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Thor: Love and Thunder

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by Matt Anderson

published June 30, 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder isn’t one of the best MCU movies, but it is a marginally good episode in a series that’s lost its focus.

The God Butcher

Taika Waititi is one of only a few directors who have been able to work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and still present their own unique vision with their own storytelling sensibilities. With the Multiverse of Madness, Sam Raimi was criticized by some for being too Sam Raimi. Others, including Chloe Zhao, have struggled to rise above the grand scheme of MCU’s mastermind, Kevin Feige.

So, Thor: Love and Thunder is every bit a Taika Waititi movie and very much like his previous MCU directorial effort, Thor: Ragnarok. Lots of humor, some of it terrific, some of it remarkably silly to the point of being out of place.

This time, Waititi does a better job of balancing the humor with the drama. And the drama in Love and Thunder is pretty good. There are two dramatic threads that actually pack some punch, which is a welcome change of pace given the rather weightless streak that has been Phase 4. Too little at stake, too much craziness.

One involves the return of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). Her personal story has taken a dark turn; she’s on chemo and staring down her own endgame with Stage 4 cancer. But a little bit of a back story involving her romantic entanglement with Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth, Men in Black: International) leads to a fateful twist that transforms the ill Jane Foster into the Mighty Thor. It’s a good storyline, but not quite the groundbreaking feminist storyline that was naturally expected; it could’ve used a little more screen time, but it’s still good.

The other thread involves a new character in the MCU, Gorr, the God Butcher (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight). As the movie begins, Gorr’s daughter dies in his arms after the pair had already sacrificed so much to honor their god. But that devotion leads to merciless derision from the god, who shatters Gorr’s hope for eternal joy. This, in turn, sparks Gorr’s wrath.

It’s a dark, dark storyline in which Gorr seeks to exact revenge against all the gods. And, of course, that would include Thor, the God of Thunder. The quaint village (and Disneyland-like tourist trap) of New Asgard is targeted, with visitors and citizens alike merely collateral damage as Gorr battles Thor.

Find the Balance

Along with those two hefty dramatic elements, Star Lord (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), the strong (really strong) leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, makes an appearance long enough to impart some shockingly smart, albeit remarkably poorly phrased, wisdom to Thor in regard to his relationship with Jane.

From there, the storylines dovetail, a yin and yang of drama and comedy that holds up well enough. Genteel jokes confusing Jane Foster with Jane Fonda and Jody Foster sit comfortably alongside scenes in which Endgame’s fat Thor gets back into shape, both physically and egotistically. Those moments help ease the pain when the unshackled Waititi detracts and distracts with some ridiculous silliness involving Thor’s relationship with his hammers.

That tonal challenge also includes what could’ve been a really exciting addition to the MCU: the entire universe of gods — including Greek, Hindu, Aztec, Mayan — all of them taking the stage in Omnipotent City. This could’ve been a third dramatic thread, a serious theological survey (something Zhao’s Eternals took a stab at) to shore up with the comic book superhero mythology that some fans also take to the cusp of religion.

Alas, Waititi once again goes for childish humor (including Bao, the God of Dumplings) instead of applying more pressure to the drama — and maybe even being more respectful to all those belief systems and value systems established thousands of years ago that set the foundation for Marvel’s storylines and themes churned out during the past six decades. Omnipotent City represents a missed opportunity that also pushes Love and Thunder into a danger zone of cheesiness, veering too close to the kitsch of awful 1980s movies like The Adventures of Hercules and Red Sonja.

Still, it’s the drama — and Christian Bale — that holds the attention. Bale delivers another great performance, totally switching gears from DC’s heroic Bruce Wayne to Marvel’s frightful butcher. As usual, Bale’s in it to win it as he totally transforms his appearance and embodies the character.

The MCU of Madness

Bale and Portman — along with some entertaining cameos — make this one a wee little bit better than most of the post-Endgame Marvel movies, but there’s still a big question as to where this is all headed. The Avengers were the backbone to an overarching storyline that served as the larger focus of Phases 1 through 3. Nothing comparable exists right now; there’s a lack of momentum propelling this hodge-podge of disparate stories and multiplicity of new character introductions. Throw in the streaming series that are part of the extended MCU Phase 4 and the narrative range is even wider and with very little connective tissue.

With Phase 4 wrapping up this summer following the launch of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law on Disney+ in August, it’s time to ask the big question: What is the new endgame? Feige recently announced it’ll all make sense soon; there is still a master plan.

Great. Revealing that plan sooner than later would be advised. The MCU has expanded to include the Eternals and the multiverse; now Zeus and other gods through all the millennia of human history are in the picture.

This could all lead to some superb movie adventures, or it could all devolve into a not-so-special limited edition of super kitsch.

As entertaining as Love and Thunder is, there’s a sinking feeling things might be headed toward the latter. Questions arise. Odd, unexpected questions. Like, why does Zeus’ lightning bolt look like a toy made by Funko? Why does Thor’s new outfit look so cheesy? For that matter, why do so many of the costumes and props — including both of Thor’s mighty hammers, Stormbreaker and Mjollnir — look like they’re cheap knock-offs from a Hollywood Boulevard costume shop?

These are new questions stemming from new, unwanted sensations of cheese-fueled angst. But maybe that’s also why watching Love and Thunder seems like a strange retro trip back to 1980’s Flash Gordon. Sure, the rock-heavy soundtrack contributes to that, but still, it’s not a good vibe for the MCU to be throwing right now. This one feels a little bargain-basement for a movie with a reported production budget of $185 million. No doubt inflation’s also hitting the multiverse in a hard way, but this unprecedented series of movies should carry far greater production values.

Kevin Feige, it’s time to bring the MCU back to a quality-focused narrative center.