Thor: Love and Thunder Review: Selling Thor(s) for a Joke

There are two very funny things about Taika Waititi’s Marvel Cinematic Universe film Thor: Love and Thunder. The first is wanted, the second less so.

First are the goats. At the beginning of the film, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is given two giant mythical goats, Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher. The goats are terrible: aggressive, chaotic and wild. Like real goats, like humans, they can scream a great deal. They do this all the time throughout the movie, and it’s meant to be hilarious. If you’re like me, you’ll laugh every time they screech. If you’re not like me, then I’m sorry.

The unintentionally funny is the villain Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). As the film’s antagonist, Gorr is introduced in the film’s opening sequence and is given a clear motivation: he wants to kill all the gods. This wish catches the attention of the Necrosword (lol), a magical black blade that grants him all sorts of powers, including the ability to manipulate shadows and turn them into monsters. Gorr – loosely inspired by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor comics – isn’t meant be funny. In fact, he’s quite scary, often cast in shadows and made to look like the Grim Reaper. Up close, Bale relishes the opportunity to play a boogeyman, grinning and terrorizing children with ease and glee. It feels like the notoriously dedicated actor approached the role without his characteristic intensity, and all the better for that.

The funniest thing about him though is that Thor: Love and Thunder seems quite committed to the idea that Gorr’s “Kill the Gods” quest is somehow misguided. The script assumes that Gorr’s goals are evil, so much so that it never stops to reflect on how almost every character in the film affirms that the gods are terrible. The victims he hunts do everything better than he ever could.

[Ed. note: Setup spoilers ahead for Thor: Love and Thunder.]

Thor in a rob on a mountain, talks to Peter Quill and Mantis in Thor: Love and Thunder

Photo: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

Directed by Taika Waititi, with a script by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (creator of the excellent short-lived series Cute/Vicious), Thor: Love and Thunder catches up with Thor after the events of Avengers: Endgame. He’s spent time traipsing through space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, getting his body back into frankly insane muscle shape, but also neglected to get his heart as fit as his body. Though Thor helped save the universe, he never quite figured out how to get over his ex, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who broke up with him in the nebulous period between 2013 Thor: The Dark World and Waititi’s first MCU film, Thor: Ragnarok.

This is something Thor must figure out quickly, as Gorr turns his attention to the Asgardians who settled on Earth after Hela destroyed their homeworld Ragnarok, Thor returns to find that his once-shattered magical hammer, Mjolnir, has restored itself and Jane now wields him as a heroine, the mighty Thor. Unfortunately, two Thors aren’t enough to stop Gorr’s killing spree, and love and thunder soon turns into a cosmic road trip between two Thors with troubled pasts and their buddies, the rock alien Korg (voiced by Waititi) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the bored king of New Asgard who longs to walk again and destroying guys in battle.

Unfortunately, what could have been a great road trip movie is undercut by characters who somehow lost their entire personality after Thanos’ snap. Thor is oddly inconsistent throughout the film – the Thor at the beginning of the film is different from the Thor who appears 20 minutes later, which is also different from the Thor we say goodbye to as the credits roll. Jane Foster, who has been largely absent from the franchise for the better part of a decade, has lots of fun enjoying her newfound godlike powers, but there’s a tension between her newfound superhuman life and her terrifyingly normal one, and the film is too slick , to sustain the tonal whiplash between the two.

Thor and Jane Foster as The Mighty Thor stand in a field in Thor: Love and Thunder

Photo: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

The clearest reason for this is this Thor: Love and Thunder is primarily designed as a delivery system for jokes. Taika Waititi is known for a particular brand of rambling dry humor in which clumsy men go head-to-head with competent but ostracized women, and scenes last just a little longer than most people would let them run, turning dramatic moments into laughter . That tonal pivot from the first two Thor films was a big part of the reason Ragnarok is one of the best MCU movies. But this film also tempered its big comedy with other equally big emotions: its villain’s anger, the frustration of loving a brother who will never give up his deceitful ways, and the simple yet powerful idea that home is people, no Location.

love and thunder has nothing quite as captivating or as carefully crafted as his jokes. Characters appear in a way that seems more funny than true. It can’t be overstated how right Gorr is: the gods of the MCU suck. They soak up the beginning of the film when Gorr’s daughter dies and his god doesn’t care and he’s dismissed in a fit of arrogance. They suck mid-film when Thor, in his quest to stop Gorr, seeks help from other gods from various folklores and gets none. And they suck at the end of the film, because you only get closer to them in a sympathetic way at the end love and thunder‘s two-hour runtime is Thor himself. Considering how much of a happy, chatty goofball he is, that is Yes, really push it.

Given the real reasons the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to exist — namely, the near-monopoly Disney enjoys in Hollywood as the corporate owner of several billion-dollar franchises — it’s easy to greet any new MCU outing with a cynical slant. If modern fandom is like a team sport, then you seriously or genuinely grapple with the nuances and flaws of an MCU film Thor: Love and Thunder can feel like a no-brainer, especially when everyone wants to know if you’re for or against their favorite team. It’s not a great condition, but we have it.

Valkyrie stands tipsy behind the bar aboard her ship in Thor: Love and Thunder

Photo: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

But one of the little marvels of the MCU is that for all the corporate machinery that often indicates otherwise, the latest show or movie rarely comes out feels cynical while actually looking at it. There’s usually something genuine to hold on to, whether it’s an attempt at a better and more authentic portrayal (in moon knight or Mrs Miracle), an attempt to broaden the genre palette of the megafranchise (She-Hulk: Lawyer or Shang Chi) or an experiment that puts Marvel characters in the hands of directors who are far from blockbuster fare (eternal). These attempts aren’t always successful — in fact, they often underscore the limits of what’s possible within the MCU’s shared narrative playground, in a way that can feel like a bucket of ice water on Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige’s grandiose vision of limitless blockbuster limit.

Thor: Love and Thunder is different. In a normal, standalone blockbuster, the script’s dogged insistence on undermining every emotional beat with jokes, underserved characters, and a lack of serious action would make it just a passable, at times funny way to kill a few hours. But cinematic universes not only add to a film’s strengths, they also compound its flaws. As the next chapter in the story about a character that audiences have known for more than a decade, a film that aims to present a new world full of possibilities for what these films can be, Thor: Love and Thunder is not just a misfire, it’s a scam. Its characters only move forward in the most artificial ways. Her status at the end of the film is no more intriguing than at the beginning. The worst thing a movie in this mode can be: trivial.

Filmmakers working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe must cope with an unusual strain that goes beyond the already extreme expectations of a Hollywood production. As the creators of the latest installment in an amazing money making machine, they must struggle to make a movie that appears to be none solely interested in further developing this machine. And even with a few solid jokes and more than a few talented performers in his roster, Thor: Love and Thunder is superficial in a way that stifles all of its strengths, as does the audience watching it. It’s a surprisingly cynical film – one equally unworthy of its noble heroes, who wield magical weapons, and the common folk, who raise their wallets to buy tickets.

Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters on July 8th. Thor: Love and Thunder Review: Selling Thor(s) for a Joke

Charles Jones

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