Thor: Love and Thunder seemed guaranteed to be a slam dunk. Director Taika Waititi is back at the helm after 2017’s gloriously entertaining Thor: Ragnarok, with Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian Avenger finding its lovingly comedic groove and Natalie Portman making an epic return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe after a nine-year absence.
Surprisingly, the 29th MCU movie, which hits theaters July 8, misses the mark. In an effort to balance comedy with drama and merge multiple classic comedy storylines into one story, Thor’s fourth solo adventure spreads itself too thin and ends up feeling shallow.
It starts promisingly enough, with a grim introduction setting up Christian Bale’s villainous Gorr the God Butcher. After his harsh desert homeworld claims his daughter’s life, his encounter with an uncaring, callous god drives him to mount a campaign to slaughter every divine being in the universe.
This sequence is atmospheric and patient, giving Bale’s performance time to breathe and leave us feeling his growing despair, confusion and anger. Then the Marvel Studios logo rolls in and the roller coaster begins. Emotional resonance? No, that’s all you get in this movie.
Don’t expect to spend a lot of time with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The last time we saw Thor, in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, he had decided to join Guardians of the Galaxy for some space adventures after Thanos’ defeat. But the God of Thunder completely outshines his newfound allies, making him resemble an overpowered video game character as he crushes their enemies and makes the Guardians look a little useless.
We get a colorful, visually striking action sequence and a generous helping of superhero collateral damage, but Thor and rocky ally (he’s literally made of rocks) Korg (Waititi) soon decide to go their separate ways, taking the Guardians storyline. overboard and largely waste Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan and friends before the joke has a chance to develop. It feels like this movie couldn’t wait to get away from the annoying continuity and return to the Asgardian storyline of Thor’s solo movies.
On Earth, Thor encounters his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Portman) in battle as Gorr attacks Thor’s fellow Asgardians. She wields his old hammer Mjolnir, who has been found worthy in her darkest hour and gains powers comparable to his own.
Thor relaxes in one of the film’s rare moments of calm.
Given the highly recognizable health issues that Jane faces, this storyline should be the emotional heart of Love and Thunder. The movie just doesn’t take the time it takes to let the challenge it’s face sink in, as if scared of getting too real and overly eager to take us to the next adventure (some dramatic moments are also undermined by the two post-credits scenes).
That need for speed extends to the action — Jane in particular uses her newfound skills in amazing ways, but neither the editing nor the cinematography gives us time to enjoy it. It’s unlikely that many shots from this movie will settle into your head like moments from other MCU adventures – nothing reaches the dizzying heights of Captain America’s elevator fight, three Spider-Men going into battle, or Scarlet Witch’s encounter with the Illuminati.
The awkwardness between Jane and Thor is initially quite fun – due in large part to the charisma and chemistry of Portman and Hemsworth – but it doesn’t develop in a particularly engaging way. A one-note joke about Thor and his new weapon Stormbreaker turns out to be more memorable, and even that soon feels played out.
Valkyrie is clearly an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan.
Rounding out the hero team is King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who is bored of her role as the leader of the magical tourist trap that has become New Asgard. While the film doesn’t explore her boredom enough, Thompson imbues the character with enough mischief that she’s a joy to watch. Even her clothing choices hint at a fascinating inner life – her Phantom of the Opera shirt is far more intriguing than any superhero costume out there.
One of the strongest scenes is a quiet conversation between Jane and Valkyrie, as it’s a rare example of the film slowing down and giving its actors and writing space room to connect emotionally. Aside from Hemsworth’s magnetic screen presence and imbecile comedic timing, one can’t help but wonder if this adventure would have been better without Thor.
After his momentous introduction, Gorr’s threat is greatly diminished. The comic book counterpart to the God Butcher (introduced in Jason Aaron’s beloved 2012 Thor: God of Thunder run) feels like a major threat as Thor follows a trail of divine carnage across the universe.
Love and Thunder merely alludes to this, largely reducing Gorr’s villainy to kidnapping Asgardian children as part of a larger plot. He doesn’t feel a direct threat to the heroes, which makes him feel more like Gorr the God Botherer.
Gorr is beautifully presented during this adventure.
Despite this, Bale’s performance and aesthetic choices inject the character with plenty of eerie spectral boogeyman vibes (apparently inspired by Aphex Twin’s deeply disturbing Come to Daddy music video). A center showdown with the heroes is one of the MCU’s most visually stunning sequences, with ingenious use of shadow and color.
This movie isn’t nearly as loaded with cameos as its direct MCU predecessor, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, but it does cast a scene-stealing Russell Crowe as a narcissistic Zeus. Unfortunately, his role is mostly limited to a single shiny set piece that proves largely forgettable as the main story races through.
Love and Thunder doesn’t match the incredible stories that inspired it. It doesn’t lean into the director’s style or maximize the dramatic potential of the cast, feeling more like a superficial, unsatisfactory mashup. It’s still a fun, silly entry in the MCU canon, but isn’t the classic Thor adventure that the handsome hero seems to think he’s on.
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