Thor: Love and Thunder

2 out of 5

Directed by: Taika Waititi

The first few minutes of Thor: Love and Thunder is meant to establish both our villain for the film, Gorr (Christian Bale), as well as his motivation for his actions throughout the film – a pledge, and a thus-far successful bid, to Kill All Gods – and besides that success rate, to give him the buffs that make him a legitimate threat; in this case, that’s ‘the necrosword,’ a weapon that, natch, can kill gods.

Here’s something that always irks me about when used as a plot device: you design an ultimate weapon / fighter / bomb / whatever, that is the end-all-be-all. And then that whatever is defeated! Nice. But here comes antagonist B, who now wields that same weapon, or is also the ultimate fighter, and we, the audience, are supposed to understand this as some worser situation, even though its just been prove to us that the ultimate something-or-other can be defeated.

Now this setup can, of course, work, given proper buildup of antagonist B – perhaps they have some skill that enhances the ultimateness of the ultimate thing – or some other smart wrinkle that suggests how the current scenario is different from the previous one. Or, like in Thor: Love and Thunder, Gorr can just pick up the sword and get super death powers that are extra super deathy because he’s played by Christian Bale, cast as the main villain. In other words, the film – or at least the way it’s edited – isn’t concerned story or characters; Love and Thunder is just there to entertain, and assumes that, y’know, you get it – Gorr is pissed, yadda yadda, maybe he’s extra fueled by the death of his daughter, and having pledged a thankless life to gods who don’t hear his prayers – but there’s no real need to put that into the movie, because we need to get to jokes about screaming goats and naked Thors. This is the near entirety of how this movie goes: based on assumption. Everything is a setup for an arty shot, or some new color filter, or a punchline, or a floaty and flashy fight scene, or a Guns n’ Roses needledrop, and if you’re saying… well, yes, it’s a Marvel movie, and that’s what they do, then I don’t disagree, but as others have quipped: this is like the most Marvel Marvel movie yet, constructed nearly wholly by template, and then given full reign to Waititi’s comedic indulgences leading to a lot of stuff that, hey, we can all agree is funny – screaming goats – but is hardly surprising, or challenging.

And what’s more disappointing is that the movie has a solid plot concept, drawn from various Jason Aaron comic arcs – essentially a spin on “why do bad things happen?” it’s rather perfect for a COVID pandemic-era movie – and actors who really are well suited to bringing it to life, with arcs that are also thematically linked really well… It’s sincerely an incredible shame that the efforts put into these parts were either edited or written away, as you can tell Bale was putting his all into filling Gorr with the justification for his deeds but also humanity; that Natalie Portman showed up wholly willing to play the serious and silly sides of Jane Foster, who finds herself drawn to the shattered Mjolnir; and that Chris Hemsworth now wholly owns the Thor character, perfectly balancing the aloofness and warrior awareness with ease.

Much of the tonal hiccups you’ve perhaps heard criticized can fall under those main criticisms: that the movie feels nearly 100% everyone-should-love-something workshopped, then filtered through Waititi’s New Zealand quirk and the established Ragnarok wild color palette trickery to give it “attitude” – also in a Disney-approved fashion, of course; and that the four editors employed on this thing (the most I think I spotted when browsing the other MCU flicks) were there to minus out any beats that gave room for actors or scenes to breathe.

For the record, I didn’t laugh at the screaming goats.