In 2017, one of the freshest breaths of fresh air hit the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the form of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. It was a treat in terms of visuals, humor, character and story, and easily remains in my Top 5 MCU projects to this day. I know not everyone agrees, obviously, but I really liked it–I’ve loved Taika Waititi as a director for some time now, and this was another winner in my book. Now at the time, all-things Marvel were building to the big mega-event that is now known as Infinity War and Endgame. Now it’s been a couple of years, and the dust from that double-act has settled and reformed, and Marvel is working hard to establish a strong path forward.
Enter Thor: Love and Thunder.
Taika Waititi is back directing, and obviously Chris Hemsworth has donned the biceps again as our favorite Asgardian. Tessa Thompson has returned as Valkyrie, and from earlier films we’ve got Natalie Portman back in a starring roll, and newcomers to the cast include Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. And as is expected for a Marvel production, there are a bunch of familiar faces in cameos: Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, and the entire crew’ Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie has got a dancing Zeus, a weaponized stuffed toy, and screaming goats. What’s not to like?
Well, honestly, so much, if you ask me.
Now, I’m going to say straight up that I didn’t hate Love and Thunder, in the same way I hated the last Dr. Strange movie (see here). There were certainly parts I liked, and as I watched it on a date with my wife as a late anniversary celebration, I certainly enjoyed the experience of going to see it.
But ultimately it’s a film that inspires a fair amount of disinterest from me, and most of my thoughts are pretty negative. Maybe I’m just getting old and jaded, but the movie left me non-plussed, and by golly I’m going to tell you why before my brain gets too foggy to remember.
The movie’s plot features a lot of clunkiness. Gorr the God-Butcher’s motivations are reasonably clear, but his actions are pretty vague–the movie keeps almost all his actual butchering off screen. His attack on New Asgard is cool but his goal appears to shift abruptly from just trying to kill Thor very elaborately trying to steal his axe. The little side quest to Zeus’ little side sanctuary adds up to nothing but a bunch of spectacle. And after spending the movie trying to raise an army to help him fight the bad guy, Thor suddenly pulls a brand-new power out of his naked butt and just makes one out of all the hostages he is trying to rescue.
All this would be stuff I could just live with if that movie had been a winner in terms of its humor, heart and action (by all appearances, its real storytelling goals). But none of these elements of the movie were all that great either, although some were better than others.
Probably the most successful was the “heart” side of things, at least what there was of it. I thought the “Jane Foster has cancer” was pretty good, with Natalie Portman doing a fine job, and the emotional impact on Thor that it all has being plausible and meaningful. The idea that the hero has to learn to be open to pain and disappointment in order to experience real meaning in his or her life is not a new one, but it’s still a nice story to see.
Of course, the problem was that the storyline was all that it was all buried in the utter silliness of everything, which is another way of saying that the I found the movie’s abundance of jokes to be jarring and largely unfunny. A bit more weight given to the emotional implications of everything going on would have not gone amiss, because there was some meaningful stuff there if you had the patience for it. Ragnarok, somehow, had a handle on its pacing and tone so that it could be quite funny without undercutting anything else that was going on. Here, the jokes were just not as good, and when they were there, they were intrusive. I’m usually down for Marvel’s quippy dialogue and for Taika Waititi’s off-beat style, but this this time around it all just failed to land.
Another way the movie fails in the emotion-department was with the very end, where Thor and his new adopted daughter are up to cutesy domestic antics before heading off into battle together. After the heaviness of Jane’s death, it’s supposed to feel like a breath of optimism and hope. But all of this falls flat because I didn’t have any emotional connection to Love (the young girl) as a character, and Thor it’s obvious that Thor has even less of one. So the relationship at the end just comes out of nowhere, and is not emotionally meaningful. If the girl had anything to do with Thor beforehand, or perhaps had been special to Jane somehow, it might have been meaningful to see Thor bonding with her. As it is, it’s hollow and forced.
Finally, to my surprise, the movie’s action scenes were also hard to care about. It’s tempting to think I’m just getting tired of all these superhero projects, but I don’t think that’s it. Rather, the characters just seem to move and punch and attack like they’re figures in a video game, rather than people in a fight. Or to put it another way, Thor and and Jane look like they are punching by magic, rather than by strength–like there was no weight behind anything. So as a result, a lot of the action scenes–arguably the highlight of a superhero movie–lacked impact.
So, the end result is a movie which is not all that funny and not all that exciting, and in which the emotional hooks are obscured by a jarring tone and a confused story. As critical as that sounds, I still didn’t hate it–it’s bright and colorful and full of fun actors. And it made me fonder of Guns N’ Roses than I ever was in the ’80s. But nonetheless, the negatives are still far more salient to me than the good points.
One thought on “Thor: Love and Thunder”
Fortunately my son saw this before me and told me to just turn my brain off and enjoy it. I also wouldn’t say I hated it, but other than Christian Bale’s performance, nothing else was memorable. Bale made me really feel both his emotional pain and his menace. My biggest peeve about the movie was the repeated social commentary which amped it up from The Eternals, but its the world we live in now.