The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (or the MCU to fans) spirals a little farther out with Taika Waititi’s second film in the Thor franchise, Thor: Love and Thunder. As much as this rather manic adventure-comedy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it still asks some big questions. And unlike many films of this genre, it actually provides some answers.
Waititi maintains the same genial self-deprecating humour of Thor: Ragnarok. Although it doesn’t really feel that fresh the second time around, I still found it engaging enough. He also borrows heavily from mythology for his story, posing some thorny issues of faith and belief. He also dives into the niche world of heavy-rock and metal music – something I’m not a fan of. So while I got some of the references, I’m sure many went over my head. And he perhaps overreaches on the sentimentality in the final act.
The film opens with a man named Gorr (Christian Bale) struggling through a desert with his daughter. After the girl perishes, he meets the god he prayed to in his darkest moments. This god turns out to be a vain fool. But when the god tries to kill him, Gorr magically acquires a sword called Necromancer – a weapon that can kill gods. He’s transformed by the power of the sword into the God Butcher. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meanwhile has returned to Earth after several years with the Guardians of the Galaxy, bringing along his rocky pal Korg (voiced by Waititi). His former girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is dying of cancer, though he doesn’t know it. When Jane visits New Asgard (now basically a tourist town) and finds the shattered remnants of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, something remarkable happens.
After cutting a swathe of destruction across the universe, the God Butcher targets New Asgard. He attacks the town with shadow monsters. Despite the valiant efforts of Thor, a transformed Jane and King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), he succeeds in stealing away all the town’s children. Now the race is on the find them before the God Butcher unleashes some horror on them. But that won’t be easy, so our heroes will have to seek the assistance of the gods if they hope to take him down.
Thor: Love and Thunder distances the Thor character from the bulk of the MCU. I’m guessing that was the plan all along, but it all feels rather disconnected now. The script, by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, is ambitious. Depending on your point of view, it either delivers a bit of everything, or is a bit of a mess. I did however appreciate how the film handled two complementary characters who are simultaneously being empowered and destroyed by magical objects. The real-world parallels (involving things like money and fame, rather than sorcery) are certainly thought-provoking.
The film certainly covers a lot of territory (both literal and figurative), but doesn’t always stick the landing. If this was made in the 1990s, it would probably have been labelled “experimental”. But that’s how far we’ve come that this rather bizarro film is now decidedly mainstream. The script’s diverse nature also leads to several awkward tonal shifts (as to which, see Waititi’s previous film Jojo Rabbit). And before you ask, no – you cannot come into this movie “cold” without having seen at least the other Thor movies and hope to make sense of it. And yes – there are two post-credit sequences that point to future directions for the franchise.
But like most Marvel movies, it’s at its best in the action sequences. The attacks of the shadow monsters (they feature in three sequences) are neatly handled, and there’s a gruesomely funny scene in Omnipotent City, the gathering place of the gods. But the climactic battle is handled far more seriously, and features one of the most emotional endings to a story ever seen in an MCU movie.
Chris Hemsworth, as ever, turns on the charm as Thor. This character is, I’m sure, very familiar to him by now and he slips easily into the role without phoning it in. That said, he’s easily out-acted by Natalie Portman as Dr Foster in both the emotional and action scenes. Tessa Thompson is fine as King Valkyrie but her character is literally sidelined in the second act, so she doesn’t get much of a chance. Russell Crowe turns up as Zeus in a pastiche that doesn’t really work (and is borderline offensive). Christian Bale however chews the scenery deliciously as the God Butcher. His character might just be the most complex in the film, and he certainly makes the most of every opportunity (even if the character does look a lot like Voldemort). Watch out too for some famous faces in a very funny cameo.
I think Thor: Love and Thunder is likely to be among the most divisive MCU movies to date. It’s definitely a departure from what we’ve come to expect, but then so was Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. MCU purists may balk at Waititi’s irreverent approach to both the character and the film as a whole. On the other hand, if you’re a little tired of the oh-so-serious approach of many MCU films, this might be right up your alley.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television