Thor: Love and Thunder Review
by Paul Preston
The Movie Guys
When Thor: Ragnarok was greenlit, I wish I was in the room. To me, it felt like a successful pivot. 2011’s Thor was directed by Kenneth Branagh and it had some of the qualities you might associate with Branagh’s Shakespeare dramas – stately, very adult and maybe even a little square. 2013’s Thor: The Dark World was one of the least well-received Marvel movies at the time with the worst critical reception until Eternals. It seems to me that Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios did something the brass at the DCEU can never quite bring themselves to do – change things up. Flip the script. Do. Something. Different.
And man, was Thor: Ragnarok different. Suddenly, Thor Odinson wasn’t this god from another realm but a trying-hard-but-not-always-winning, imperfect DUDE. The tone, the dialogue, even the casting did almost a complete 180 (Christopher Eccleston – OUT, Jeff Goldblum – IN). The result? The best reviews at the time for the MCU (currently, it places fourth behind Iron Man, Avengers: Endgame and Black Panther) and $200M+ more than the previous Thor films at the worldwide box office.
So, was the plan to do Ragnarok all along and have it be the rock concert that director Taika Waititi churned out? Or was going as out-there as Ragnarok did, a change of plans when Marvel saw what they were doing with Thor wasn’t in line with the success they were having with Iron Man and Captain America? I’d like to think it was the latter. I’m sure you’ve read that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over, and over again and expecting different results. The last thing I’d call Kevin Feige, author of the 28-film groundbreaking, never-seen-before-or-again masterpiece that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is insane. MAD GENIUS, maybe! …but not insane.
It stands to reason that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Like sticking with the Russos to close out the Infinity saga, Waititi has been asked back to bring his particularly eclectic style of superhero storytelling for Thor: Love and Thunder.
When I saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, my girlfriend pinpointed the reason why it’s a great movie: In their films, and whatever large-ness is going on in them, Marvel Studios has an exceptional talent for exploring a simple human truth. Sharp observation, Susan. You get full credit. Multiverse of Madness explores the concept “Are you happy?”. Strange ends up in conversations about this question with Christine, Wanda and, finally, with Wong.
At the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Strange found himself atop the State of Liberty fending off beings who were trying to enter our world through a giant rip in the sky. I thought, “Oh, man, some of those creatures will no doubt make their way into our universe in Multiverse of Madness and we’ll have ourselves a rumble.” Nope. That film took the more interesting approach of using multiple universes not as a source of danger, but as a mirror to look at your own life. Wanda, of course, took a look into alternate universes and saw herself happier there and would kill and destroy whatever was in her way to get to that happier life where she had children (And who knows? A brother again?).
Marvel has explored another human truth with Thor: Love and Thunder – the idea of choosing love. And it comes in many complicated forms, from choosing it when time is running out to choosing love when you are hell-bent on revenge. What Waititi does here better than in Ragnarok is explore these themes with a more balanced mix of drama and humor. I remember seeing Independence Day with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum smoking cigars and cracking jokes towards the end of the film and I wondered if we should be having fun when BILLIONS of people just died. Maybe, even though it’s a fun action movie, the stakes that were set up previously in the film should still echo through the finale. As much fun as Ragnarok was, it was really tough having a blast when Hela slaughtered the entire Asgardian army and eventually ALL of Asgard was destroyed, along with Odin, Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg. Some of the jokes seemed hollow sharing the screen with such rampant good guy death. There’s less massacre and more personal conflict in Thor: Love and Thunder, to the film’s credit.
(Slight set-up spoilers ahead. Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want the setup!)
The film begins with Gorr (Christian Bale), a father and member of an unnamed, God-fearing race, traveling across the desert carrying his daughter. He eventually loses her to the elements and blames the Gods. Gorr comes in possession of the Necrosword, or, more correctly, it chooses him and his dark, vengeful soul, and he begins a quest to murder the Gods that would allow something as awful as the death of his daughter.
In Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) world, he begins the film traveling with The Guardians of the Galaxy, a situation he found himself in at the end of Avengers: Endgame. He can still vanquish villains like the best of them, but there was something missing (choosing love) and Thor decides rather than roll with the Guardians, he’s going to do some soul searching. Back into his life comes Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who seems to have also been called by a mysterious weapon – Mjolnir, which imbues her with the power of Thor. This power covers up a deadly illness she’s fighting. And then, movie. You don’t want me to tell you any more of it.
My thoughts outside of story include the welcome return of Portman as Jane, who brings emotional depth to the proceedings. Matching her in that department is new-to-the-MCU Bale as Gorr, going all-in on being villainous, but all the while having interesting complexity (Is he WRONG to want to kill all Gods? They really are a bunch of self-serving a-holes). Tessa Thompson continues her strong work as Valkyrie, who is now the King of New Asgard on Earth. And Hemsworth continues to be one of the more surprising actors to carry an MCU movie. Robert Downey, Jr. was a risk, but you knew he had the chops and even Edward Norton seemed like a great idea, given his history as a leading actor. But who was this Chris Hemsworth? No one asks that anymore.
There’s nothing Waititi and co-screenwriter Jennifer Kaytin Robinson set up that they don’t punch. Some situations seem impossible, like how will this group of children of Asgard escape an attack by an army of Shadow Monsters? Turns out, the most crowd-pleasing way possible. Thor’s mystical, space-traveling giant goats, Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher, show up and bellow with the scream of a human (they really could go viral) and they lay that in with the Rule of Sevens or Eights or something, and it somehow never gets old.
And the hero moments are, as ever with Marvel, off the chart. I remember watching 2012’s Avengers and went nuts for all the hero moments framed in that film. Like nothing I’d ever seen. Now, there are that many fantastical shots and moments in the opening fight sequence of Thor: Love and Thunder with a whole movie left to further impress.
As ever, tech elements are top-notch, specifically a fight in The Shadow Realm where all color is drawn from the characters and their surroundings, except for flashes of it when it’s especially magical and the results are visually stunning.
Waititi makes this all look effortless. There’s not a lot to do in the story – go here, go there, do this, etc. – but there’s a lot that it seems he WANTS to do. It’s like he makes his job harder because of all he wants to stuff into this movie. To pile on the jokes and the drama and the whiz-bang visuals and to make the audience take amazing for granted in every scene is truly remarkable a decade and a half into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Release Date: Jul7 8, 2022
Run Time: 119 Minutes
Country: United States/Australia
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures