Thor: Love and Thunder
2022, PG-13, 118 min. Directed by Taika Waititi. Voice by Taika Waititi. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 8, 2022
It's one word in the trailer for the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's saga of Thor that should tip you off: The thunderer, the Odinson, slayer of Thanos, says the name of his ex, Jane Foster, in this weird Scooby-Doo fashion, with a mush-mouthed rising inflection.
That's Thor: Love and Thunder summed up. Every narrative beat stepped on with a goofy read, every moment of importance or narrative heft rendered as a goofy gag delivered with such jazz-hands nodding to the audience that they're simply not funny.
Which, considering the source material, is an appalling waste. Returning Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Sweet/Vicious) draw superficially from two arcs from the recent run on the Thor comic by Jason Aaron, "Gorr the God Butcher" and "The Mighty Thor." The former introduced one of his most formidable and fascinating enemies: Gorr, an alien who has declared war on all immortals. The latter, one of the most fascinating twists: Thor's human love, Jane Foster, develops cancer, and is only saved by the magic of his hammer, Mjolnir, which transforms her (temporarily) into the God of Thunder.
Avengers: Endgame set up none of this. Instead, it saw Thor (Hemsworth, buffer than ever) taking to the stars with the revamped Asgardians of the Galaxy. Which is unwritten in a mirthless montage narrated by rocky sidekick Korg (voiced again by Waititi), and the Guardians zoom off in minutes, allowing Waititi to send Thor back to New Asgard, which has now become a tourist trap. Still under the rule of an increasingly bored Valkyrie (Thompson, hamming it up as heavily as Hemsworth), he finds it has a new guardian, a deified version of puny mortal Foster (Portman, who skipped Ragnarok and made a long-distance cameo in Endgame). Good thing, as there is a merciless new threat in the twisted form of Gorr (Bale), who has been butchering gods across the star ways.
Gone is the comic's version of Gorr. As originally designed by artist Esad Ribić, he was clearly alien, and not just some dude in body paint. There's been speculation that his look was changed because it was a little close to the other pallid noseless wonder, Voldemort – which would be ironic, considering how a weirdly Harry Potter-esque subplot creeps in about Thor rescuing a bunch of Asgardian kids that Gorr has abducted to the shadow realm. Everything about this Gorr is less interesting than the comic version, from his sinister magical tentacles of darkness (now just giant CG bug things) to his slimmed-down god-killing blade, All-Black the Necrosword. In the comics, it's an extension of his celestial serial killer rage; here, it looks like a Spirit Store prop with a Rust-Oleum spray job.
This isn't to say that the film has to rigorously adapt the comics. But when the replacement idea is less interesting than the original, that's a bad sign. Aaron's Thor is carnal, violent, and contemplative; Waititi's is a clown show. Worse, this is arguably the least interesting onscreen version of the MCU's Thor.
Waititi takes the fish-out-of-water elements of Kenneth Branagh's version of the Thunder God and turns him into a happy toddler with occasional "boo-boo face." That said, all three of the lead Asgardians are pretty doltish. Waititi's decision to make gods just imbeciles means that there's nothing to Jane's choice to take up the mantle of godhood. Similarly, Val took on the mantle of king of Asgard, but as soon as that gets boring she dumps the community so she can swan around with her buddies. Remember in Thor how the first time Odin appears from the sky he's trying to use diplomacy to avert conflict? Whatever, let's just have a cool fight. (Actually, make that a dismal one: Marvel's combat cinematography often gets unfairly slapped for sloppy CG slugfests, but Love and Thunder's fights are just incoherent.) The script sets up the outlines of a discussion about faith and responsibility, power and obligation, but does nothing with it. As for anyone hoping for a mature relationship between Thor and Jane, good luck. Not only do they act like snarky teens playing emotional chicken, but there's no discussion of the obvious question of love between a mortal and an immortal. That's OK, though, because there are endless goat screams, a high-camp Russell Crowe as Zeus (complete with Monty Python-esque Greek accent), and Thor trying to soothe Stormbreaker's injured feelings about his old weapon, Mjolnir, turning back up being all sexy and smashy and lightningy. Yes, it's a metaphor. We get it.
But what's fundamentally uninteresting about Love and Thunder is Waititi's inability to recognize any character development over the last decade, or to move Thor forward. Much as Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness jettisoned all the emotional complexity lovingly crafted in WandaVision, Love and Thunder resets Thor back to where he was at the beginning of the first film: a vain, greedy, cruel boy. Just with puppy-dog eyes whenever Jane turns up.