Thor: Love & Thunder Review
When you compare Thor's film track record in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's easy to see that the Thor films have definitely been the most inconsistent in quality and tone. Thor was one of the first heroes to have a solo film for Marvel after Iron Man started things off in 2008. Thor's first film was played safe and Shakespearean with Kenneth Branagh in the director's seat telling a classic fish-out-of-water story of a God being placed on a very human earth. Chris Hemsworth played the role seriously, while the comedy came from other characters reacting to his bizarre ways.
Its sequel, Thor: The Dark World was to originally be helmed by Patty Jenkins who later directed Wonder Woman, but was let go by Marvel due to creative differences. Marvel instead chose to play it safe and incredibly bland. For their third go-round, Marvel knew Thor needed a major shakeup and Taika Waititi was brought in to give the character and his series a major makeover. He followed James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy template and let Hemsworth really lean into his comedic chops while filling the film with color and music. The resulting film Thor: Ragnorak was a huge success and beloved by fans. While the other phase one Marvel heroes had their trilogies and moved on, the audience and Hemsworth were up for more Thor after feeling like the character had finally been revitalized.
For Ragnorak's follow-up, Waititi was once again brought back and decided to double down on all the things he felt made that film great. In Ragnorak he had brought in Oscar-winning talent for his villainess Hela in Cate Blanchett, so once again he sought out the best actor he could find for his villain with Christian Bale set to play the god-butcher Gorr. Waititi also brought back the fan-favorite side characters he introduced in Ragnorak, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Korg (voiced by Waititi himself). But to mix things up, he also opted to bring back Thor's love interest Jane (Natalie Portman), who audiences hadn't seen since Thor: The Dark World, but this time with a twist: Jane would become "The Mighty Thor". For those who don't have Marvel arcs memorized, "The Mighty Thor" is a storyline in the comics where Jane herself receives the god-like powers of Thor and dons the mantle, thus becoming an honorary Norse God. This announcement was met with skepticism by fans, though most were willing to go along with Taika's vision and see where it would take the series.
Thor: Love & Thunder catches up with our hero Thor directly after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Thor has now teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy as they save other planets, while simultaneously working to get his body back in shape after all the grief eating he did after Avengers: Infinity War. Meanwhile, we learn that Thor's old flame Jane is undergoing health issues that have made her desperate for a miracle, and she thinks she may have found one in Thor's original hammer, Mjolnir. Before she (and the audience) knows it, she's essentially become a female Thor and is ready to be a hero when her path inevitably crosses again with Thor. The two must join forces and stop the evil Gorr, who has an ax to grind with all Gods in the universe. He's sworn to destroy them all and only Thor, Valkyrie, and Jane seem willing to try to stop him.
As someone who enjoyed Thor: Ragnorak, it gives me no pleasure to say that Thor: Love & Thunder is a half-baked hot mess. It flits along between three acts, strung together with contrivances and constant jokes that never seem to land. The film has a major "show don't tell" problem in that it constantly uses shortcuts through narration and montages to just tell the audience how Thor is feeling, and what we as an audience should be feeling too, rather than showing us. This is most notable in the crux storyline of the film, which is the rekindled romance between Jane and Thor. Waititi realizes the previous films didn't set up the romance that well, so he fills in the gaps with montages telling us how important Jane really was to Thor. As a result, their moments together just kinda fall flat when we should be really rooting for them to make their way back to one another. Plus the small bits of dialogue that do try to get this point across are just downright sloppy and clumsy.
Hemsworth's charm makes him watchable, but the film around him just isn't. Portman is along for the ride and while on the surface it appears she's given much more to do this time around, the truth is her role here is hardly a meaty one for her and while she's having fun, I can't sense her trying very hard here. One of the few bright spots is Christian Bale, who gives a deliciously villainous performance as Gorr but is severely under-utilized in the film as a whole. His opening scene is fantastic, but the film needed more scenes like it to build up his reputation and establish him as the threat that Bale portrays him as. Tessa Thompson is solid again as Valkyrie but gets sidelined quite a bit as comic relief. Instead of powerful moments, we get indulgent humor that tries too hard but never once made me laugh. And don't even get me started on whatever it was Russell Crowe was going for with his version of Zeus.
Waititi ultimately juggles too much and is unsuccessful in his attempts at pretty much everything he tries to do--be it humor, drama, action, or romance. He may have had a grand vision for his follow-up to Ragnorak and the way to mesh these storylines and genres, but the film is just never able to take off the way it should and ultimately falls flat on its face. Whenever it seems to gain any momentum, Waititi just gets in his own way and drags the whole thing down. The third act is the most egregious example of this as right when the movie seems like it's getting down to the action it hits the brakes, does a U-turn, and gives us a worse finale than the one it set up before.
Thor: Love & Thunder is one of the worst and ugliest Marvel films in recent memory and continues the trajectory of the uneven quality found in the previous Thor films. For all the money behind it, the resulting film feels so slapped together, with no care put into it. But then again, can we really be surprised when a film put on autopilot crashes and burns? I went into this with really low expectations, but even that couldn't help this dud.