Taika Waititi brings the thunder in his follow-up to 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok with Thor: Love and Thunder. Directed and co-written by Waititi, the film has a lot to live up to following Thor’s arc in Infinity War and Endgame. Last we saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth), he took off with the Guardians of the Galaxy, aimless but ready to lead.
That isn’t how Love and Thunder opens, though. Instead, the film starts with a grim prologue following Gorr (Christian Bale) desperately trying to protect his daughter from the forces of nature. He knows that his protection isn’t enough, so he does the only thing he can do: pray to his god. But there is no answer. Gorr is left alone, with his daughter succumbing to her wounds. The scene sets the tone for Bale’s character perfectly, and the actor never misses a beat. However, this is only one of a handful of scenes in which Bale really gets to shine. More on that later.
A character that does get to shine (obviously) is one Thor Odinson. Hemsworth is as comfortable as ever in this new era of Thor. The less rigid and carefree performance that started in Ragnarok is now looser than ever. A montage featuring Thor and the Guardians adventuring through the galaxy together as Korg (Waititi) narrates Thor’s journey is delightful.
When the montage catches up to present-day Thor, the audience is treated to a battle sequence that moves at a breakneck pace. If the opening prologue sets the tone for Bale’s character, this opening sequence sets the film’s pace. Almost everything in Love and Thunder moves incredibly fast. While Waititi gave some character moments time to breathe, there is only a few essential character beats that actually get the time they deserve.
Thor’s existential crisis doesn’t get much time to sink in for the audience. A few offhand jokes from the Guardians and Thor help to give an idea of his state of mind. However, there isn’t much beyond that. Thor, at this point, apparently has attachment issues, causing him to part ways with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Chris Pratt has the most to do out of all the Guardians, being a sort of advice guru to Thor.
The Guardians having minimal screentime, while expected, becomes slightly disappointing as another thread left by Endgame not amounting to much. With Thor and Korg now aware of a trail of dead gods and a distress signal from Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the god of thunder sets out with a new purpose. Sif’s return gets played for some laughs, and viewers will start to notice that as a recurring theme with Love and Thunder.
For every emotional gut punch, it feels like there are ten jokes. If Ragnarok had an outstanding balance of heart and humor, Love and Thunder has humor trying to outbalance the heart at every turn. It nearly works to the film’s detriment, but there’s just enough to keep it afloat.
The film’s saving grace is Natalie Portman’s return as Jane Foster. Her introduction is briefly intercut with Thor’s Guardians adventures and helps to slow things down for the film. Jane isn’t in the best of places, though. Her stage 4 cancer is eating away at her, with Jane desperately trying to find a way to beat the disease. She finally decides to turn to magic, visiting New Asgard.
Portman slips back into the role of Jane Foster with ease. Seeing her portray a person living with cancer with high spirits is heartbreaking and inspiring. Her journey in the film is undoubtedly the highlight of Love and Thunder. While Mjolnir calls to her and gives her the power of Thor, unfortunately, it takes more of her life away.
The film does a great job balancing the two Thors with each other. As they seek to save Asgardian children kidnapped by Gorr to lure Thor to steal Stormbreaker, they come to terms with their relationship and time apart. Taika does what The Dark World failed to do, making Jane and Thor’s relationship feel real. While Thor and Jane take the spotlight, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg get relegated to support with, you guessed it, a few funny lines.
Bale gets a couple of scenes to really have fun as Gorr, but nothing as intriguing and powerful as the film’s opening prologue. Zeus (Russell Crowe) serves as a secondary antagonist for Thor’s group, and everything in Omnipotence City is a fun addition to MCU lore, as well as all the different gods on display in that sequence of the film.
While the middle part of the film, which serves as a journey to get to Gorr, is not as substantial as the opening, the third act of the film makes up for it. The stakes start to feel real, and Thor’s conflict with his happiness and Jane’s harkens back to the strong emotional core of Ragnarok.
Everything in the film leads to the gates of Eternity, where Gorr wishes to use Stormbreaker to open the gates and wish for the death of all gods. With the Asgardian children still his hostage, there comes a powerful moment in the film which sees Thor imbue all the children with his power. Together they hold back Gorr’s shadow creatures while Thor faces off with Gorr himself. The scene feels incredibly reminiscent of Ragnarok‘s now-famous “Immigrant Song” scene. It’s entertaining enough and has the rare balance of heart and humor the film has been trying to get at the entire runtime.
Jane Foster gets one last powerful scene as the Mighty Thor, wielding Mjolnir one last time. She saves Thor and destroys Gorr’s necrosword at the cost of whatever strength she has left. It’s a powerful scene that’s elevated by Michael Giacchino’s score. More importantly, the scene is carried by Portman, who perfectly fits into the superhero role. Her last moments with Thor are heartbreaking and nearly make up for the overabundance of humor in the film.
Gorr, moved by Thor’s love for Jane, also chooses love in a much more literal sense. His daughter (aptly named Love) returns to life, imbued with what looks like the powers of Eternity. In a new status quo for Thor, he takes Love under his care, giving her Stormbreaker. Together they galavant and help those in need, giving a new meaning to Love and Thunder.
Overall, Love and Thunder is Taika Waititi at his most unrestrained. The film is an incredible cosmic journey showing powerful character work. The only problem is that you have to look for it under piles of jokes and screaming goats. Christian Bale as Gorr makes a fine addition to the MCU’s pantheon of villains. However, he hardly has anything to do, save for the film’s beginning and end. To a certain extent, Valkyrie also has significantly less to do. Compared to Ragnarok, her character almost feels like an afterthought in certain scenes.
Jane and Thor’s relationship is enough to keep Love and Thunder afloat. Tonal issues aside, the film sets up an exciting future for Thor while telling an entertaining story in its own right. A rare feat for an MCU project these days. Add to that Brett Goldstein playing Hercules in a post-credits cameo and one last emotional post-credits scene with Jane being welcomed into Valhalla by Heimdall, and you have a solid entry in Marvel’s phase four. Albeit one that might have an overabundance of humor and a weak second act. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Rating – 7.5/10
Thor: Love and Thunder is now playing in Theaters.