When it comes to the conception of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the jump in quality from where he started to where he is now could be described as super-heroic. His inaugural entry was a misguided attempt at Shakespearean tragedy that still ranks as my least favorite in the franchise, while the follow-up The Dark World was received so poorly that Kevin Feige and his team were forced to go back to the drawing board. Thor’s second sequel Ragnarok brought on comedy director Taika Waititi to essentially reboot the superhero’s standalone movies, resulting in a god of thunder who was now much less stoic and much more jovial. Now we have Thor: Love and Thunder, another adventure that is mercifully in the same spirit of Ragnarok as opposed to the dreadfully self-serious first two films.
We’re re-introduced to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he travels across space with the Guardians of the Galaxy seeking to help those in need, who Thor finds in fellow Asgardian warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) on a ravaged planet. She tells Thor that the one responsible for the carnage is Gorr (Christian Bale), a vengeful alien possessing a powerful god-killing weapon who seeks to put an end to all higher beings. Back on Earth, Thor’s old flame Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is battling cancer but after traveling to New Asgard, she’s drawn to the remnants of Thor’s shattered hammer, which she is apparently now worthy to wield. With the now super-powered Foster, along with heroes Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi), Thor must rescue a group of kidnapped New Asgardians while sidestepping Gorr’s pernicious traps along the way.
If Ragnarok swung the pendulum of the Thor movies firmly towards comedy from the stark drama of the first two, Love and Thunder finds Waititi trying and ultimately failing to find more of a balance in the middle. In past films like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Jojo Rabbit, he’s proven his ability to mix laughs and pathos together, but the tonal shifts here are much more wild and mismanaged by comparison. A tragic prelude introducing Gorr’s character opens with a shot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Terrence Malick project but five minutes later, an obese Thor is doing battle ropes with a trucker hat on. The pace of this film is similarly untamed; huge swaths of narrative process and character development seem to have been left on the cutting room floor in an effort to get this latest entry under the two-hour mark.
Hats off, then, to Love and Thunder’s cast, for being the glue that holds the story together in its haste. It’s been 5 years since Ragnarok’s release and almost 10 years since Portman starred in an MCU film, but her charisma and chemistry with Hemsworth immediately makes up for lost time. Foster was a passive character with very little agency in her prior appearances, but Portman has more room here to expand the role, even before she picks up the reforged Mjolnir to become Mighty Thor. On the villain side of things, Bale delivers a sturdy performance as a worthy antagonist who’s deliciously evil one moment and indubitably pitiable the next.
When it comes to laughs, Love and Thunder is eager to please, which might explain why this is filled with some of the broadest humor in the entire franchise. What will make or break this newest adventure for audiences is whether the jokes land or not.
If you don’t think gags based on those screaming goat videos from years ago are funny, you’ll likely roll your eyes at a pair of new characters who join the gang this time around. Others may sigh at the inclusion of several very obvious Guns N’ Roses needle drops and savor more unexpected cuts from the likes of ABBA and Mary J. Blige. When in doubt, call on Hemsworth to tap into Thor’s bawdy enthusiasm and you’ll have chuckles more often than not. Thor: Love and Thunder is not an especially well-crafted superhero movie, but it gets the job done while keeping Thor on a more promising path than when he started.
New movies coming to theaters this weekend
Where the Crawdads Sing, a mystery drama starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Taylor John Smith, is an adaptation of the best-selling novel about a woman who becomes a suspect in the murder of a man with whom she was once involved in the marshes of the deep South.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, an animated martial arts comedy starring Michael Cera and Samuel L. Jackson, follows a down-on-his-luck dog who is trained to be a samurai by a cat mentor.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, a historical dramedy starring Lesley Manville and Isabelle Huppert, tells the story of a widowed cleaning lady living in 1950s London who becomes obsessed with a couture Dior dress and embarks on an adventure to Paris to track it down.