Taika Waititi’s follow-up film lacks focus and drive.
After helming one of the most entertaining and hilarious entries in the MCU that made a formerly boring hero interesting, it was a no brainer that Taika Waititi would return for another Thor. (This amidst his TV shows, other films, and his non-stop barrage of acting roles — he’s a busy guy.) So here we are five years later with his next Thor film in Phase 4, a bridge phase with no clear big bad and no real discernible direction save for some multiverse drama. Most notably, this film brings back Natalie Portman, who famously left the MCU after lamenting that her role was nothing more than a damsel in distress. Pulling from Jason Aaron’s Mighty Thor series run, this film lured back Portman with the chance to wield the shattered hammer Mjolnir becoming Thor opposite Hemsworth’s Thor.
Love and Thunder has Christian Bale as the once devout Gorr, who, after being abandoned by his god and suffering the loss of his daughter happens upon the Necrosword, which grants those who wield it the power to slay gods. Now “Gorr the God Butcher,” he travels the universe dispatching deities, working his way to Earth looking for the God of Thunder in New Asgard. It’s there while battling Gorr that Thor discovers Jane Foster, who was dying from stage 4 cancer but is now wielding Mjolnir and going by the moniker “The Mighty Thor.” The two join forces along with Valkyrie and Korg to try to raise an army of gods to stop Gorr, who kidnaps the children of New Asgard on his escape. It’s a weird mix: you have this rather superficial love story playing in front of Jane’s fight with her own mortality and Gorr with his philosophical and literal war on all gods (which, thanks to Moon Knight, we discovered were very real beings).
Bale and Portman do the majority of the heavy lifting here, and Bale is truly eerie as a character who’s the MCU embodiment of German expressionism. Hemsworth hangs to the side with Waititi as his sidekick as Korg, attempting to channel ‘80s-era Kurt Russell. Part of what made Ragnarok so great was Thor finally had a hook with his humor, which was interspersed with the more action-packed and melodramatic elements of his story. Love and Thunder is all filling and no donut. It feels like the progress Thor made as a character was retconned, as the Thor presented here feels no different than at the beginning of Ragnarok. The Iron Man films were a great example of MCU character evolution, which organically led to Tony’s sacrifice at the end of Endgame. You’d figure that after three films, the death of Loki, losing his homeworld and half its inhabitants, and killing his sister and Thanos would have infused the character with more pathos, but that’s not the kind of film Waititi makes.
Structurally, the film is also a bit of a mess. The first act with the Guardians feels wasted and like another movie spliced onto the larger film, with no bearing on the narrative at hand. They’re simply there to provide closure to the end of Endgame, and once Thor is back on his own, it’s back to the funny business as usual. The film has some brief character moments peppered throughout and is filled with sloppy action set pieces that lack any of the style or polish of Ragnarok. Everything just feels like it was half baked at best before slapping it on the page and calling it a day. Waititi is a busy artist, but this film just feels so rushed. It also feels like the last few films had Thor working toward something as a character, and this film just throws that character development in the garbage for the sake of some cheap laughs rather than continuing that thread and journey.
Thor: Love and Thunder is okay at best, not really offering much by way of story or character development for Thor or the MCU. Hemsworth dials up the ham and dials down the drama for a film that once again makes Thor the least interesting avenger. The MCU is slowly turning into a mess at this point; we are getting all these story threads that don’t seem to really amount to a whole lot of movement, unlike in Phases 2 and 3 where it felt like we were working towards an endgame (ha). The biggest wasted opportunity here was Jane Foster’s story, which should have been the film’s main point of view as she’s the one wielding Mjolnir and, like Gorr, is struggling with very big theoretical conundrums. Instead, we are faced with a god who is upset that he is losing his girlfriend. As far as a narrative hook, that’s the most shallow component of this story.