Writers: Taika Waititi & Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (written by), Taika Waititi (story by), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comics by), Jason Aaron (based on the Marvel comics by)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
If nothing else, you have to appreciate the creativity and sheer audacity of Thor: Love and Thunder director and co-writer Taika Waititi. Only Waititi would envision Thor Odinson’s (Chris Hemsworth) battle with Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) as a clash between 80s hair metal and German expressionist films.
Waititi, who treated the Marvel Cinematic Universe like his own candy store in his previous Thor outing Ragnarok, has once again brought us a vibrant and memorable adventure in Love and Thunder. Unfortunately, even with the colorful set pieces and delightful needle drops, Waititi ultimately can’t match the overall splendor of his first MCU film. While the action scenes and comedy in this film are top notch, the emotional beats felt flat.
Love and Thunder picks up after the events of Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Thor has once again slimmed down to his “God bod” and is palling around with Korg (Waititi) and the Guardians of the Galaxy. King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) remains in charge of New Asgard and Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who, outside of some recycled footage in Endgame, hasn’t been seen on-screen since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, is thriving professionally, but dealing with devastating personal news.
When Gorr begins slaughtering gods with a Necrosword, Thor returns to New Asgard to protect his people. That’s when he discovers Jane now possesses the powers of Thor (and his shattered hammer Mjölnir). Thor, Jane and King Valyrie set off together to find and defeat Gorr.
It’s a great premise and one Waititi has a lot of fun depicting. The opening battle with the Guardians of the Galaxy sees Thor dressed like a member of an 80s hair metal band as he takes on an alien race that would feel at home in the cult classic animated film Heavy Metal. The planet they track Gorr to has minimal light, so Waititi shoots the footage there in moody black and white. There is a decadent scene featuring miscellaneous gods shot inside a massive, opulent throne room. Three different Guns N’ Roses songs play throughout the film.
The comedy in the film is also top notch. Hemsworth and Thompson both ham it up as effortlessly as they did together in Ragnarok. Christian Bale, who is made up to look like a gaunt Nosferatu, manages to be quite silly. Even Natalie Portman, who was something of a straight man in her previous outings, gets to cut loose. And Russell Crowe, in a cameo playing a character I don’t want to give away if you haven’t had it spoiled for you yet, is a hilarious scene stealer.
But while the comedy and action shine, the movie’s emotional beats don’t. This is because Waititi never lets the audience sit with the weight of the emotional moments. Instead, his instinct is to immediately undercut real emotion with a quick joke. (For example: There are times when Thor begins expressing genuine longing and hurt while watching Jane wielding his treasured Mjölnir that are interrupted by his new weapon, Stormbreaker, floating into the frame in an anthropomorphized fit of jealousy.)
Hemsworth proved in the Russo’s Avengers films that he could handle complex emotional arcs. In them, Thor struggles with his failure to stop Thanos in time and subsequently no longer feeling worthy, which culminates in a beautiful scene where he sees his mother (Rene Russo) one final time and receives a restorative pep talk from her.
I wanted to see more of that side of the character in this film, but Waititi never gets beyond surface emotions. Thor, Jane and Gorr are all wrestling with some heavy emotional burdens, but the film is all too eager to distract you from this the moment any of those characters begins lamenting their fate. Because of this, the film lacks emotional weight, which makes it feel like it lacks real stakes. And while Ragnarok felt like a fun new direction for the character, this unfortunately feels like a step backward for his emotional development.
Waititi’s razzle dazzle may be enough to compensate for this. There are plenty of grandiose action scenes in colorful locales set to catchy hair metal. And the climactic showdown between good and evil feels suitably epic and satisfying. Perhaps that is enough to please the average MCU fan. But personally, I couldn’t help wishing for just a bit more sincere emotion.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.