Thor: Love and Thunder
(2.5/5) Lots of provoking ideas, but ultimately underwhelming and lacking depth when put together.
Compared to Thor: Ragnarok, this is a bit of a misfire. Taika Waititi (along with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) specializes in a Monty Python type of humor, making what would otherwise be dark and terrifying into sentimental, slice of life, and often surreal - if not easier to deal with. He does this in Jojo Rabbit, showing dark events from a child’s point of view. In What We Do In The Shadows, it creates a lighthearted comedy where terrifying immortal beings are actually incredibly clueless. In the most recent hit Our Flag Means Death, Blackbeard is just a lonely, childlike dude that’s super into a wannabe-pirate leading his crew like an elementary school class. Waititi is also no stranger to throwing in queer representation wherever he can, one of his main strengths.
Thor: Ragnarok was a success at applying Waititi’s methods to the franchise. There was just enough balance between his tone and Marvel’s more serious energy and lighthearted humor to keep things on track. In Thor: Love and Thunder, it’s incredibly unbalanced but at least tolerable until the third act. There are cool elements throughout every act of this film, but I don’t think they all fit together in this two-hour period. It was all over the place to the point that I couldn’t keep my head in it and mindlessly enjoy.
For starters, the way expository information is dealt with is neither fun nor hidden. At times it’s difficult to tell if Waititi is making fun of the genre from within or if the script is really just that disorganized. The very opening scene features the incredibly convenient killing of a sun god: Gorr (Christian Bale) loses his daughter to drought, immediately after meets the disappointing god he’s been praying to, and twenty seconds later Gorr becomes the God Killer since the sword is literally just right there. Essentially, a thing just happens so that other things can happen.
Sometimes convenience can be funny when writing in this type of humor, especially if you’re making a caricature of a superhero film making fun of characters that take themselves too seriously. However, it tends to become annoying and dissatisfying when you flip back and forth between things conveniently happening to characters and then try to fall back in line with the typical Marvel tone. Too many tonal shifts is the name of the game here.
Another irritating thing is that characters that formerly had depth are stripped of it here, and sometimes we randomly have emotional scenes where we’re suddenly supposed to feel for them. Just because the scene is coded emotionally doesn’t mean it’s going to strike the audience that way when there’s been no buildup to deserve it. For example, there’s an entire portion of the third act happening in the Shadow Realm (in black and white) where Gorr emotionally attacks Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Jane (Natalie Portman, NWSL investor), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). I thought the black and white was a neat idea and that Gorr was incredibly convincing in this scene, but it was hard to totally buy this serious scene that abruptly comes after a lighthearted scene and then is abruptly followed by a lighthearted scene of Thor joking around with children. There’s no weight to the emotion in this film, it’s quickly played off for a joke and loses its effect.
It was even hard for me to take Jane’s cancer seriously (though I did enjoy Portman’s performance). In previous appearances in Thor films, she’s an ambitious scientist that puts her studies before her safety. Here, she feels called to by the shattered pieces of Thor’s old hammer Mjolnir in New Asgard, believing that it could save her life since she’s been unable to make any medical discoveries on her own. It might be a personal thing, but just giving a character cancer so that they have to make decisions feels like a cop-out - not strong writing. It especially feels like a cop-out since so many things happen for plot convenience in this film; a higher power is given to quick banter dialogue over a strong story and character.
A character that really struck me as out of character was Lady Sif. She’s been around forever, even making appearances in the incredible Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a warrior. Here, Thor finds her left on the battlefield without an arm where, in a very comedic over-exaggeration, she tells Thor to leave her so she can die a warrior’s death and go to Valhalla. Thor immediately breaks it to her that to die a warrior’s death she’d actually have to die in the battle and she’s unfortunately still alive. I was put off - not really because she felt so out of character for me, but because this was another moment of convenience for the plot’s sake. This is legit her only speaking scene in this film and she acts like a caricature of herself just to directly inform us of what the credits scene could mean. It felt out of place in the middle of a different set of scenes, like it was put in as an afterthought when they realized more explanation was needed.
As for that post-credits scene, Jane dies of her cancer (as a warrior) on the battlefield after she, as Mighty Thor, destroys the Necrosword. She arrives in Valhalla and is greeted by Heimdall (Idris Elba). I thought this was exciting because it’s a potential for old characters to return to the franchise - is it just Asgardians in Valhalla?
I felt the strongest character by far was Gorr. Bale really pulled it off, especially since the character’s origin was so poorly written. The only time I actually felt a heartstring pull watching this was when he’s reunited with his daughter. Writers and story creators Waititi and Robinson pose thought-provoking questions through Gorr, but there’s never really a payoff for it. Gorr loses confidence in the god he worships after they admit to Gorr’s face that they don’t care about him or his daughter, and if he were to stop worshipping them there would always be someone who’d take his place. So what is the point of the gods?
Later in the film, Thor, Valkyrie, and Jane sneak into the god council to ask for help against Gorr as Asgard is the current target and any of those gods could be next. None of them want to help, they want to keep their panic low and continue enjoying themselves. When fighting Gorr, Thor even shouts “you’re killing innocent gods!” which just made me believe in Gorr even more. Right after the abruptly emotional scene in the Shadow Realm where Gorr makes genuinely good points about why Valkryie and fam shouldn’t trust their gods, Thor and Jane watch Gorr get away and say “man, I really wanna kill that guy.”
Why do they want to kill that guy? He’s right! None of the genuine claims just brought up by Gorr are addressed at all - there was a chance to maybe turn Valkryie against them or do something fun by separating the group, but instead, we just continue to chug towards this one endgame of stopping the god killer who’s the only one here with a sense of depth and drive. It’s never explained to me why these are “innocent” gods - and why would Thor be totally against it if he essentially just killed Zeus a scene ago? A lost opportunity for an Age of Ultron type of moral wrestling.
This all seems negative, but there are genuinely funny moments - if anyone’s seen Little Monsters (dir. Abe Forsythe and starring Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, and Josh Gad), the scenes with the children and the fighting children remind me of that in a very good way. Thor being a meditative asshole just protecting his heart is entertaining, Valkryie being made canonically queer and it being emphasized multiple times is surreal for the Marvel franchise (especially after not going all the way with Loki), and Cork (Taika Waititi) having two dads and then becoming a dad with another man is cool beans.
What’s not cool beans is the Lin-Manuel Mirandafication of Taika Waititi. I’ll give Miranda credit - he’s giving himself leading roles in his own work less and less as time has gone on. The reverse is true here, as I felt like I couldn’t go ten minutes without hearing Cork narrate everything for me. In Thor: Ragnarok there was just enough Cork, whereas here it’s like he has more lines than most of the regular cast. Which just seems odd as the director and not the main character - almost attention/clout seeking. I couldn’t help but feel annoyed.
The Cork narration was fun the first couple of times - we see the rom-com version of Jane and Thor’s relationship narrated by this very straight-up character whose way of phrasing alone is funny. But this dude would just not get away from the voiceover mic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had more lines than Valkryie, whose most memorable lines are from a too-long scene of improvised banter between her and Jane at a hotel. This must be the director’s cut.
Gorr’s daughter (India Rose Hemsworth) is revived at the end of the film after Gorr last-minute changes his mind about killing the gods thanks to Thor and Jane’s persuasion - even when Gorr dies in a few moments, Thor will look after his daughter. It’s followed by some very cute, very Scandanavian vibes as Thor, the “Thunder”, is now the guardian figure of a girl (his off-screen real-life daughter) named “Love”.
New god dad and immortal all-powerful child duo check. I’m here for this concept and I’m excited to see more of it when Thor returns, but if Waititi is in charge of the next one I’ll be sorely disappointed.