In 2019, New Zealand director Taika Waititi announced plans for his latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, Thor: Love and Thunder, at San Diego Comic-Con. In the much-hyped announcement, the director teased the return of not only Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson but also Natalie Portman, who was last seen in the 2013 film Thor: The Dark World. After a timely release delay (thanks, COVID), we are now finally getting the Thor-th film of the MCU.
Thor: Love and Thunder follows the aftermath of Avengers Endgame, which saw Thor (Hemsworth) leave Earth with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find inner peace. However, his retirement is soon interrupted by Gorr (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who wants to kill off the gods, and teams up with old friends Korg (Waititi) and Valkyrie (Thompson) – as well as ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Portman) – to stop him.
When the film opens, Thor is in the middle of a mid-life crisis. After the cataclysmic events of Endgame, the Asgardian hides his pain behind his bravado while reigning supreme over The Guardians of the Galaxy. However, he ultimately remains detached from everyone – his closed-off heart is exacerbated by a lack of family and loved ones, with sidekick rock warrior Korg (Waititi) being the closest thing to a friend. But when Thor hears that Gorr – aka the ‘God Butcher’ – is hunting him down, he is lured back to New Asgard and its king Valkyrie, only to find himself reacquainted with his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster, who has become worthy of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir and is now known as the Mighty Thor.
With Phase four of the MCU now underway, audiences and Marvel Studios have reached a point where its new characters have made their mark on the franchise so it is time to remember the power of the Avengers. After the tension and occasional horror of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder brings back the fun factor to the MCU – there is more confidence from director and screenwriter Taika Waititi to almost repeat the success of Thor: Ragnarok. This, however, indicates an unsaid pressure to deliver the goods in terms of entertainment, which results in an imbalance in the screenplay. There is a reliance on comedic factors whether it is screaming animals or petty jealousy to and from weapons, with bouts of light-hearted banter or physical comedy derailing the film’s promising serious undertones. As a result, it is hard to take this adventure seriously.
This is exacerbated by the lack of any real threat in the narrative – the emaciated Gorr is the aptly named God Butcher and our heroes are set on stopping his quest, but there is no end goal. Does he intend to butcher all deities or is there a bigger, more apocalyptic goal in place? Love and Thunder indeed toys with the idea of a bigger universe at stake, thanks to the introduction of a new world called Omnipotent City, but the frolicsome first half fails to create the necessary tension to drive the heroes.
Tonally, Thor: Love and Thunder is one of two halves. The first meanders through the idea of companionship and purpose (or in Thor’s case, the lack of both). After battling the bulge, Thor seeks to remind himself of being the god of thunder amid an unmet need for companionship. Meanwhile, Valkyrie misses being a warrior while Jane seeks an escape from her real life. She gets a taste of being a superhero when she wields Mjölnir but finds that not even the Mighty Thor is immune from brutal reality. By the time the characters realise that the insignificance of their own goals – and that lives are on the line – the seriousness of the film finally kicks in without a joke threatening to douse the tension.
With this flip in tone, the second act brings the thunder via entertaining set pieces with the synth-heavy rock music soundtrack bringing an edge of power and fun to the proceedings. Waititi’s direction doesn’t buckle from the grandiose and his vision capitalises on a diverse and rich colour palette and grand special effects resulting in some jaw-droppingly gorgeous set pieces.
Performance-wise, Hemsworth seems to revel in being Thor with a big smile on his face, delivering an endearing emotional reluctance and effortlessly comedic one-liners while Portman and Thompson enjoy being badass women. Meanwhile, Bale and Crowe are scene-stealers whose performances are memorable for different reasons – Bale as the embittered, unsettling Gorr, and Crowe as the hilarious Zeus who is quick to show off his skills but refuses to come off his high horse.
Overall, it is great to see the God of Thunder back on the big screen, not to mention an array of new and returning characters to the MCU. However, Thor: Love and Thunder needs more love in its consistency and heart rather than relying on laughs to win over audiences and keep fans entertained.
Thor: Love and Thunder is out on Thursday 7 July.
Director: Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Jaimie Alexander, Russell Crowe
Runtime: 119 minutes