Thor: Love and Thunder, unlike Taika Waititi‘s previous entry, Thor: Ragnarok, suffers from familiarity. Ragnarok was refreshingly comedic – at that point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it felt like we had seen everything the character of Thor had to offer. But then audiences saw that Chris Hemsworth, if given the opportunity, can be quite funny when he wants to be.
His performance in Ghostbusters was hilarious and sweet, and Waititi and Hemsworth brought that new sensibility to Ragnarok. Ragnarok breathed new life into a character that, after two solo films, didn’t seem like it had much more to say.
Thor: Love and Thunder, by comparison, doesn’t so much explore new territory as it does confirm that this version of Thor is here to stay. Like Ragnarok, Love and Thunder plays for humor more than action, and while it’s apparent that Waititi and Hemsworth are having a good time, the bloom has come off the rose. Thankfully, this entry is only sparingly continuing the Phase IV storyline (although there are some indications we may be seeing something big on the horizon).
Also missed: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who doesn’t appear in Love and Thunder, having his own issues to deal with in the Loki series on Disney+. While that complicated relationship isn’t explored here, what we do get to see instead is a return by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and her story arc is probably the most compelling.
More than any other MCU film since the pandemic began, Love and Thunder feels like it suffered the most from COVID-19. There don’t appear to be very many practical sets, and everything has that green screen sheen that we have seen so much of from Marvel movies in recent years. It appears, at times, that actors were digitally inserted in some scenes, and while Love and Thunder has a fascinating visual palette, none of it feels remotely real.
That may be intentional – Love and Thunder has the cadence of a fairy tale, and Waititi seems to be pulling from all kinds of different sources, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, as well as Jack Kirby’s iconic comic imagery. Also like Ragnarok, Waititi uses 1980s rock to accentuate many scenes, but instead of Led Zeppelin this time, we get Guns N’ Roses. No offense to GnR, but their music just can’t reach the highs that Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” hits, although one sequence set to “November Rain” comes real close.
This isn’t really Thor’s movie. It’s Jane’s. It’s great to see Portman return to the franchise, and she gets to do a lot with her character this time. It’s been several years since Jane and Thor broke up, and she’s still changing the world with her knowledge and her research.
Unfortunately, she’s also fighting cancer, and she doesn’t know how much time she has left. But she’s hearing strange voices, compelling her to go to New Asgard, where the pieces of Mjolnir are gathered.
There’s also a new enemy – Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), and while Gorr doesn’t quite reach the levels of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger or Josh Brolin’s Thanos, Bale gives Gorr real menace alongside a sympathetic center. Gorr is out to destroy all the gods, including Thor and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and his plot involves kidnapping the children of Asgard to bring Thor into battle.
Thor must enlist the gods to join him, including Zeus (Russell Crowe), but it seems Jane has powers of her own. Wielding Mjolnir, Jane has become the new personification of Thor, but Mjolnir is also, slowly, killing her.
There’s a thematic undercurrent in Thor: Love and Thunder that may not be apparent through all the glitter and glamour and special effects – this is a film about grief, and how it can either be navigated or how it can grab hold and become an obsession. Gorr’s grief drives him to do horrible things, while Thor’s grief motivates him to live the fullest life that he can.
Jane’s struggle with cancer makes up much of Love and Thunder‘s emotional center, and Portman and Hemsworth give necessary weight to those scenes. But Thor: Love and Thunder also knows how to be silly, epic, and visionary. More so than other recent MCU entries, this feels the most like a comic book, with imagery that feels straight from the page. Even though this is an effects-heavy movie, it also tries to set itself apart from the other MCU movies by making something that feels truly from the minds of artists.
Look – cancer stories hit me in a personal way whenever I come across them in a movie or show. I may be biased in that way. I was very moved by Jane Foster’s journey in Thor: Love and Thunder, and it resonated deeply with me. It may not for others, but speaking for myself, those stories hit hard.
Natalie Portman never treats this character as silly or weightless, and while people may come to see Hemsworth have fun as Thor, it’s Portman’s performance that I am most impressed with. This may be a silly comic book adventure movie, but Portman finds meaning in it and brings it forth in her performance. Taika Waititi and Portman give Jane Foster a satisfying story that was worth bringing her character back for.
For me, Phase IV has been hit and miss. Some of the films and shows I’ve enjoyed more than others, and some of it I still need to catch up with. It’s an awful lot of content, and sometimes it feels more like an obligation than something to enjoy.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Thor: Love and Thunder, and while it doesn’t hit the highs of Spider-Man: No Way Home, it does have its moments, and I especially enjoyed the work of Natalie Portman and Christian Bale. It’s hard to know what happens next for our beloved Space Viking, but I hope we get more Taika Waititi to tell it.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER REVIEW SCORE: 7.5 OUT OF 10
Marvel Studios‘ Thor: Love and Thunder will open in theaters on Thursday, July 7. The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity.