Thor: Love and Thunder is what we’d imagine you’d see if you could live inside the head of director Taika Waititi. To Marvel fans, Waititi is best known for Thor: Ragnarok, 2017's bright, boisterous, hilarious Thor adventure that completely changed the film interpretation of the character. But he also won an Oscar for writing the World War II set Jojo Rabbit and co-created the genre-blending comedies What We Do in the Shadows, as well as Our Flag Means Death, just to name a few. Basically, there’s a lot going on in that brain of his, most of it is very good, but it must be a little bit jumbled, right? How could it not be?
Love and Thunder, which Waititi also wrote along with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, picks up after the events of Avengers: Endgame. The God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has been hanging with the Guardians of the Galaxy but feels unfulfilled and very unclear about his purpose. Soon, he finds that purpose in the pursuit of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a cursed being whose aim is to kill every God in the galaxy. The quest leads him back to Earth and New Asgard, now run by King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and it’s there Thor finds out that his old hammer, Mjolnir, has chosen a new Thor: Thor’s old flame Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Thor, Valkyrie, and Foster, a.k.a. The Mighty Thor, then set off on an adventure to defeat Gorr.
Even in that purposefully vague description, you can tell Love and Thunder has a lot of moving parts. Waititi starts the film with Gorr, moves onto Thor, then Jane, then Valkyrie, all while trying to keep the story focused. And, honestly, it’s not that successful at the start. Love and Thunder feels almost cobbled together at times—action scenes serve only to entertain and not necessarily drive the story, hilarious tangents provide crucial details but, by their nature, step away from the narrative. Some scenes feel like they’re from different movies entirely. Cameo upon cameo distracts from the character development and watching it, I was worried that everything was going to go off the rails.
However, for the most part, the opposite happens. Gorr’s evil actions give Thor and his friends a very clear path which, in turn, eventually focuses the movie greatly. There are still a few scenes, such as one featuring Russell Crowe as Zeus, that are more about fun than forwarding the story, but you’re never mad at it. Plus, once that’s over, having Thor, Valkyrie, and Foster (as well as Korg, played by Waititi) together on an adventure has delightful road trip vibes. Each of the characters gets some really interesting interactions with the others, especially with Valkyrie, and this is also when the film takes its best pivot. After many stalls and stops, we get a crucial deep dive into Thor and Jane’s relationship. The interactions have a brutal, awkward honesty that adds relatable, charming humanity to them both. As a result, the adventure road trip also becomes a touching love story, and the film is better for it.
Most of the film’s success is thanks to the cast, who do a masterful job of balancing the pinpoint tonal bullseye Waititi is after. Bale’s Gorr goes from terrifying to humane to hilarious in the blink of an eye. Portman’s Foster is heroic and exciting while also harboring a very sad reality. The same can be said for Hemsworth’s Thor, who this time has to be not just the happy-go-lucky Thor, but have enough tension in the performance that he could burst into sad tears at any point—which he does, on several occasions. Thompson’s Valkyrie serves as the anchor for the group, she having her shit together the most though feelings of sorrow and loss remain, and Waititi’s Korg is, well, Korg (with a few awesome new layers).
As the characters move along their paths, Waititi’s directorial choices range from flat-out brilliant to borderline overindulgent. A late-second act scene does something visually which fits the story perfectly but might leave certain fans confused. The film has one, not two, not three but four major Guns N’ Roses songs used throughout, all of which work, but can also become a bit repetitive and obvious. And yet, off-the-wall choices like a romantic subplot involving inanimate objects, or a few dumb running jokes, really add to the film. None of these decisions work against the movie, per se, but it’s very obvious that Waititi really went all out here—and a bit more restraint could have given the film a welcome sprinkle of focus.
Nevertheless, the film’s third act really delivers on all fronts, the best of which being just how emotional and powerful a note things end on. In fact, the ending brings many of those seemingly disjointed asides together in a satisfying way that more or less makes us forget the film’s earlier issues. We’re left feeling great, despite the bumpy journey, because the ending is so great.
Thor: Love and Thunder is not nearly as cohesive or propulsive as Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s more ambitious and heartfelt. The cast all bring their A-games, and even when parts of the film don’t line up with the others, they are never boring to watch. There are moments where you’ll think, moments when you’ll cheer, and moments when you’ll cry. Love and Thunder can be a bumpy journey at times—but the destination is well worth the trip.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in theaters July 8.
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