Thor: Love and Thunder
The Norse god’s fourth stand-alone film has an enticing villain and an aversion to self-seriousness
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been seismic enough to warrant its own chapter in movie history. The way that stand-alone films were finely interconnected into one greater narrative arc was groundbreaking in how studios structured their slates and led to copycats all around. However, after the culmination of this storyline in Avengers: Endgame (2019), Marvel has become a victim of its own success, plagued with delivering even more films despite the lack of a story.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) is the newest MCU film, and the fourth stand-alone Thor film. In it we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teaming up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to vanquish evil foes from helpless planets. However, when a mysterious man called Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) starts traversing the universe, murdering gods, Thor must face him before it’s too late. Along for the ride he encounters his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who has gained on new and familiar powers.
Thor: Love and Thunder has Taika Waititi return to the director’s chair after he successfully relaunched the self-serious character in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). With Love and Thunder Waititi retains the tongue-in-cheek and satirical humor that breathed new life into the stale Norse god. The new plot, centered around Gorr, a man in a crisis of faith, and a god coming to terms with his humanity, might have been a fascinating one, and yet Waititi seems afraid of taking anything within this film too seriously. This makes for good comedy at first, but in moments where emotional depth and narrative stakes are warranted, it robs them of impact. As such, Waititi’s handling of the character of Thor makes him seem more buffoonish than he perhaps intended.
Love and Thunder also marks the definitive mark where we can confirm that Marvel has no idea where it is steering its overarching story. Since Avengers: Endgame we’ve had seven films and six Disney+ shows, and they not only are insular looking as to their properties, but they even begin to contradict each other and step on one another’s toes. Marvel super-producer Kevin Feige seems to have left the post-Endgame properties to drift off by themselves, perhaps daunted at delivering another slow build to an epic finale that Endgame pulled off so well. Thus, this slow disconnection of the MCU proves to be whimpering along rather than having been stoppered with style. In this sense, Love and Thunder follows a pattern of setting up more introverted Thor sequels than in lassoing its IP buddies along.
Hemsworth once again is able to shine with the added comedic elements that Waititi brings along, but it is Christian Bale as the villain Gorr that really steals the show. Gorr can be added to the surprisingly short list of good MCU villains, with Bale bringing about an intensity and emotional depth that Waititi had been steering clear from with his other characters. This makes Gorr the most interesting character in Love and Thunder, and you only wish that he was given more screentime. Portman’s return as Jane is a welcome one too, especially with her evolved role from damsel-in-distress to bicep-flexing badass.
In the end, Thor: Love and Thunder is an entertaining revisit of the Thor characters but brings about diminishing returns from the crackle and pop that Ragnarok delivered. Bale brings about an inspired villain, but the entrenched lack of self-seriousness robs Love and Thunder from having any real weight to its narrative or character arcs.