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Thor: Love and Thunder – a stylised, popcorn-munching adventure

Thor: Love and Thunder – a stylised, popcorn-munching adventure
Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios' 'Thor: Love and Thunder'. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Thor’ makes Marvel Cinematic Universe history as the first superhero to achieve a fourth solo film – another Taika Waititi-stylised stint that leaves your mind the moment you leave the cinema.

Filmmaker Taika Waititi’s stint in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Thor: Ragnarok shook up the standalone Thor films, in a good way. It’s easy to agree that after almost 30 films in the MCU, Thor: The Dark World is still the weakest entry.

It wasn’t hard to improve on the Thor track record, which Waititi did to massive acclaim. This author’s major criticism of Ragnarok was that, in the end, it was another Marvel movie, and ultimately had to follow the Marvel formula. Now that Waititi is also co-writer for Love and Thunder, how far can he take the God of Thunder with greater free rein?

We last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) flying off with the Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to find his purpose again after the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame. In what basically amounts to an extended cameo for the Guardians team, they’re running around the galaxy answering various distress signals, Thor in tow, until our ex-Asgardian receives a distress call relating to Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) – who is capable of killing gods and has set his sights on New Asgard as his next target. 

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

Christian Bale as Gorr in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

Unexpectedly for Thor – but expectedly for us because we watched the trailers – he meets his ex-girlfriend Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on the battlefield. Now in possession of the shattered but still functioning Mjölnir, Jane has all the associated Thor powers thanks to Mjölnir calling to her and reforming at her command. 

Much of the missing backstory is delivered by Korg (Waititi), Thor’s rocky companion from Ragnarok, in the form of campfire tales. Thanks to this, we finally have insight into the Thor-Jane relationship that took place almost entirely off-screen. Unfortunately, having this complex relationship between a god and a mortal physicist summed up by a talking pile of rocks moments after their reunion doesn’t do much to stoke their chemistry. 

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

(L-R): Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

(L-R): Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

Individually, the cast is great. Hemsworth’s more comedic Thor is always welcome, and when he does show emotion outside of the glib jock routine, he does it well. Portman is fantastic as The Mighty Thor, playing an overconfident yet obviously nervous character struggling with both the mantle of hero and its repercussions. As a regular human who now wields the power of the gods, she doesn’t always get it right, which makes her journey into superhero-dom as relatable as it is entertaining. 

Put them together, though, and there’s something… lacking. Thor pining after Jane feels forced, and Jane’s honestly got a lot more on her plate than worrying what her superhero ex-boyfriend is feeling. 

Sadly, this time around, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is underused. A far cry from her standout debut in Ragnarok, there’s not much for the King of Asgard to do. Taking that literally, Valkyrie is bored with running New Asgard, and missing her halcyon days of epic battles and getting very drunk. When Gorr shows up to terrorise the neighbourhood, Valkyrie is obviously delighted to be back in the fray, but that’s sort of where it ends. The film spends so much time focusing on the Thors that Valkyrie gets sidelined. 

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

Tessa Thompson as King Valkyrie in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

(L-R): Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

Meanwhile, chewing through every scene he’s in with a scary set of sharp black teeth is Bale’s Gorr. Instead of a one-note grim and dark villain, Gorr is established with a heartbreaking motivation in the opening scene and follows up with a twisted insanity that is genuinely scary – especially when he is terrorising a cartload of children. It’s very easy to empathise with Gorr, which makes him all the more interesting, though this doesn’t mean he’s not a bitter, terrifying villain, and Bale takes this character to great heights. 

Considering that he has the power to kill gods, Gorr is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating bad guys to grace the MCU, and the stakes for Thor are quite high as a result. The return of a long-lost love, a villain who could end his life along with all other gods, and no back-up from an apathetic pantheon led by Zeus (a great cameo from Russel Crowe as the gilded, lazy, vain Olympian) should have the audience on the edge of their seats. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t ever really feel like that. 

Much like how Thor fails to grab Zeus’s Thunderbolt, Waititi fails to recapture the lightning in a bottle of Ragnarok. Tonally, Love and Thunder jumps between rapid-fire jokes and serious scenes of death and impending doom with barely a blink, only pausing for those brief moments where you know you should be laughing at a quip. You’re more likely to feel whiplash from the script scrambling to keep up with itself than the head-banging Guns N’ Roses soundtrack. This extends to Thor himself, as he seesaws between his goofy space Viking-inspired persona and someone seriously trying to find his purpose after immense loss.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

(L-R): Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Chris Pratt as Star-Lord/Peter Quill, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Image: Jasin Boland / © Marvel Studios 2022.

Love and Thunder is supposed to be a love story. From the reason Gorr decides to go on a divine murder spree, to reuniting our two main characters, and Thor’s journey of self-discovery, the undercurrent of the film is all about love – of other and self. It’s just hard to see it underneath the thick layers of Waititi-brand irreverent humour, which is spread with a heavy hand over the whole film.

By now, the MCU is stuffed with characters and plotlines across loads of films and series. Love and Thunder takes a stab at being stand-alone, but we are so used to the interconnectedness of the MCU by now that there’s going to be some cognitive dissonance.

In theory, Gorr’s ambitions should have wider repercussions, but in separating this movie out from a larger Phase 4 plot drive, it’s too constrained and loses impact. Start to finish, you know there won’t be any cliffhangers or teases for future stories. This also means we have to wrap it up in one 120-minute film, so the resolution feels a bit rushed and skimpy on groundwork to reach that point. 

This is not to say that Thor: Love and Thunder isn’t enjoyable. It’s stylish and funny. There’s just more style over substance, if you look closely, and it struggles to balance tone. Much like our narrator Korg, it’s a sweet and funny albeit very rocky film. DM/ML

This story was first published on Pfangirl. 

Thor: Love and Thunder is available in South Africa in cinemas.

‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ film poster. Image: Supplied

In case you missed it, also read Spiderhead: Blunt and bound up in convention

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