Marvel’s God of Thunder comes to terms with love and loss while being challenged by a godslayer in Thor: Love and Thunder, the fourth Thor entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and second from filmmaker Taika Waititi. Unlike the lightning-in-a-bottle fun of Thor: Ragnarok, however, this one is closer to a Thor: Dark World-like drag.
Much of Thor: Love and Thunder lives on the same wavelength as Ragnarok: Waititi’s trademark offbeat humor, some amusing cameos, and a colorful comic book palette that feels like it was ripped from 1980s Saturday morning cartoons.
But the film also attempts to cram one too many narrative threads into a short (for recent MCU films) running time, and none of them feel fully fleshed-out. The tone also wavers uncomfortably between the goofball comedy and more serious elements, never achieving the balance of the previous movie.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens with sun-blistered alien Gorr (Christian Bale) wandering a desert landscape and burying his dead daughter in the sand. He stumbles across an oasis that happens to contain Dionysus (Simon Russell Beale), the god he has been praying to all these years, and asks him why he didn’t save his people, or his daughter – a question met with dismissive arrogance, and a threat of imminent death.
But right next to Gorr happens to be the god-slaying Necrosword, which happens to choose him as its next god-butchering host. That sets him on a quest to kill off not only his own arrogant god, but all the gods across the MCU.
Unlike Infinity War’s Thanos, we immediately identify with Gorr’s plight: every god we’ve seen in this universe is an uncaring, self-centered being that deserves an existential threat; that includes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, here presented as a heroic but oafish buffoon (shades of Futurama’s Zap Branigan), and Zeus, portrayed by Russell Crowe with an over-the-top Greek accent in a scene-stealing extended cameo.
Bale is fully committed to his portrayal of Gorr, which includes a striking emaciated presence and flavorful performance in which even the comedic beats are threatening. Gorr could have been one of the MCU’s few well-developed villains; but because of everything else going on in Thor: Love and Thunder, Bale only has about four scenes in which to convey the character’s complex arc.
Thor: Love and Thunder also jettisons the Guardians of the Galaxy after a short initial scene (only Chris Pratt, who offers Thor some advice lifted from Tennyson, has more than a single line) and throws Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, who had such a strong characterization in the previous film, into background support.
Instead, there’s a new god on display: Thor’s old flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has become another Thor… for some reason. She teams up with her former beau to rescue the children of New Asgard, who have been kidnapped by Gorr and taken to the shadow realm.
Climactic events in Thor: Love and Thunder underscore one of the film’s greatest flaws: a plot driven by coincidence and invention rather than even comic book logic. It involves the appearance of Eternity, a memorable character from the Marvel comics who is presented here as a genie who can grant a single wish to one person and resolve the plot with a snap of his fingers.
Unlike some of the weaker MCU films, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Love and Thunder never turns into a total drag, and gets by on the comedy and bright visuals for much of the first two acts. But there’s little chance to even crack a smile in the film’s dark and dreary final act, and the longer these seemingly-invincible gods throw CGI effects at each other, the less fun the movie becomes (though a black and white sequence in the Shadow Realm looks genuinely great).
While certainly not a total dud, Thor: Love and Thunder is undeniably one of the MCU’s weaker films; coming off the similar reaction to Eternals and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it marks the first time in about a decade that the Marvel franchise was on anything less than sturdy footing. Coming after one of the best MCU films in Thor: Ragnarok, and largely wasting a fine turn by Christian Bale, this Thor outing is especially disappointing.