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Thor: Love and Thunder

Taika Waititi's second 'Thor' film is a ball of playful, goofy, 80s-worshipping chaos — in both fun and messy ways.
By Sarah Ward
July 06, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
July 06, 2022
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What do you call a movie filled with giant screaming goats, magic weapons vying for attention like romantic rivals, a naked Chris Hemsworth and a phenomenally creepy Christian Bale? Oh, and with no fewer than four Guns N' Roses needle drops, 80s nostalgia in droves, and a case of tonal whiplash as big as the God of Thunder's biceps? You call it Thor: Love and Thunder, and also a mixed bag. The fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to focus on the now 29-title saga's favourite space Viking, and the second Thor flick directed by Taika Waititi after Thor: Ragnarok, it welcomely boasts the New Zealand filmmaker's playful and irreverent sense of humour — and the dead-serious days of the series-within-a-series' first two outings, 2011's Thor and 2013's Thor: The Dark World, have definitely been banished. But Love and Thunder is equally mischievous and jumbled. It's chaotic in both fun and messy ways. Out in the cosmos, no one can swim, but movies about galaxy-saving superheroes can tread water.

Thor Odinson (Hemsworth, Spiderhead) has been doing a bit of that himself — not literally, but emotionally and professionally. Narrated in a storybook fashion by rock alien Korg (also Waititi, Lightyear), Love and Thunder first fills in the gaps since the last time the Asgardian deity graced screens in Avengers: Endgame. Ditching his dad bod for his ultra-buff god bod earns a mention. So does biding his time with the Guardians of the Galaxy crew (with Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper and company popping up briefly). Then, a distress call from an old friend gives Thor a new purpose. Fellow warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander, Last Seen Alive) has been fighting galactic killer Gorr the God Butcher (Bale, Ford v Ferrari), who's on a mission to do exactly what his name promises due to a crisis of faith — which puts not only Thor himself but also New Asgard, the Norwegian village populated by survivors from his home planet, at grave risk.

In MCU movies before Ragnarok, many of which Thor has smouldered and smiled his way through, he would've attacked the problem — this time literally — with enchanted hammer mjolnir. It's been in pieces since the last standalone Thor film. Courtesy of the god's ex, it doesn't stay that way for long. Love and Thunder nabs itself two Thors for the price of one, after Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Vox Lux) hears mjolnir a-calling following a stage-IV cancer diagnosis. Soon, the astrophysicist is also the Mighty Thor, brandishing the mallet, wearing armour and sporting flowing blonde locks. When the OG Thor finds out, he's overcome with post-breakup awkwardness, but there's still a god killer to stop and also kidnapped kids to rescue. Cue a couple of Thors, plus Korg and New Asgard king Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Passing), trying to prevent the worst from happening.

Love and Thunder is a film where those yelling oversized goats pull a boat into the heavens; where Hemsworth is gloriously in the goofiest mode he has, aka the best mode; and where Russell Crowe (Unhinged) plays a tutu-wearing, lightning bolt-flinging Zeus with the worst on-screen accent this side of House of Gucci (Greek instead of Italian, though). The movie is rarely more than a few seconds from a one-liner or a silly throwaway gag, and it loves colour more than a rainbow does — except when it doesn't, including in the desert-set opening that introduces Gorr and his god-slaying necrosword, and when it follows him into an eerie shadow realm. Love and Thunder also adds Bale, an actor forever linked with helping bring superheroes back to the blockbuster realm via Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, to the ranks of terrific caped crusader foes. This Thor flick contains plenty, clearly; however, for everything that works, something else doesn't.

It doesn't help that the narrative is so paper thin, even with so much going on, that either Thor or the Mighty Thor could blast it down with their gazes alone. Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Sweet Vicious) take on scripting duties, and jokes fly quickly and freely along with all the plot points, but little in Love and Thunder feels like it amounts to anything. That's not from a lack of trying, at least in a cursory way — which is how too much that's meant to dive deep, or merely nod in a more substantial direction, comes across. The worst case in point: Jane, her illness and her super-powered change. It's a treat to see Portman not only return to the franchise after sitting Ragnarok out, but also play a hero rather than just the love interest. Alas, some early advice from Star-Lord (Pratt, Jurassic World Dominion) to the original Thor establishes the real reason that her character is back: to push the latter to realise that it's better to have loved and felt shitty about losing it than not to have opened his heart at all.

Yes, Love and Thunder primarily uses its female Thor as a catalyst for her male counterpart to learn life lessons. It also uses her battle with cancer in the same way. It's little wonder that nothing that's meant to be poignant lands or sticks — and that all efforts otherwise play like a genre merry-go-round. Sometimes Love and Thunder is a space-opera comedy, sometimes it's a family-friendly adventure, sometimes it dallies with horror. It's an arrested-development comedy, too, and a rom-com. Each swing in a new direction is anchored by weightier matters — spanning unpacking male saviour complexes, the taking of Indigenous children by colonisers, the need to pass traditional knowledge down through generations, the follies of blind religious worship and multiple struggles for identity — but never enough. Like the flying goats, every magic weapon and, in one scene, the OG Thor's clothes, every notion in Love and Thunder that's meant to be meatier zooms off oh-so-swiftly.

Wanting to love Love and Thunder comes easily, of course. Ragnarok was an utter delight. Waititi's filmmaking career boasts more hits than misses, with Eagle vs Shark, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople also sitting on one side and just Jojo Rabbit on the other. From Hemsworth to Bale, and including Portman and Thompson as well, Love and Thunder is brimming with great performances — albeit all on varying tonal registers, with Bale used too sparingly, and Portman and Thompson not given enough to do. When it's in gleaming, silly, hyperactive and hyper-colour mode, Waititi and cinematographer Barry Idoine (The Mandalorian) go big on all those things and don't hold back. That said, a heap of gags fall flat, the formulaic story choices are glaring, most action scenes prove stock-standard, there's an often-disjointed air and, unshakeably, there's a pervasive sensation that simply following in Ragnarok's footsteps is the only realm aim. Wanting to love something is different from finding something to love, obviously — and while Love and Thunder isn't quite something to thunder at, lightning doesn't strike twice, either.

Top image: Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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