REVIEW – ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ is far from groundbreaking but still good solid fun

After 28 films over the last 14 years, it’s highly likely you’ve made up your mind on the Marvel Cinematic Universe by now. For those still completely on board with the most successful film franchise in cinema history (and, judging by the staggering box office returns of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, that’s a lot of you), it’s time for film #29 and the second of three MCU titles in 2022.

For better or worse, Thor: Love and Thunder follows a very similar formula to that of its 2017 predecessor, Thor: Ragnarok. Co-writer/director Taika Waititi again mixes irreverent comedy with bombastic action to create a film that’s far from groundbreaking but still good solid fun. This time, Waititi adds a huge helping of romance to craft something totally unique to a franchise in need of some freshness after all these years. It doesn’t all work and it may not exactly reach the heights of the MCU’s best, but Waititi knows how to deliver pure entertainment bliss.

When we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth, still endlessly magnetic in the role he was born to play), the king of Asgard was passing the baton of leadership to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and taking off into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper). After a series of intergalactic missions with the rag-tag bunch of a-holes and his sidekick Korg (voiced by Waititi), Thor is attempting to find inner peace when he receives a distress call from his old pal Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) he cannot ignore.

It seems a nefarious new super-villain known as Gorr the God Butcher (a gloriously nasty Christian Bale) is on a quest to eliminate all gods from the universe and Sif has barely survived his latest attack. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is mysteriously compelled to visit Norway where the broken pieces of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir magically reform and instil the astrophysicist with the superpowers of her former partner.

When Gorr sets his sights on New Asgard, Thor returns home and is shocked to discover Jane has transformed into a hero she calls the Mighty Thor. The pair quickly fend off Gorr but not before he kidnaps a group of Asgardian children and disappears into space. With no choice but to join forces, Thor and Jane take off with Valkyrie and Korg to stop the God Butcher before he succeeds in eradicating the universe of divine deities including the ruler of them all, Zeus (Russell Crowe).

Co-written with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Waititi’s screenplay touches on numerous interesting and pertinent ideas, particularly those related to Gorr’s villainous motivations, which are the best the MCU has seen since Thanos. His quest for vengeance is born of crushing grief and lust for retribution after feeling like his pleas for help from the Gods were ignored. At a time when this concept could be applied to real-life leaders around the globe, it’s a relevant talking point that Waititi sadly mostly abandons to instead focus on Thor’s mid-life crisis.

It’s hardly the freshest conceit. From Iron Man and Captain America to Black Widow and Doctor Strange, practically every hero in the MCU has struggled with finding their true “purpose.” In his fourth solo outing, now it’s Thor’s turn. It’s fascinating to find Thor so disillusioned and refreshingly insecure. After the death of his entire family, the annihilation of his homeland, and the breakdown of his relationship with Jane (which is wonderfully captured in an engaging rom-com-esque montage sequence), it’s entirely understandable Thor is so utterly lost.

It offers Hemsworth the meatiest character arc thus far, especially once his one-time flame arrives back on the scene. In essence, this is probably the closest Marvel has come to making a romantic comedy. There’s rightly as much focus on Thor and Jane’s love story as there is on the typical action set-pieces demanded of MCU properties. You get an equal measure of love and thunder, which will possibly prove divisive, particularly amongst those just looking for another mindless action extravaganza.

Outside of Tom Hiddleston’s scene-stealing performances, the electric chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman was the highlight of the first two rather dour Thor outings. Thankfully, time apart hasn’t affected their ability to reestablish one of the MCU’s greatest couples. Watching these two bounce off each other is an absolute pleasure, and Waititi wisely taps into Portman’s effortless comedic timing that Hollywood rarely takes advantage of anymore.

It’s a thrill to see Portman back in the MCU, even if her narrative thread is really quite bizarre in parts. There are several odd choices made with her character that are impossible to discuss without venturing into spoiler territory. Just brace yourselves. Regardless, Portman shines in both quieter moments with Hemsworth and flourishes in heroism when she inherits Mjolnir and the mantle of the Mighty Thor. Portman deserves more than just being some dude’s love interest and it’s great to see the MCU finally give her that overdue opportunity.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for poor Thompson. After constantly stealing focus in Ragnarok, Valkyrie is mostly pushed to the background to allow Jane to take centre stage. Thompson is talented enough to make the most of what she’s given, but Waititi surprisingly doesn’t seem interested in offering her character anywhere interesting to go this time around. Maybe next time, hey?

Unsurprisingly, Bale eats this film alive and spits it out. He’s clearly having an absolute ball playing it bad as one of the creepiest and most unsettling Marvel villains thus far. With an aesthetic that’s like a cross between Nosferatu and Voldemort and dark powers that give Thor a run for his money, Gorr is a formidable foe spurred by grief and rage. Sure, he’s this film’s big bad, but with a backstory cemented in trauma, you almost feel sympathy for this dastardly beastie. That’s entirely thanks to Bale’s wildly impressive performance that expertly plays with light and shade like only a master actor can.

It’s ultimately Waititi’s screenplay where Thor: Love and Thunder falls apart. It’s pleasing to find a new Marvel entry without all the perplexities of the multiverse, but the structure is just as chaotic with Waititi jumping between narrative threads without much concern for organic flow. It also doesn’t help the stakes are as low as they come here. It’s a simple story that’s possibly too simple for its own good. And Waititi’s blunt determination to pump this film with as much comedy as humanely possible is at the detriment of important elements like character development.

When the comedic moments do land, the film genuinely soars. Hemsworth is just as committed to Waititi’s brand of comedy as he was in Ragnarok, and Crowe almost steals the entire film with a hilarious, scenery-chewing turn as the king of Gods who’s so far removed from interpretations of Zeus of the past. And the inclusion of a pair of constantly screaming mythical goats is something only Waititi could dream up. Call me childish if you must, but every screeching goat noise had me howling with laughter.

There are moments of true brilliance in Thor: Love and Thunder. An eye-popping monochromatic action sequence is one of the most visually spectacular moments the MCU has ever delivered. It’s wildly audacious of Waititi to craft a full set-piece in black-and-white with splashes of colour, but even more impressive that Disney gave him the freedom to do so. And one of the film’s obligatory post-credits scenes caused an uproarious reaction in my cinema that I haven’t seen J. Jonah Jameson popped up in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

If Waititi sought to create more formula-shattering beats, this could have been something truly special. Instead, Thor: Love and Thunder delivers everything you’re expecting and very little else. That’s not inherently a bad thing. Unlike Ragnarok, this fourth chapter does not have the element of surprise on its side, though the sight of Thor’s bare ass certainly elicited plenty of audible gasps. This is harmless, breezy popcorn cinema that will likely make a small fortune at the box office. Lots of love. Lots of thunder. Just nothing particularly earthshattering.

Distributor: Disney
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Natalie Portman
Director: Taika Waititi
Producers: Kevin Feige, Brad Winderbaum
Screenplay: Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Cinematography: Barry Idoine
Production Design: Nigel Phelps
Costume Design: Mayes C. Rubeo
Music: Michael Giacchino, Nami Melumad
Editors: Matthew Schmidt, Peter S. Elliot, Tim Roche, Jennifer Vecchiarello
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: 6th July 2022 (Australia)