthling and more like Gina Carano. (Jackie O? More like Jackie Whoa!) Though Jane is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 cancer, she gains supernatural powers from her connection to a reconstituted version of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, and their relationship takes on a new dimension.
The chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman was one of the better aspects of the original Thor, which thrived when it dropped the King Lear theatrics and turned into a fish-of-a-water rom-com. Jane’s cancer diagnosis, along with her new god-like powers, spoils the odd-couple dynamic between the two, despite Waititi’s determination to keep Love and Thunder light. Though Thor: Ragnarok is by far the best Thor film—and one of the MCU’s brightest moments period—there turns out to be a thin line between freshening up a series with jokey self-awareness and merely spinning your wheels. Love and Thunder looks atrocious, with a screensaver brightness that’s less suited to a theater than the HDTV sales floor at an appliance outlet. But beyond that, it cannot muster a reason to exist, other than needing to come up with some adventure to pass the time. With every half-written joke, the creative stasis settles in like a stale fart.
Thor: Love and Thunder begins playing theaters on Thursday, July 7th.