Thor: Love and Thunder is the fourth Thor movie and marks director Taika Waititi’s second stab at the franchise.
The public domain’s introduction to Taika’s brand of humour was the highly successful Thor: Ragnarok, where he magically rebooted the then dour and boring superhero into the lovable ‘Strongest Avenger’ dudebro that we know and love today.
And despite the cheery nature of post-Dark World Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the character has arguably had it roughest out of all the MCU characters. We’ve seen heroes break for less – Scarlett Witch lost her brother Quicksilver and her lover Vision, which led her to the darkness in a bid to reach imaginary children that she never had.
That’s a tough break, for sure, but that pales in comparison to what Thor has lost so far: his longtime friends Volstaff, Fandral, Hogun and Heimdall, his father Odin, his mother Frigga and his brother Loki. Let’s also not forget the burden of destroying Asgard and leading his people to an uncertain future and his soul-crushing despair after failing to stop Thanos the first time around in Infinity War, causing half of the universe to be wiped out, including many of his teammates. It’s almost as if all the people he cares about are doomed to die.
For those who find it frustrating to see Thor essentially having to ‘find himself’ in every movie, it could well be how Thor tries to cope with every event that profoundly affects him. It’s a lot of emotional baggage to deal with, even for a god.
And so it is in Love & Thunder (L&T), which in a way, is a very appropriate turn of phrase to describe the tone of the movie, which swings from one end of the spectrum to the other in a heartbeat. Thor kicks off the movie directionless, having given up his right to rule, only to learn that there is an emptiness within he cannot seem to fill, even with the Guardians of the Galaxy and their zany adventures. Again. His attempts at finding meaning for his existence border on self-parody or mockery, and it’s hard to tell if he’s self-aware or not. Behaving like a lovable schmuck with Godlike looks and physique can only go so far and I think we’re just missing that little bit of nuance that defines his coping mechanisms. No complaints about his muscle definition, though; 10/10 there.
L&T is a world where comedy and tragedy are thrown about liberally, and for the life of me, I now understand what it means to have too much of a good thing. What made Ragnarok work – although I understand that some people disliked the humour – was that the jokes were given time to breathe. Some excesses work; some don’t. The running gag involving Stormbringer and Mjolnir is borderline, but the one involving a pair of goats will be the litmus test of whether you find the humour hilarious or just plain excessive.
While comedy is subjective, my take on this is that not everything needs to be a setup for a joke. The problem here is that L&T also deals with tragedies for its key characters, and the tone of the movie and transitions from the light-hearted to the heavy moments can be a little jarring and fail to deliver contextual information for the serious stuff. I’d like to think that this is a reflection of Taika’s personality – like he has no idea how (or struggles) to process these feelings as well and copes in the only way he knows: being goofy AF. Admittedly, a backstory like this would make L&T kind of cool to me, so I’ll pretend to my mind at least that’s the truth. Taika = Thor? Illuminati confirmed.
And oh my, does Thor have some major emotional issues to deal with in this instalment of the franchise. And yet he displays a startling degree of poise and dignity, which perhaps, is a reflection of his growth throughout the other MCU movies – the Thor in previous movies might already have lost his s*** a long time ago. The trouble is, I guess this level of subtlety is hard to convey in a fast-paced action-adventure, especially when so much is already going on. It’s a shame that we’re never really given an insight into Thor’s mind and he’s starting to feel like a classic boomer dad who just keeps everything to himself and puts on a strong front. I feel like we should have a status report of sorts by this point.
Similarly, Gorr (Christian Bale) is somewhat unfulfilled potential. We cannot ask any more of Bale’s impeccable performance as a man driven to single-minded madness – that’s a question for the script. His slight frame belies the intense hatred in his eyes, which makes every fight scene fraught with danger. You’re convinced that there’s no doubt he will hurt our heroes at some point, and they’ll need every bit of luck to escape unscathed.
As good as Bale is, the trouble with Gorr is that there isn’t anything backing up his motivation to kill all Gods rather than unworthy ones, which places him in the category of black and white evil rather than a complex antagonist fighting his demons (and gods, badumtss). While moments that evoke empathy are relatively few, they are oh-so-powerful indeed – Gorr is undoubtedly one of the great villains of the MCU.
For some reason, I’ve got this sneaky feeling that they have shot scenes that do address my concerns thus far, but somehow it all ended up on the cutting room floor to meet the running time.
Those worried that the return of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) might diminish Thor’s role in the movie need not be worried. Part of the movie’s charm is built on the schtick of bringing Thor and Jane back together – like it would have gone any other way – and they are pretty much the heart of T&L. The chemistry is still strong indeed and the awkwardness in trying to steer the waters is what makes their inane conversations perfect. And the fact that she is essentially his equal – superhero status-wise – enables them to flesh out their romance smoothly throughout the movie; nobody’s staying at home waiting for the other to come back so they can have a talk – stopping Gorr IS the date. It is heavily reliant on that puppy love vibe thing they have got going, but it works well here and you’ll be rooting for them to come up tops at the end.
Taika’s mainstays Korg (Taika Waititi) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) return as well, but they are secondary players for the most part. Korg does what Korg does and he’s essentially Taika’s not-so-sneaky way of joining in the fun without pushing the plot off course. Valkyrie unfortunately is wasted in this movie as she does nothing significant of note aside from being playfully annoying because she’s so bored at her job as the King of Asgard, and the whole adventure represents her ticket for getting out of the mundane cycle of administrative hell. We get a glimpse of the one thing that’s holding her back emotionally and that’s about it. But let’s just ignore that for now, it’s all about being irreverent, people.
If I have one true gripe, that would be the number of Guns n’ Roses being spammed into a single movie – four is three too many and they don’t always elevate the moment. If anyone’s keeping score of shows rocking 80s-inspired soundtracks, James Gunn still leads the way for the most spot-on 80’s picks in Peacemaker, while Stranger Things Season Four has delivered two of the most impactful ones this year.
But to be fair, at least they got it right for one scene – a pitch-perfect live-action battle homage to 80s fantasy cartoons like Heavy Metal or He-Man, albeit with Taika’s trademark humour all over it. You’ll moan about how dumb it was while trying to pretend that you didn’t chuckle during the scene. How’s Star Lord’s (Chris Pratt) eye-roll as a stellar bit of foreshadowing, eh?
In hindsight – because it’s much easier to piece it together from notes after experiencing that sensory diarrhoea (and I mean that in a positive way) – T&L is at its heart, a ‘romcom-dramedy’ centred around the idea that ’love conquers all’ with a somewhat satisfying payoff. For one, when Hemsworth finally decides to call time on playing Thor, I’m pretty sure his character will be assured of a truly happy ending. Hint hint.
But yet I can’t help but think that T&L is a movie of unfulfilled potential; Gorr and Jane’s story arcs could have been the cornerstones for one of the most emotionally-driven MCU movies in the canon. You can almost draw parallels but it never leads you there naturally. By the movie’s end, we do get our share of heart-wrenching moments but even then, we’re left feeling that there could have been more depth to those moments. But I get it, they’ve favoured balls-to-the-wall entertainment so I guess you have to take it for what it is, warts and all.
In many ways, you kind of have to adopt a Thor-like, irreverent attitude to the cinema to truly appreciate this movie. Even better – when it finally screens on Disney+, round up a couple of your (worst) mates for a few rounds of drinks and bring on the thunderous laughs and dead-silent suppressed crying. Love and Thunder indeed.
Thor: Love & Thunder
An epic road trip date across the galaxy to find a genie in a lamp. How will the night end? Bring a ****load of beers and find out.