There’s a lot of riding on Thor: Love and Thunder as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first fourth outing of a solo franchise. As successful as the MCU is, the Thor films have always struggled to reach the same acclaim as their counterparts. While Captain America saw a complete reinvention by the second film, it took Thor a third film for the character to get a proper second wind. And in a metaseries that’s keener on introducing new franchises and ending legacy ones, it’s a blessing to get a fourth chance at continued redemption. Sadly, even this late into the series, Love and Thunder fumbles more than it scores thanks to director Taika Waititi’s impulsive comedic habits and narrative ideas that furiously clash with one another. The result is a film with an unbalanced dose of good, bad, and ugly.
For all of his blindspots crafting this film, Waititi once more illustrates his impressive grasp on characters. Love and Thunder has its fair share of endearing goofballs, hopeless romantics, and tragic sinners. Even as the story fails to sustain Waititi’s wacky instincts, his characters cut through the noise. Christian Bale’s Gorr, the latest addition to the Thor mythos, is a zealot devoted to ending the reign of the gods. Bale carries the entirety of Gorr’s arc on his shoulders even as his scattershot presence in the film disservices the character’s arc. A performance epitomized in the character’s redemptive moments in the film’s climax. Gorr doesn’t quite reach the tension and dread wrought by his counterpart on the pages of Jason Aaron’s comic but it’s a role that salvages a fledgling film.
Like Ragnarok before it, Love and Thunder also has the privilege of being a film populated by bizarre visuals. From the opening planet with the Guardians and the muppet-looking Mad Max bandits to the monochromatic battle with Gorr, there’s a lot of eye candy in the film. Not the least of which are the array of costumes the film showcases. Thor alone has multiple wardrobe changes spanning eras of comic book runs. That Taika Waititi has him wear the maximalist gold helmet from the 90s and the Thunderstrike outfit in a single movie shows a commitment to making Thor the most stylish Avenger yet.
Powers in the MCU are often ill-defined and the full range of Thor’s abilities are no exception. So in a surprising turn during the film’s third act, Thor bestows a portion of his presumed Odinforce powers to a battalion of children. The result is a roaring, somewhat cheesy yet fist-pumping set piece that sees Gorr’s shadow monsters decimated by children. In a film that desperately needed a pick-me-up from the film’s trudging plot, a sequence like this is a win for the film.
Love and Thunder‘s fall from grace stems from a haphazard narrative where character development is abridged, pieces of the story are omitted, and the overall plot is contrived. For example, a B-plot about kidnapped Asgardian children takes place in order for the film to have a ticking clock with some semblance of stakes. It may pay off nicely in the end but the story that gets to it is messy.
Waititi eschews much of Aaron’s iron-clad blueprint for Gorr, a killer hellbent on personally slaying gods across eons, to service a father simply seeking Eternity to wish them away in a bloodless solution. A huge swing by any Marvel metric but one that spirals outward to an array of contrivances which includes a wasted set in Omnipotence City, home to all the gods. This bloodless endgame for a villain is a unique one but for a character whose moniker is the God Butcher, it’s a regretful choice considering how there’s minimal god butchering in the film. Furthermore, an argument can be made that the Eternity subplot and the Omnipotence City set piece overlap have overlapped. Imagine a sequence where Gorr destroys Omnipotence City and its gods in an attempt to find Eternity’s door.
There’s also an issue with its runtime. A handful of minutes are devoted to inane comedic sequences that overstay their welcome. A dull rehash of Thor: Ragnarok’s theater gag goes on for nearly 3 minutes. Russell Crowe’s scenes as Zeus is a distended mess of a comedy routine. It certainly doesn’t help that most of the jokes don’t land. An egregious example is a dying Sif being the butt of a joke about Valhalla. Meanwhile, Jane Foster’s battle with cancer is barely explored and her crucial transformation into Thor is kept off-screen. The same can be said for Gorr’s actions as the God Butcher; the movie keeps insisting that he slays gods but never shows it. Runtime should never preemptively define a film’s quality but a post-mortem of Love and Thunder shows how much extra screen time it could have used.
Jane Foster can’t seem to catch a break even as she achieves godhood. Love and Thunder may be a well-meaning attempt to rectify the first two Thor films’ crime of demoting Oscar-winner Natalie Portman into a soulless love interest but it goes through the same pitfalls as its predecessors. Whereas Aaron’s comic proved Foster worthy of Mjolnir’s might by virtue of her own will and bravery in fighting cancer, in Love and Thunder, Jane is deemed worthy thanks to… Thor’s love for her. Even as she becomes the epicenter of the film’s best action sequences, the script doesn’t give the character the space to reckon with her newfound purpose. The worst comes when she succumbs to her cancer in order for Thor to have his climactic epiphany on life. Foster’s arc is indebted to Thor and her conclusion is to service Thor.
Gorr is similar to Thanos in a lot of ways. Both are victims of circumstances beyond their control. Both have villainous duties they deem as righteous. Both have a sliver of humanity beneath all their menace. Yet what separates Thanos from Gorr is that Thanos’ essence is aptly examined in Infinity War while Love and Thunder does the minimum effort in reckoning with Gorr’s agenda. For all the gods and divine characters that appear, Waititi never examines the themes most relevant and obvious to his story: godhood, prayer, faith, devotion, and worthiness. The apathy to such touchstones is what ultimately robs the film from having a lasting weight that the MCU has had in strides. Most of the gods in the film are presented as one-dimensional jackasses, signifying Waititi’s indifference in engaging with their POV and mostly proving Gorr’s point. And because the film doesn’t do anything to thematically challenge Gorr until the very end, the core of the film feels weightless.