Thor: Love and Thunder(7/7/2022)

As sequel-crazed as Marvel has been, one thing you have to hand to them is that until now they’ve been pretty steadfast about limiting any one superhero to having no more than three solo movies.  Iron Man was super-popular but his trilogy ended way back in 2013 and while Robert Downey Jr. still showed up in all sorts of other MCU movies that was indeed the last dedicated Iron Man film.  But their stance about that clearly seems to have changed because Thor has, surprisingly, become the first of these characters to land a fourth installment, which is likely the result of a lot of factors.  For one, Thor is sort of the last of the original Avengers left standing.  I suppose The Incredible Hulk and Hawkeye are still around, but both were determined to be side characters unworthy of their own movies a long time ago.  Secondly, Chris Hemsworth has only had sporadic success outside of the world of Marvel and may be more willing to keep the checks coming than some of his former co-stars.  But I think the biggest factor is that director Taika Waititi kind of reinvented the Thor series with the character’s third film, the well-received Thor: Ragnarok, and Marvel likely felt that cutting off this new creative golden goose after one movie for arbitrary reasons would be foolish.  So Thor has returned for a Waititi helmed fourth installment: Thor: Love and Thunder.

The film picks up some weeks or months after the events of Avengers: Endgame and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been traveling the universe going on adventures with The Guardians of the Galaxy (who, despite their heavy presence in the film’s advertising, are only in it for all of five minutes).  For mostly arbitrary reasons it’s decided by his companions that it’s time for them to part ways and Thor goes following a distress beacon sent by his friend Sif (Jaimie Alexander), who warns him that a malevolent being called Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) has been murdering “Gods” with a magic sword called the Necrosword and may be coming for Asgard next.  As such, Thor teleports back to New Asgard where he finds that his former flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has somehow picked up his newly repaired Hammer and has herself become a thunder god.  Unbeknownst to him, this is because she has been afflicted with cancer and hoped the hammer would heal this and it’s not entirely clear if it is.  This reunion is less than peaceful, however, as he bumps into her in the middle of an attack by Gorr in which he kidnaps several Asgardian children and teleports him to a distant realm.  To deal with this Thor, Foster, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Korg (Taika Waititi) must devise a plan to save them.

I should say upfront that I was not expecting greatness from Thor: Love and Thunder.  Unlike the last couple of MCU movies (Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), which seemed to promise some new revelation or development in the whole MCU experiment to be revealed, this one really just advertised itself as providing something of a romp in the style of Thor: Ragnarok.  That, to me, is not a good thing.  I generally found Thor: Ragnarok’s comedic tone obnoxious, a little bit of Taika Waititi goes a long way.  Ultimately that movie was able to strike a decent enough balance between that and more conventional MCU drama and ended up just on the right side of annoying and I liked the movie overall, but it wasn’t an approach I wanted much more of out of the MCU.  Sure enough this sequel takes that style and turns the irreverence up even more, which is not what I want but even if it was I don’t think I would be satisfied by what the movie is doing because the movie is shockingly unfunny.  Don’t get me wrong there is some stuff here I’d legitimately consider clever and witty in that Taika Waititi way but it didn’t make me laugh much and surprisingly I wasn’t alone in that.  The nearly sold out opening day Marvel audience I saw the movie with, who would normally be happy to lap this stuff up, was not really audibly laughing much in the screening even at pretty obvious attempts at humor.

Oddly enough the film’s strongest element is the thing in it that’s not very comedic at all: its villain Gorr the God Butcher.  Christian Bale plays Gorr as this lanky gray man covered in strange scars and sharp teeth like a sort of cross between “God of War’s” Kratos and Gollum from Lord of the Rings.  Bale feels pretty dedicated to the role but the character also kind of feels like something out of a different movie and the movie rather botches the stakes of his evil plan.  We’re told that he’s on a quest to kill off the various Marvel versions of the mythological gods but outside of the Asgardians the MCU has not really set up what role these “gods” play in the universe.  My understanding had previously been that the Asgardians were not true gods and were in fact just advanced aliens who early humans mistook for gods, but this movie really seems to think every culture’s deities are like that and what makes them distinct from regular powerful aliens and how they continue to interact with “their people.”  Beyond that the movie’s just too busy horsing around to really explore the extent to which Gorr’s vengeance quest may be justified, and if the film really had balls it might have tried to tie that in with the Jane Foster character’s situation and whether or not “the” god was failing her in her time of need.

Really the movie has tonal inconsistencies throughout.  It feels like it was written to be a much more straightforward MCU movie and then Waititi came in after the fact feeling obligated to wedge his comedy into it whether that was appropriate for the story of not and there are pretty big swings between irreverence and themes that are actually quite dark.  When handled with care this sort of “laughing so that you don’t cry” sort of thing can work but I don’t think that’s really done correctly here at all.  Even beyond that the movie has plenty of problems unto itself.  The Guardians of the Galaxy are totally wasted in their brief appearance at the beginning of the film for example.  I also don’t think that the film’s trip to the land of the gods, complete with an extended bit with Russell Crowe playing a Marvel version of Zeus with a ludicrous Greek accent, kind of went nowhere.  There are some striking moments that stand out like an extended fight scene in black and white but whatever stakes would have been in place for that scene have been so undercut by the film’s general goofiness by that point that it feels like a waste.  The whole movie kind of feels like a waste really.  If it had managed to capture that balance that Thor: Ragnarok managed it could have been pretty fun but I think Waititi got a little high on his own supply and got it into his head that he could just wisecrack his way into everyone’s good graces but maybe he should have put more thought into it.  There is enough here to keep it from being a disaster and there have certainly been worse Marvel films but this isn’t the revitalization they needed.
**1/2 out of Five

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