“Thor: Love and Thunder” Review: Balances whacky humour with raw emotion

“First off, the name is Mighty Thor! And secondly, if you can’t say Mighty Thor I’ll accept Doctor Jane Foster!”

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, and Natalie Portman

As the 29th instalment in the prolific Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is obscene that the media goliath is still capable of delivering “firsts”. Nevertheless, Chris Hemsworth returns for his fourth outing as Thor, following 2011’s Thor, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. A whopping 11 years since his debut, Hemsworth is one of the few original Avengers still present in the films, with Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans bidding the franchise goodbye in Phase 3’s Avengers: Endgame, though Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo’s Hawkeye and Hulk live on through Disney Plus’ MCU TV series. This is especially impressive, considering Thor: The Dark World frequently performs poorly in MCU rankings. It is undeniable that Taika Waititi’s partial reboot of the character in the irreverent Thor: Ragnarok is the cause of this, honing in as he did upon the more comedic elements of Thor’s characterisation whilst also managing to honour his character development.

Thor: Love and Thunder is not just notable for this reason, as it also features the return of Natalia Portman as Doctor Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend, last seen almost a decade ago and in a storyline that is far more befitting the highly competent, highly intelligent woman of science that she is. Portman’s presence in the film alone is a sign that her character is done justice here, as she previously distanced herself from Marvel and it is clear that Taika understands Jane. Throughout the film, Jane is given more to do than merely play Thor’s love interest, instead given room to breathe and grow on her own and afforded considerably more agency than merely running around after Thor and asking what is happening all the time. This film is almost an ode to her tremendous intellect and unwavering resilience.

Thor: Love and Thunder picks up after Avengers: Endgame left off, with Thor adventuring around the galaxy with the Guardians of the Galaxy, led by Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), when he discovers that an entity known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) is embarking on a quest to eliminate all gods from the universe. Hearing that New Asgard is Gorr’s next target, Thor speeds there in haste, to discover the town already protected by Mighty Thor – otherwise known as Thor’s ex-girlfriend Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), now empowered with Thor’s previously broken Mjolnir – who aids King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Though they have much to catch up on – not least Jane’s reasons for wielding Mjolnir in the first place – the trio, along with Thor’s trusted ally Korg (Taika Waititi) set off on an interstellar adventure to thwart Gorr in his mission.

With Taika Waititi returning as director and this time also as co-writer alongside Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Thor: Love and Thunder presents what made Thor: Ragnarok successful, though perhaps to too strong a degree. While Ragnarok managed to successfully balance stakes with humour, Love and Thunder stumbles slightly when it comes to a sense of consequence. There are too many jokes that undermine the drama in particular places, and the continuing presence of Waititi-voiced Korg is as polarising as it is self-indulgent.

Having said this, one of Thor: Love and Thunder‘s strengths is its understanding of Thor as a character. Right from the start, it is clear that Waititi understands the considerable trauma that Thor has endured within the MCU as it begins to investigate what it must mean for a near-immortal creature to have endured the hardship that he has lived through and how this continues to inform his attachments to those who surround him. To re-examine his relationship with Jane at the same time, considering the massive emotional journey that Thor went through in Avengers: Endgame makes complete sense, and this film certainly redeems him after his controversial depiction within this film, in which the MCU was accused of making his depression and weight gain appear more like a punchline rather than a sympathetic portrayal of a traumatised man.

Thor: Love and Thunder also boasts a highly compelling and nuanced villain, played to aplomb by Christian Bale, and while the name “Gorr the God Butcher” may not roll of the tongue with as much ease as Thanos, it is a portrayal that is certain to stick in the mind of the audience. The steadfast commitment by Bale, accompanied by the brilliant visual realisation and the haunting CGI that accompanies him and his army of shadow creations make Gorr one of the more unsettling, horrific antagonists of the MCU. Moreover, his motivations entirely make sense. A highly effective cold open help establish Gorr’s vendetta against the gods, and it’s a point of view that could have done with far more thorough exploration than is afforded here.

For better or for worse, Thor: Love and Thunder fits into Phase 4’s recurring theme of being more grounded and really establishing the humanity within these extraordinary characters. Black Widow, Shang-Chi, Eternals and No Way Home were heavily focussed upon familial relationships and, though Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was more focussed upon throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the audience, its main thrust was upon Wanda’s determination to be reunited with her children. Phase 4 as a whole seems less focussed upon necessarily pushing the MCU forwards, but rather answering the question of “what now?” and properly investing in the characters instead of an overarching narrative. Having said this, however, while Love and Thunder does turn into a wonderful character piece for Thor in its exploration for his relationship with Jane and, indeed, the way that he lives his life, presenting a thoroughly different Thor at the end of the movie than was presented at the beginning, it suffers in the same way that previous Phase 4 instalments have in so much as not setting a clear direction for the MCU’s future and not incentivising audiences with a burning desire to return for the next one. Of course, a film should be successful on its own – and Love and Thunder most certainly is – but it also needs to hold its own in a grander narrative, and so far Phase 4’s offerings have been far more insular than anything else, which is a curious choice in a post-Endgame world where viewers are wondering where the MCU could possibly go that would build upon Endgame‘s epic resolution.

Just as striking as Waititi’s signature off-the-wall humour speckled throughout is how visually inventive the entire film is. Omnipotence City is beautifully rendered, resplendent in golds and genuinely thrilling in scale, with bold and striking fight sequences, but a standout is most certainly the Shadow World, which renders the entire visual palette monochrome except for limited amounts of magical glow on our character’s faces. Heightened, dramatic shadows and a breath-taking stillness help make this sequence simply spectacular.

Thor: Love and Thunder very much depends upon the audience’s tolerance of Taika Waititi’s zany humour, as it is indelibly woven throughout the movie. Though at times it diminishes the drama and poignance of some moments, Love and Thunder still manages to chart from dizzying heights to crushing, heartbreaking lows and produce genuine emotion. The performances from all leads is astonishing – though there is not nearly enough of Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, whose role as ruler of her people and the toll this takes on her is abandoned in favour of action as the movie progresses.

Ultimately, Chris Hemsworth’s fourth solo outing as the blonde-maned god is good fun. It is witty, it is engaging, it is saddening. It is clearly distinct from anything in the MCU before and provides brilliant payoff for fans of Doctor Jane Foster, and indeed of Thor. Clocking in at just under two hours, it barely pauses for breath, but does leave audiences somewhat clueless as to where the MCU is journeying next.

Thor: Love and Thunder was released in cinemas 7th July 2022

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