Love and Thunder can go a long way, but not long enough.
With the MCU currently going at full speed with theatrical releases and Disney+, it is finally time to check up on Thor and his adventures. Since the events of Endgame, Thor has been living the life of a free-spirited God in New Asgaard, occasionally battling enemy forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy. When a galactic killer named Gorr possesses a weapon that can kill immortal Gods, Thor must abandon his friends and tag along with Korg, Valkyrie, and his former flame, Jane Foster, to seek the help of other Gods, confront Gorr, and prevent the imminent destruction of New Asgaard and its citizens.
One of the challenges that a director faces when directing an MCU film is his or her artistic style getting buried beneath the need to keep the cinematic universe consistent. Alongside James Gunn and Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi is one of the only directors who was able to keep his directorial style intact with 2017’s Thor Ragnarok. Under Waititi’s direction, not only did Ragnarok finally allow Thor’s character to feel fully realized compared to his last two solo films, but it is also regarded as one of the best films in the MCU. So it makes absolute sense for Waititi to return to direct the follow-up, Thor: Love and Thunder.
Love and Thunder is certainly in the same vein as Ragnarok in regards to its humor and heart, but has more than enough tasks on its plate. In addition to continuing the development of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and the MCU, the film also has to bring Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, show her transformation into Mighty Thor and her battle with cancer, prepare the Guardians of the Galaxy for their next (and possibly final) film, and expand on the world of the Gods. It is a lot of things for one film to do, and for the most part, it handles all of these elements decently, particularly with Jane’s cancer and the theme of mortality, as Waititi’s talent of juggling comedy and drama is on display here. This film and its themes are also well supported by the actors, and Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Waititi, himself, all make for a dynamic coterie.
There are elements in Love and Thunder that are similar to the second Thor film in the MCU, 2013’s The Dark World, only they are executed much better. For example, Christian Bale’s Gorr looks similar to Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith, being buried underneath layers of makeup to the point of being unrecognizable. Fortunately, Bale has such a powerful screen presence, that he is able to work through the makeup and come across as a complex villain. This might also be due to better writing, because, unlike Malekith, Gorr’s backstory is much more fleshed out and his motivations, while ill-guided, are understandable. In addition, while the Dark World looked murky, diluted, and uninspired, the planet Thor and crew visit to confront Gorr has an incredibly distinct look, looking like a highly contrasted noir film with everything decolorized except for their weapons. All in all, the visual style of this film is immaculate and lends itself well to the overall cosmic design of the MCU.
As many elements as there are that do work, there are some, however, that don’t work. The biggest problem that plagues the film is the pacing. The film’s story moves at an awkward pace, bookended together by Korg telling the stories of Thor to a group of Asgaardian children. While sometimes humorous, this storytelling style is used more as a crutch than as an aid, as it helps fill in the gaps for some scenes and actions that were not properly established before, such as Jane Foster’s transformation to Mighty Thor. Perhaps if Waititi had been behind the first two Thor films, these events would probably weave into the stories a bit more seamlessly. As it is, the film’s story feels unpolished and lacking, leading to a climax that does not feel climactic, despite having all the pieces to make it work.
Even the film’s humor feels slightly underwhelming. For example, despite some truly funny moments, there are some jokes that are just recycled ones from Ragnarok, such as the previous film’s events being adapted into a shoddy theater production. Matt Damon returns as one of the actors and is joined by Melissa McCarthy portraying Hela from Ragnarok. This joke is good for a chuckle, but it lacks the surprise factor that Ragnarok had to win audiences over. At their worst, some of the film’s jokes are ones that are extended to the point of being unbearable, such as Thor receiving two gifted goats that screech as much as the one from Illumination’s 2018 adaption of the Grinch. Aside from some moments with Thor and Korg, the biggest laughs come from Russell Crowe’s pitch-perfect performance as Zeus. Here is hoping that there is more of him to come in future MCU products.
Those who are expecting the Guardians of the Galaxy to be joining the adventure will be gravely disappointed because they leave not long after they are introduced. While it does make sense for the story and for the structure of the MCU, the end of Endgame showed a lot of promise for fun adventures with both Thor and the Guardians. With that being said, perhaps the first teaser trailer for this film posed too many idealistic promises that don’t come to fruition and feel dishonest. In addition to the lack of Guardians, a number of different locations shown that seem to suggest a world-traveling adventure are all just quick moments encapsulated in one of Korg’s storytelling scenes set to an Enya song. At the very least, Guns n’ Roses’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is used, but only more towards the end. At least its incorporation feels less shameful than Ms. Marvel’s use of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” One major credit to give the recent Thor films is that, like the Guardians films, they have a killer soundtrack.
Something interesting about Love and Thunder is that it contains both what works about the MCU and what doesn’t. Marvel Studios has been experimenting with their films and series, giving their directors more creative freedom and taking their fictional characters in ambitious directions. Unfortunately, the studio, as well as Disney, don’t seem to be fully committed to these ideas, and abandon them towards the end to keep the franchise from getting too out there. While it makes sense from a business perspective, it robs these films of truly captivating audiences and challenging them, something Waititi did beautifully with his previous film, Jojo Rabbit.
Perhaps, with all of his new projects he has worked on or developed, Waititi was not able to reserve enough time to fine-tune this film. Either way, it feels lately like the MCU is slightly stale, and needs another groundbreaker like Spider-Man: Now Way Home to captivate the world again. While Thor’s latest chapter is by no means the worst Marvel film, it feels lesser than what it could have been. It just needed a little more love and a lot more thunder.