Great acting for the most part--even the annoying Korg had some truly heartfelt moments
Character writing is a vast improvement over the last two Thor films
Bale’s surprising un-Baling
Gorr is criminally used, nothing about this iteration lives up to the comics
Mashing both Mighty Thor and the God Butcher arcs feels like a very limiting move
Underusing Kat Dennings and Jaimie Alexander should be a chargeable crime
Those who enjoyed the character-middling, Tumblr-written, gag-ridden storytelling and buffoonery employed by Thor: Ragnarok might either find more to like in Thor: Love & Thunder, or might live under the mistaken belief that Ragnarok’s “ingenuity” cannot be matched.
Amidst much laughter, literal thunder, and sincere heartfelt moments, is the painful realisation that perhaps franchise tentpoles where larger-form storytelling and multiple active threads are not Taika Waititi’s strong suit. The man’s a genius, there’s little (to no) argument there, but with two movies into the MCU, it’s starting to feel like maybe he’s better left doing what he does best in the shadows.
Or maybe Disney should have left the movie at a greater-than-two-hour runtime. Who knows?
Off the bat, Love & Thunder is superior to Ragnarokby miles. I enjoy a good laugh in my superhero movies (hence my preference for the MCU over the DC-whatever-the-fuck-it’s-now-called-U), but Ragnarok pushed the boundaries of humour to match the most banal of ‘90s gag-sitcoms in the name of “character exploration.” And it was so insipid even then, that the events of the movie pretty much got undone with literally the next appearance of Thor in Avengers: Infinity War. Love & Thunder, however, reserves some attention for actual character development.
Perhaps it’s the now-absent responsibility of having to lead into the (second) biggest movie event ever, but Thor: Love & Thunder remembers that the beating heart of these movies is the characters and what keeps them on course of their mission. Not that Love & Thunder does much better than Ragnarok in the supporting characters department.
The much-publicised return of Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis and Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif are essentially extended cameos. Both actresses had more to their roles in Disney+’s WandaVision and Loki, respectively. Further adding salt to the wound is the maybe-self-deprecating comical attempt at referencing the untimely and, frankly, moronic deaths of the Warriors Three in Ragnarok. (No, really, there hasn’t been such a stupid series of insta-kills since Revenge of the Sith.)
On that note, perhaps Taika should stop starring in his own movies. And, yes, I mean ‘starring.’ Korg functions as a distracting narrator to the film, embellishing on the cute trailer soundbite, to not shutting up for the rest of the movie. Almost all of his lines serve to simply interject forced humour, where Valkyrie’s deadpan delivery has already more than sufficed. What began as a quirky side-character in Ragnarok, and well-used supporting role in Avengers: Endgame, becomes near insufferable in Love & Thunder. If it wasn’t for his absolute perfection in the likes of Jojo Rabbit and What We Do In The Shadows, I’d have labelled him the new M. Night Shyamalan… but with still better movies.
The pacing and choice of intermittent exposition also make the film a jarring experience to sit through. The plot and progression are far more coherent and purpose-driven than Ragnarok for sure, but at multiple points it can’t help be felt that the clumsy exposition was inserted in place of a proper sequence of events which got cut at some point.
Overwhelmingly, the persistent comparisons to Thor: Ragnarok exist due to the excessive similarities in style. Between the overbearing presence of Korg, and the ever-present stylings of Waititi’s preference, Thor: Love & Thunder feels more like a really expensive fan film to pop culture, which only happens to feature the one character which allows Waititi to have his characters repeatedly say “space viking”.
And while that seems like a lot of reasons to pass on Thor: Love & Thunder, fact is there is a lot to like in the movie, too.
Hemsworth’s post-Endgame take on Thor is more nuanced and mature. While the character seemed to have been given an inexplicable “lovable idiot” upgrade in Ragnarok, Love & Thunder makes it more workable. Nevertheless, I still far prefer and miss the Thor of Phases 1 and 2.
The return of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster plays a large part in this movie’s strength of its predecessor. Adapting her more popular arc from the comics, and maybe even one of the most popular Thor arcs, Jane Foster’s turn as the Mighty Thor is true to its name. Portman’s acting rarely ever leaves an audience cold, and her return here after a nine year absence from the MCU (not counting the voiceover bit in Endgame), is well-worth the wait.
Unfortunately, cramming what may be two of the greatest Thor arcs into one film does her a disservice. The same can be said of Christian Bale’s Gorr, but more on that later.
Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is an underrated gem. Like the pacing issues of the movie, her character feels like a victim of the shortened runtime. Her chemistry with both Hemsworth and Portman rivals the interaction of the two leads. There is clearly much room for Valkyrie to shine, and if Disney+ is able to score a series with her, they should.
And then there’s Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher… which was surprisingly not bad, actually. While the movie more or less completely missed the point of what may have been the best Thor villain from the comics (sorry, but Loki’s been as tired as the Joker for about 20 years now), Bale’s performance is largely great.
While there are moments of him being too Bale, much of the movie features him at his Heath Ledger best, deranged and unhinged, like a supernatural throwback toAmerican Psycho. While I’d yearn to see a proper Gorr, given the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s somewhat dismissive treatment of villains, this is probably as good as we’re gonna get. Which is rather infuriating as Gorr is a relatively new, and rather short-lived character, making him perfectly serviceable by a single movie. Instead he’s squandered here.
Nevertheless, following the spate of new characters the MCU movies have been delivering, and the dark reality of Doctor Strange, Thor: Love & Thunder is a lighthearted, albeit excessively, adventure set in this increasingly multi-faceted universe.