Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in Taika Waititi’s ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’: Film Review
The space Viking is joined by former love Jane Foster to rescue the abducted children of Asgard and stop the rampage of Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher.
David Rooney, July 5, 2022.
Ragnarok by leaning into the irreverent comedy, mirroring the pop-cultural playfulness that had worked for the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Dipping less rewardingly from the same well in Thor: Love and Thunder, Waititi pushes the wisecracking to tiresome extremes, snuffing out any excitement, mythic grandeur or sense of danger that the God of Thunder’s latest round of rote challenges might hope to generate. Chris Hemsworth continues to give great musclebound himbo, but the stakes never acquire much urgency in a movie too busy being jokey and juvenile to tell a gripping story.
The Marvel faithful will likely groove to the mischievous spirit that is Waititi’s trademark, and they might even get a kick out of the often ugly Frank Frazetta-inspired fantasy visuals, with many scenes looking like the kind of bad airbrush art you find on the bodywork of stoner dude-wagons. The soundtrack also fits that metal mode, with Guns N’ Roses hits stitched into Michael Giacchino’s blustery score. But is it too much to ask for something that doesn’t just feel like a strained rehash of the last installment?
Thor’s home New Asgard has been turned into an amusement park and cruise destination offering Viking boat rides, real Asgardian mead and re-enactments of mythological lore — featuring famous faces in cute cameos. So we might as well be at Disneyland. The silly kid-film feel of this episode would be apparent even without the children of this monetized Norse playground watching through windows in wide-eyed delight as Thor and his allies battle shadow monsters conjured by villain du jour Gorr the God Butcher.
Looking lean and mean, with a zombie pallor and glowing demon eyes beneath his wispy white cowl, Christian Bale brings plenty of malevolent intensity to that role, along with haunted reminders of the man of faith he once was, robbed of his beloved daughter when the gods abandoned their parched planet to drought and famine. But his extensive back-story in the Marvel comics is so reduced here that Gorr becomes just another nut-job with a grudge — using the necrosword from which he derives his power to slay deities, as his name suggests. In a movie whose main aim is fun, Gorr is a gloomy drag who made me miss the shamelessly over the top witchery of Cate Blanchett’s Hela in Ragnarok.
Nor does Thor have a verbal sparring partner on the level of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Bruce Banner. Instead, he’s reunited with former love Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, who already proved an uncomfortable fit for the Marvel vibe in the first Thor movies. Now she’s back, fighting stage 4 cancer but postponing the inevitable the Viking way, by wielding Mjollnir, the thunder god’s hammer.
She gets to be called The Mighty Thor and acquits herself well in battle, even if she struggles to come up with a worthy catchphrase. The hammer appears also to have a hairdressing function, transforming Jane’s dowdy brown mop into kicky blond curls. Portman is not quite a natural with the comedy, but mostly she just seems like a female replica of Hemsworth’s quippy character until an abrupt lurch into pathos when Thor declares that he can’t bear to lose her love again.
This is a film full of choppy shifts, both in the narrative and the visuals. The CG environments are so expansive, and so garishly colorful, that it almost looks animated, and the jumps to the green fields of Asgard or the sterile rooms of the hospital where Jane is being treated give the impression of being dropped into a different movie.
Thor and Jane — or Thor and Mighty Thor, if you want to get confusingly technical — must stop the galactic threat of Gorr before he lays waste to all the gods and reaches the Altar of Eternity, where his wish for omnipotence or everlasting life or something will be granted. Their mission is rendered more pressing by the fact that Gorr has abducted all the children of Asgard, who are being held prisoner in a huge spiked cage.
The good guys have help from King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), now the benevolent ruler of New Asgard but still a fearless warrior; and Thor’s rock buddy Korg (Waititi), whose goofy commentary is framed as children’s story time, adding to the overall junior-adventure feel. They commandeer a theme-park boat for their space travels, pulled by two giant screaming goats, which are funny for a minute.
They make a pit-stop at the Golden Temple of the Gods to request backup from the vainglorious Zeus (Russell Crowe, doing a cheesy Greek accent right out of a comedy sketch). That proves a bust, though it does allow for cheeky acknowledgments of Thor’s apparently impressive endowment when Zeus strips him naked, and they do score a handy additional weapon in Zeus’ golden lightning bolt.
Waititi, cinematographer Barry Idoine and the effects team change up the visual scheme by shifting to black and white once the Thor posse reaches Gorr’s realm of shadows, and the representation of Eternity as a sky of low clouds reflected in shallow water is simple but beautiful. For the most part though, this is a messy movie that takes programmatic pauses for poignancy or comedy in between chaotically staged action set-pieces. The most energized of them involves the kidnapped children being granted the power of Thor for the day and facing off against Gorr’s shadow monsters. But even here, the focus switches back and forth too restlessly to savor their moment of glory.
More than most recent MCU movies, the screenplay by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson shows a crisis of imagination, too often relying on easy laughs from cross-cultural references (Korg keeps getting Jane’s name wrong, calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster) or kitschy pop (Enya, Abba) rather than doing anything interesting with the characters or building real gravity into their situation. Even the inclusion of queer characters — Valkyrie pines for the love of her lost warrior sister; Korg reveals that his species mates with other males to make baby rock monsters — seems more like pandering representation than anything vitally grounded in the storytelling.
Sure, fans will be delighted to see Chris Pratt and the Guardians of the Galaxy crew turn up in an early battle, plus there are some mildly moving interludes between Hemsworth and Portman as Jane’s health becomes more compromised with each swing of the hammer. And one of the obligatory end-credits sequences will tantalize followers of Ted Lasso. But right down to a sentimental ending that seems designed around “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the movie feels weightless, flippant, instantly forgettable, sparking neither love nor thunder.