“Thor” has had quite the wild track record in the MCU. Each film was directed by a different director. With the disastrous feedback lobbed at the second film, it almost came close to derailing Thor’s cinematic future and having Chris Hemsworth leave the role altogether. Things took a weird yet wonderfully hilarious turn when Taika Waititi took over the reins with “Thor Ragnarök” and not only salvaged the character and his cinematic franchise but also delivered quite possibly the most hilarious MCU film to date. So naturally, Marvel hoped lightning would strike twice, and Waititi was brought back to direct the first “Thor” film since “Endgame;” known as “Love and Thunder.”
While Thor (Hemsworth) continues to venture into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find a new path or purpose, he stumbles across a trail of death left by Gorr, the God Butcher (Christian Bale.) He has vowed to end the life of all gods after losing his faith, and now Thor and numerous others are in his blood-soaked path. To combat this new threat, Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi), and, much to his surprise, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The latter has transformed into the Mighty Thor, wielding Thor’s old hammer and boasting similar powers. Now Thor must sort things out with Jane, find out where he fits in this universe, and stop Gorr before he slays all gods and causes disaster throughout reality.
One of the things I felt was so interesting in “Ragnarök” was Waititi’s impeccable ability to balance dark, death-packed story material and gut-busting, funny bone-shattering humor that not even “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Ant-man” can compete with. “Love and Thunder” follows the same route but manages to drastically increase the melodrama AND the humor to even higher heights. The very first scene gives you a perfect insight into why our villain is doing what he is doing, and even with Hemsworth cracking jokes, the intensity of Gorr’s quest and Bale’s performance never feels lessened. Bale is the real standout here. He is a hauntingly relatable villain who conveys so much depth and pain that you’re torn between being terrified and sympathetic towards him. His design and striking appearance create some truly disturbing-looking visuals that elevate him both as a villain and also to Waititi’s visual imagination.
While the film does a good job expanding the universe, introducing Greek gods such as Zeus (Russel Crowe, who is clearly having the time of his life being as silly as possible), its best addition is the reintroduction of Thor’s lost love, Jane Foster. Many have wondered (myself included) why Portman/the character has been missing since “Thor: The Dark World,” and I feel like her comeback here was even better than I could have hoped. Jane is now a powerhouse, feeling like a fresh spin on an old character that allows her to be more than the brains or a damsel in distress and fight alongside Thor instead of watching him from the sidelines. Her story also brings in some more of that drama I mentioned before in ways that, without spoiling, really make the balance of humor all the more vital and help complement Gorr’s dark story.
While Hemsworth nails the comedic factor he’s crafted so well since “Ragnarök,” the film tends to make him feel more doofy than battle weary as we last saw in “Endgame.” The comedy aspect never feels out of place but sometimes feels it goes on for too long in certain scenes at the expense of Thor’s IQ. Now, while Gorr’s flawless performance, his quest feels rushed. Very little of it is seen for a character called the God butcher. I can’t help but feel that perhaps expanding on his trail of vengeance slaying other gods or figures could have helped flesh out more of the worlds and other characters Marvel has to offer. It would have helped expand more figures into view and felt like a more proper, balanced examination of Gorr’s side of things.
Overall, “Love and Thunder” is not “Ragnarök” but I honestly never expected it to be, regardless of the quality. Waititi continues to blend and build laughs and sorrow in a masterful mix that utilizes gorgeous, iconic visuals and world-building that never disappoints or dulls the entertainment value. Bale and Portman are superpowered scene stealers, even when Thor sometimes feels like the butt of the script’s joke. It’s a great blended movie that does not surpass Waititi’s previous installment but does succeed in elevating Marvel movie quality in regards to Thor’s previous two entries.
We give “Thor: Love and Thunder” 3 stars out of 4 stars.