Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Production: Marvel Studios, Fox Studios Australia, Walt Disney Pictures
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International
Platform: Theatrical Release (Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now!
The joke-a-minute humour of Taiki Waititi films often isn’t to my tastes, but Thor: Ragnarok was the exception, so I went into this fourth Thor film tentatively optimistic. Sadly, Love and Thunder does fall into those pitfalls of tonal imbalance and ineffective humour. Curiously, though, there’s another side to this film that I loved when it was allowed to show itself – a mature, character-driven, and satisfying side.
From the start, it felt like watching two separate films amalgamated together. We get an emotional set-up for antagonist Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) and why he’s hunting down all Gods in the universe. including the Asgardians. From this we transition into a free-wheeling, forcibly comedic action sequence catching up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, which is such a jarring change, and this issue frequently pops up throughout the film. It’s as though no one decided if this was a heartfelt romantic drama or a full-on comedy, and these end up clashing with one another badly.
It’s the former I would’ve preferred Love and Thunder to focus on, as it involves a compelling arc where Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) returns, now wielding the reformed Mjolnir hammer as The Mighty Thor. The causes and repercussions of this are powerfully told and have effective parallels with Thor and Gorr. Portman is wonderful on her return, nailing the vulnerability, determination, and awesome suit Foster possesses! Meanwhile, Thor himself is shown as an overly goofy character until the final third, which I felt was inconsistent with the events we’ve seen him go through.
Speaking of performances, Bale sinks into the role of Gorr, and combined with the eerie whitened design for the character, is genuinely threatening. He can summon spider-like shadow creatures; off the back of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, that’s two consecutive MCU films with distinctly chilling horror moments. Overall, Gorr got enough material to make an impact, and that pays off in the fulfilling final act, where I was extremely glad to see character development take precedent over action.
The final act was so fantastic that it softened my dislike of the journey to get there. Lots of humour and plot explanation lands flat, with a tendency to tell instead of show. There’re moments which are literally narrated as lazy backstory or exposition. Even the prominent licensed soundtrack felt tiresome, still riding on the success of that approach in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t feel inspired either – and that’s similar for much of the visuals. Aside from one action scene late-on, this is proficient but unsurprising MCU scenery and choreography.
Whilst the overall journey of Love and Thunder feels unrefined, the emotional moments and impactful performances do shine through – from Portman and Bale in particular – and the final act stands head and shoulders above the resolutions to many other MCU productions. It’s just disappointing the overall package wasn’t tonally decisive, as that might’ve connected the high points into something spectacular.