I haven’t exactly been shy about my apathy towards the MCU in recent months. Between the overbearing continuity and a general lack of direction, it’s easy to say that the MCU has peaked and it’s all downhill from here. That being said, that doesn’t mean that the movies can’t still be fun. Going into Thor: Love and Thunder, it seemed that even if the movie doesn’t contribute to a grand Marvel narrative, at the very least I can turn my brain off and enjoy the spectacle of it all.
In theory, that’s how the MCU has worked best. Give each of the characters their own solo franchise and let them continue on the character arcs established in their films. Then, when it’s time to fight the big bad, get everyone together and see how they interact with everyone given all of their development in their solo titles. It worked for Captain America and Iron Man, so it should work for Thor, especially since he’s one of the last remaining Avengers still receiving new projects.
Except it kind of doesn’t? While there are glimpses of a great movie here, Thor: Love and Thunder seems to be damned set on making this a Thor movie and will hurt itself to make him the main character.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Director: Taika Waititi
Release Date: July 8, 2022 (Theatrical)
Following the events of Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is crashing with the Guardians of the Galaxy going on various adventures throughout space. Thor doesn’t really have a sense of purpose during these escapades and leaves the group to discover what truly motivates him and gives him a purpose in life. His search is almost immediately interrupted by the arrival of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who wishes to eliminate all of the gods in the universe. While trying to fight him and his shadow forces in New Asgard, he meets a new Thor, who reveals herself as his old girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who team up to defeat Gorr and save all of the gods, as well as a group of children kidnapped by Gorr.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a messy movie and one that isn’t exactly even. The movie opens with a fairly well-done cold open that introduces us to Gorr in a memorable way. The film starts off strong, but ping pongs all across the universe with no real sense of consistency in tone or focus. Sometimes the movie will focus on action, the horror of Gorr, the pathos between Thor and Jane, the comic relief expected in a Marvel film, so on and so forth. Instead of the movie feeling complex because it this, it all feels underdeveloped and underutilized with no one element truly shining.
The film is one of the shortest Marvel movies, clocking in at 119 minutes. While that may seem like enough time for any movie to tell a focused and clear story, Thor: Love and Thunder rushes from plot point to plot point. Between the second and third act, we have a blink and you’ll miss it moment of Thor genuinely connecting with Jane that lasts not even three minutes. The film sacrifices a lot of the goodwill established in Thor: Ragnarok and the unique set-up from Endgame in the process. If you were a fan of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, her character gets unceremoniously written out of the climax even though it makes very little sense given what we know about her. By the time we reach the climax, we’re just left with something that feels generic.
That isn’t to say that the movie is all doom and gloom and not redeemable, because it is still a decent action movie. Of the three main fight scenes that take place in the movie against Gorr, the second one, featuring a stark monochromatic landscape only briefly accentuated by godly color, is the clear highlight of the entire film. The darker atmosphere is almost palpable and nicely contrasts the goofier side of things. If you came to watch Thor beat up some bad guys, you’ll leave it pretty satisfied.
Praise should also be made for Jane and Thor’s chemistry. While this isn’t the first time we’re seeing the two of them together, both characters feel fully developed and human. Thor has grown a lot since Thor: The Dark World, so seeing this more worldly and friendlier Thor interact with Jane really elevates their scenes. Natalie Portman really has fun with the role and you can tell that Waititi was really pushing the romantic elements between the two. Some critics have talked about this being the first MCU “rom-com,” but honestly that’s not the case. It’s an action movie with two people who overtly love each other. It’s not a rom-com because the film would actually need to be funny for it to count.
I’m conflicted about the comedy that’s present here since there are plenty of scenes where it works versus those scenes that it doesn’t. When the characters are just bantering with each other, it’s charming since these characters all feel established and the actors can just bounce off of each other. It’s the more deliberate attempts at humor that leave a lot to be desired. There’s a running joke throughout the movie that was cute at first, but then quickly loses steam and all but becomes background noise by the time it pops up for the sixth time. Plus, I can just tell that the film’s climax is going to be divisive given how it’s ultimately set up and engineered to have “LAUGH HERE” bits in it and features moments that I’m sure a lot of audiences will find just playing dumb.
Ultimately, Thor: Love and Thunder’s biggest problem is that it can’t escape Ragnarok’s shadow. Thor: Ragnarok was an over-the-top action movie that seemed designed to just deliver one big spectacle after another with a hefty amount of comedy thrown in. Thor: Love and Thunder is a smaller and more intimate affair, but that just means that the bits about Ragnarok that worked (the large-scale fight scenes, grand nature of the conflict, and fish-out-of-water punchlines) don’t mesh with that’s here. It tries to replicate those moments, but instead just feels unfocused and tonally inconsistent with the more personal scenes.
Again, some of you may balk at a person who’s apathetic to Marvel content reviewing this, but I call them like a see them. A good movie should be praised for its strengths and a bad movie should be called out for its failures, regardless of franchising. As it stands, Thor: Love and Thunder makes too many mistakes for me to give it a genuine recommendation. Sure, if you’re a diehard Marvel fan, you’ve probably already either seen it or have your tickets set for this, but what you’re going to get is just a basic, run-of-the-mill Marvel movie. It’s not going to blow your mind, and it certainly isn’t anything to write home about. It’s another directionless step in the confusing mess that is Phase Four and undermines the potential for the Thor series made after Endgame. The perfectly good definition of mediocrity.