Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Christian Bale (The Fighter), Tessa Thompson (Sorry to Bother You), Jaimie Alexander (Blindspotting), Taika Waititi (Free Guy), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Writer/Director: Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)
Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
Release Date: 7th July (UK), 8th July (US)
Synopsis: When the nihilistic Gorr the God Butcher threatens to destroy all gods, Thor teams up with the Asgardian king Valkyrie and his ex-girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (who now also wields the power of Thor) to find a way to stop his genocidal plans.
The Thor series has certainly had the oddest trajectory amongst the various solo series with in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kenneth Branagh’s first film was a solid foundation and helped set the tone as a sci-fi fantasy with strong comedic undertones, and overnight turned its leads Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston into Hollywood superstars. Its sequel, The Dark World, was unfortunately a stepdown into mediocrity with a generic and unfocused plot, an increased reliance on cheap gags, and still the worst villain in MCU history; it’s far from unwatchable and has lots of redeeming qualities, but still easily the weakest entry in the modern Marvel pantheon (and yet another old review of mine I no longer stand by). After this, it seemed for a moment that Thor may just become another member of the Avengers roster, rather than a core component that helped build the franchise.
Then, Taika Waititi stepped in and spiritually rebooted the series with Ragnarok, injecting it with a bold 80s-inspired aesthetic and his own quirky brand of humour whilst also upping the action and spectacle to new heights. It refashioned the titular God of Thunder as a more dynamic and relatable hero that better played to Hemsworth’s strengths, and brought a sense of cathartic joy that’s often missing from the more self-serious MCU entries. The sheer strength of Ragnarok shot Thor back into the spotlight and now, with Waititi returning to the helm, he is the first Marvel hero to attain a fourth solo entry with Love and Thunder. Will this crew be able to make lightning strike twice (or four-ice…quice…wait, nothing comes after thrice?…um…four times, depending on how you look at it?), or should the son of Odin have taken a hint from fellow OG Avengers and taken an early retirement to Valhalla?
Taking place in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame (the MCU timeline has gotten a bit confusing as of late), Love and Thunder retains much of the zaniness and wit that made Ragnarok such a blast, but also takes the franchise in unexpected new directions. Much in the same way as last year’s Shang-Chi, it’s so refreshing to see a solo Marvel film mostly unconcerned with fitting into the larger cosmos of the MCU and simply telling, as our title character repeatedly exclaims, “another classic Thor adventure!” Where it falters slightly and doesn’t quite meet the quality of its immediate predecessor, ironically, are the same flaws that held Ragnarok back: a structurally imbalanced plot and a scattered attention span. Whilst the previous entry managed to compensate for this with its idiosyncrasies, here the surprise has worn off a bit and its easier to see the flimsy pieces connecting all the gags and set pieces. Waititi’s more laidback approach to directing works great in its moments of comedic respite, but it does also leads to pacing issues and a more fractured editing style; you can just sense how many scenes must have been binned, or how much improvising they’ve cut around. It’s not an inherently bad style of filmmaking, but it’s one that requires a lot of skill and a fair bit of luck, and sadly fate wasn’t as much on Waititi’s side this time around.
With that criticism out of the way though, Love and Thunder compensates for its structural shortcomings by turning up the thematic elements and taking the character in a more heartfelt direction. Despite the potential galaxy-wide threat posed by its main villain, this is a much more personal and emotionally-driven journey for Thor as he continues to grapple with himself post-Thanos. Continuing the anti-colonial subtext of Ragnarok, Love and Thunder‘s God-killing plot could be seen as an allegory for billionaires and the 1%. These are immensely powerful omnipotent beings who could use their abilities to help the world, instead selfishly hiding away and showing active disdain for their worshippers; the metaphor would only be more obvious if Gorr started literally eating the gods instead of merely killing them.
But on a grander scale, and as the title suggests, it’s a story about love in various incarnations, which motivates both its heroes and villains in its own complicated ways. This is most exemplified by a sequence showing how Thor and Jane’s relationship fell apart; something that was explained away with a handwave in Ragnarok. It’s seemingly just a funny rom-com spoof, but it leaves a sad undercurrent throughout the rest of the film as it further ruminates on the nature of love itself. This all comes to a head in a climax that is undoubtedly one of the most touching and heartwrenching conclusions to a superhero film I’ve ever seen; I was genuinely tearing up towards the end. It’s a bold choice that mirrors Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s own detour into tearjerking sentimentality in so many ways, and some audiences will undoubtedly feel disappointed it’s not more Ragnarok. However, also like Vol. 2, I expect there’ll be a fair bit of reppraisal down the line as folk stop comparing it so much to Ragnarok and judge it for what it is trying to do.
The character of Thor has certainly had the biggest evolution over the course of the MCU, and Chris Hemsworth has been a steady hand at keeping the character fresh and exciting through various directors and visions. Even though he may have gotten himself back in shape, the scars left by the events of Endgame still linger in Thor as he once again finds himself lost about his purpose in life, which makes this a perfect moment to reintroduce Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster to the mix. Hemsworth’s strong comedic chops are once again put to great use as he finds himself in a bit of an identity crisis to see his ex now wielding his own powers, and the journey he goes on as he comes to terms with those complicated feelings are the true heart of Love and Thunder. Portman, meanwhile, matches that with a performance that blows her previous MCU appearances out of the water. She retains the awkward and insecure aspects that made Jane endearing, seen here as she tries and fails to settle on a superhero catchphrase, but there’s an element to her arc here that adds a neccessary layer of sadness; comic fans will know what I’m talking about, but please don’t ruin it for anyone who doesn’t. More than anything, you can tell Portman is having a lot more fun here being the hero rather than just the damsel, and I hope her Mighty Thor does a lot to inspire all kinds of people to keep fighting.
Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie was one of the best additions to the Thor mythos and she continues to be a fun presence here, but she sadly ends up feeling like a bit of a third wheel to the two Thors. There’s a fun sister-like relationship between her and Jane that doesn’t get enoug time to shine, and her new responsibilities as King ultimately don’t factor in too much. Waititi himself also returns as the lovable rock man Korg, but this time around he’s here purely for comic relief and to add a humourous running narration; he’s still consistently funny, but he’s far from necessary to the plot. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy may be dissapointed to hear they’re gone within the first fifteen minutes, their appearance feeling obligatory to tie up a loose end from Endgame, but the dynamic between Thor and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord is still a lot of fun and it’s still a treat that’ll hold audiences over until the long-awaited Vol. 3. Jamie Alexander’s return as Lady Sif is little more than an extended cameo, with no real explanation as to what she’s been up to since The Dark World, whilst Russell Crowe camps it up with a ridiculous Mediterranean accent and pot-bellied body armour in his brief appearance as Zeus.
Who thankfully doesn’t disappoint is Christian Bale in his supervillain turn as Gorr the God Butcher. His motivations may veer towards the basic and his appearance simplified compared to his comic book counterpart, but he makes up for it in sheer unhinged menace. The opening sequence showing his origins is one of the best cold opens in MCU history, making him an immediately relatable character that ties deeply into the film’s thematic intent. This is what Malekith could have been in The Dark World, proving a simple “kill everyone” antagonist can be effective as long as they have a personality and a memorable performance backing it up. Seriously, Bale’s Gorr will be the stuff of nightmares for younger viewers, and may well rank up as one of the best villains in the MCU canon.
When the first Thor was coming out, people were worried that Jack Kirby’s iconic vision of Asgard simply wouldn’t translate to screen or, worse, would be junked in favour of a more generic fantasy aesthetic. Luckily, the first film embraced the stylism of the comics and Love and Thunder gleefully continues playing with its hyperealism to create a wonderfully wacky visual experience. The cinematography is garish but in a good way, splashing colour and light across the screen whenever it can, but it also pulls it away for great dramatic effect. The opening sequence is a wonderful example, as Gorr finds himself one moment in a desolate waste before discovering a verdant oasis, or later when our heroes arrive at Gorr’s asteroid lair, and almost all colour drains from the image. The production design is fantastically over-the-top, packed with twisted alien structures and a gaudy, commercialised New Asgard in what feels like a not-so-subtle dig at Disney’s theme park empire.
The editing is easily the weakest element of the film on a structural level (the fact there are four credited editors is certainly a sign), but on a moment-to-moment basis the action scenes pop and the comedy are expertly timed for maximum impact. When it comes to music, Marvel veteran Michael Giacchino steps in as the fourth composer to handle Thor’s soundscape. He does a solid job of emulating the 80s synth rhythms of Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for Ragnarok, but also brings in other musical influences to create a varied and effective superhero score; you’d expect nothing less from Giacchino these days. On top of that though, Love and Thunder features more licensed music than any MCU movie not called Guardians of the Galaxy, and though choices like AC/DC, Guns ‘n Roses and Dio could easily be seen as cheap and obvious in other hands, it fits perfectly into the film’s camp and unapologetically-sincere vibe.
Thor: Love and Thunder may lack the visceral impact of Ragnarok and certainly won’t please everyone, but for those willing to open up their hearts and go along for the ride, it’s a wonderfully entertaining and refreshingly honest piece of filmmaking from a director who clearly wants to show he’s more than “that funny guy from New Zealand”. I have no doubt this’ll divide the fanbase as much as Iron Man 3, if not more so, but if you loved that film’s boldness and willingness to take risks, you owe it to yourself to give Thor’s latest classic adventure a whirl. Marvel fatigue is absolutely a problem in the current blockbuster landscape, but it’s a sentiment I believe the studio can overcome by continuing to diversify and shake up the formula. Eternals and Multiverse of Madness were imperfect steps in that direction, and Love and Thunder isn’t without its faults either, but I hope they continue taking risks like this with their established properties.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10