Now 29 films deep, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gradually become one of the most narratively expansive — and commercially dominant — examples of interconnected long-format storytelling. And whereas many of cinema’s most prolific franchises like James Bond, Zatoichi, and Godzilla have had decades to build up their voluminous libraries, Marvel’s done it in a relatively short time with fairly consistent success.
Still, with a decade-plus of world-building and universe-building, and even multiverse building, some loose threads are bound to occur. What’s Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) been up to since his ominous turn at the end of Doctor Strange? What the heck happened to Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) after clearly being set up for sequel treatment in The Incredible Hulk?
While the MCU is a trove of ideas and stories, it’s also an engine of commerce with all kinds of real-world business complexities, people, and contracts behind the scenes. One of the biggest disappointments over the years has been the apparent loss of a disinterested or disenfranchised Natalie Portman and her character Jane Foster, abruptly explained away in Thor: Ragnarok as having broken up with Thor and presumably out of the picture.
The new Thor film, Love and Thunder, is like all the best Marvel movies a great adventure, and it gets a lot of things right, but perhaps the most satisfying aspect is tying up one of those famous loose threads. It’s the continuation of the story of Jane Foster and her relationship with Thor, a story of rekindled love as suggested in the film’s title. It’s quite probably the most genuinely romantic film in the MCU, and analyzes in a very real and honest way why their relationship originally fizzled.
The explanation for why Jane suddenly reappears in the storyline as an Asgardian-armored heroine, wielding a reinvigorated Mjolnir, is also baked directly into her history with Thor (in other words, it’s not as clunky of a development as it might seem).
This is all set against a new conflict for Thor and company, facing off against a new villain, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Once a religious zealot, unanswered prayers and a dead daughter led him to renounce his faith and seek revenge by destroying all gods with the help of a “necrosword” that corrupts its bearer (think Gollum and The One Ring) as it is wielded. Bale’s villain is one of pathos and justified rage, and a definite highlight. He’s also pretty terrifying, lurking in darkness and conjuring shadowy monsters to do his bidding. This may just also be the scariest movie in the MCU.
While certain themes and storylines weigh heavily, there’s still a totally pleasing energy that carries over from Thor’s last adventure, mixing quirky comedy, awkward characters, and hair-metal style to the proceedings. Even more so than in Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi seems to approach the film as making a really rad heavy metal album cover come to life. Without going into the details, there’s a scene near the film’s climax in which Thor leads an army of kids into battle against Gorr’s necro-monsters and it’s a fist-pumping and crowd-pleasing action sequence on par with Ragnarok’s “Immigrant Song” battle.
Waititi’s creative leadership is indeed a continuation of the direction of Ragnarok, with his trademark mix of comedy and style. The film is even narrated by Thor’s pal Korg, who is played by Waititi. Perhaps it’s a bit on the nose, but it definitely cements even further just who is the storyteller here. This may even be the most auteurist film in the MCU.
That’s a fair few superlatives to throw out, but the point is that Thor: Love and Thunder goes hard. It’s packed with gags and laughs (Russell Crowe as a pompous and catty Zeus, oh my gods) yet also emotionally resonant, even to the point of having an unusually affecting post-credits scene: these bonus stingers are typically reserved for gags or big teases, this one instead brought me to tears.
And in Marvel fashion there are a fair number of great returning supporting characters, chiefly Thor’s companions Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi), and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Aside from a couple dodgy CGI effects (there’s one particularly distracting one where a floaty mask is poorly superimposed over a character’s face), I have no real complaints. Ragnarok was my favorite solo Marvel movie, and this continuation feels like Taika doing what he does.