Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Directed by: Taika Waititi | 119 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Natalie Portman, Melissa McCarthy, Christian Bale, Karen Gillan, Sam Neill, Matt Damon, Tessa Thompson, Pom Klementieff, Jaimie Alexander, Russell Crowe, Luke Hemsworth, Dave Bautista, Sean Gunn | Original voice cast: Taika Waititi, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
Eight years after the painful break up with Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and several years after the big fight against Thanos in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in a midlife crisis. Meanwhile, the son of the gods fights alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy and uses the Stormbreaker ax to cut an unknown path through the galaxy. Slowly he gets back into shape, physically anyway, because it is still rumbling between the ears. Then Thor Odinson receives a distress call from fellow Asgardians who are forced to live in an enclave on Earth after ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (2017). The godslayer Gorr (Christian Bale) is on the warpath. Much to his surprise, Odinson takes on this godslayer with his ex-girlfriend Jane, who has been chosen as Mighty Thor by the hammer Mjolnir.
To keep things simple, ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ is the fourth Thor installment and the 29th in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unlike some Phase Four MCU productions, you can consume ‘Love and Thunder’ as well as predecessor ‘Ragnarok’ quite easily on its own thanks to the gutsy director Taiki Waititi, who is in the director’s chair for the second time. What makes this episode so manageable within the larger story, among other things, are the running gags and the stories that Korg (voice of Waititi) tells the Asgard children. With a comedic undertone, these stories provide meta-commentary on what preceded the predicament the title hero finds himself in, and what transformations he undergoes, including ‘Rocky’-esque montages!
Compared to the first two ‘Thor’ films, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Waititi has given the look and humor a unique twist, including the somewhat unhealthy obsession with the 1980s. This time especially Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (John Milius, 1982) and ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ (1987) are willing victims. The running gags also make ‘Love and Thunder’ light-hearted, casual and occasionally crazy. As far as the jokes go, Waititi’s Thor is even slightly more anarchic than ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’ films (James Gunn, 2015, 2017). For example, for completing a mission, Thor receives giant goats as a gift; the Asgardians on Earth live off tourism and there is an almost literal battle of arms between Odinson’s ax Stormbreaker and Thor Jane’s hammer Mjolnir: not a love triangle but a quadrilateral. The quirks of the Doctor Strange’s cloak are nothing compared to it. The sometimes epic candy cane-colored computer effects and sets also do justice to the silly set-up. However, in terms of action, ‘Love and Thunder’ is less spectacular than, for example, ‘Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness’ (Sam Raimi, 2022).
But in a Disney Marvel production, time must also be set aside for quite a bit of pathos. For the screenplay of ‘Love and Thunder’ Waititi worked with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson who comes from the drama comedy about joy and sorrow. The comic fury is thus reasonably kept in check and the wackiness is not at the expense of conclusive drama. Among other things, there is a crucial mirroring between Thor and villain Gorr. Fortunately, this one goes deeper and has more implications than the ‘Martha’ (mother) – primal cry from Batman to Superman in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (Zack Snyder, 2016). Phase four of the MCU seems even more fascinated by both love and the grueling trials of parenthood than the phases before it. You can also see this theme in Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) in ‘Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness’ and the TV series “WandaVision” (Jac Schaeffer, 2021). In addition, ‘Love and Thunder’ attempts to humanize the classical gods. Like humanity, they too are subject to the whims of emotions, not without far-reaching consequences, of course. In all that pathos violence of the Marvel blockbuster, Waititi’s humorous stamp ebbs away somewhat, especially the comical cuts have to pay off as the drama progresses.
The very fragile balance between drama and farce serves the crew in front of the camera reasonably to well. Hunk Hemsworth is kind of the plaything of other people’s jokes. Not a speck in the air, except for the drama. Dramatically, Natalie Portman has an equally tough, if not heavier, bone to deal with than Hemsworth and drags herself through it unscathed. However, she has far fewer laughs on her hand. Always? Very unfortunate, but Lea Thompson as Valkyrie really doesn’t get enough to do. Even more supporting characters suffer from this. In contrast, Christian Bale is a bull’s eye. Bale’s sometimes dreaded intensity works great for godslayer Gorr: it couldn’t be more sardonic for this material. He is also aware of the inherent ridiculousness of the whole adventure.
Essentially, ‘Love and Thunder’ is an almost timid, yet slightly limited, Greek tragedy disguised as a slightly anarchic space opera. Preferably the film breaks down barriers between time and space with rainbow powers and entertaining nonsense. But in the end, this oddball finds an enjoyable balance between pathos and pulp within the MCU.