I remember sitting in Hall H of San Diego Comic-Con when Thor: Love and Thunder was announced. And my first thought was “Is this like a rock metal Marvel sequel or what?” The title fits with the hard rock aesthetic Taika Waititi is going for, established to a lesser degree in the awesome Thor: Ragnarok. Were it not for the overtly comedic tone set in that film which fans rightfully adored, this one wouldn’t exist. As the first solo Marvel Studios franchise to extend beyond a third outing, Thor: Love and Thunder occupies unusual ground. And while the humor, surprisingly wrenching gut-punch emotion, and simple cool-factor of Natalie Portman’s The Mighty Thor make this a lot of fun, it struggles to live up to the high standards of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
To be fair, the two preceding Marvel films had very clear intentions and specific aims for the MCU. I’m not sold that Thor: Love and Thunder does. It seems to exist as purely a vehicle for Waititi-infused insanity, and I’m on the record not really digging his stuff until very recently. There are a few instances where he seems to be forcing jokes that he finds funny but don’t work in the moment, all while writing himself a much larger role as the rocky sidekick, Korg, to mixed results.
But there’s a lot more that works than doesn’t. Guardians of the Galaxy fans will love the opening, as we reconnect with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor as he’s still traveling with the team. While a bit clunky in execution, the payoff is worth it in the brilliant tension between Thor and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and a hilariously destructive battle on a faraway planet. The Asgardian lunk is a bit adrift after losing his God bod in favor of a Dad bod. So to get out of his rut he kicks the workouts into overtime, which for someone who can punch a Hulk you can imagine are pretty intense. Thor isn’t the only one who is a bit lost. Back on Earth, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is growing bored as the ruler of New Asgard, living only for the battles that occasionally break out.
Most importantly, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is going through a rough patch. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jane has refused to live the remainder of her life in hospital beds. So when she hears Thor’s former hammer Mjolnir calling to her, she goes to it and receives the power of Thor. As The Mighty Thor, she more than looks the part and has incredible abilities all of her own. Before long, she’s reteaming with her former beau, awkward to say the least, on a mission to stop Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a fanatic intent on murdering every god in the universe.
Gorr is such a great villain, both on the page and screen, that you wish he was in a film that didn’t have so much going on. Played by Bale, who naturally throws himself into Gorr’s sadness and rage, the character is captivating whenever he’s on screen. Looking like a ghostly spirit of death, Gorr’s motivations are made clear in a heartbreaking opening sequence that forms his zealotry so well you can understand how his grief transforms into anger. With the power to kill gods at his fingertips, Gorr is one of the best baddies in the MCU.
This movie isn’t really about Gorr, however. This is about the reunion of Thor and Jane under the most unusual circumstances. I don’t think the chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman ever really worked in the first two movies, and so it was understandable when the Oscar-winning actress split to work on more worthwhile projects. But now that she’s back, looking quite jacked (she’s been on that Hemsworth workout plan) and having a blast, she and Hemsworth click on all cylinders. Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s screenplay can’t get enough of playing around with the tension caused by their break-up years prior (which is shown set to the perfect sounds of ABBA). Jane is living in the moment, Thor wants to rekindle the joy he once had, back when he was…well, back when he was with Jane. Thor: Love and Thunder is the weirdest rom-com you’re going to see this year, including some strange jealousy between their respective hammers. Yeah, the hammers.
Individual scenes and performances work better than the whole. Russell Crowe goes wild as an overweight, lazy Zeus who’d rather throw lavish parties (to himself) than do anything about the Gorr threat. There’s a lot left that Marvel can do with the pantheon of gods running around, and this is hopefully just the start. Similar to how James Gunn’s eclectic taste in music amplifies Guardians of the Galaxy, Waititi’s use of multiple Guns & Roses tracks provide Thor: Love and Thunder some of its best scenes.
Ultimately, the aimlessness of Thor: Love and Thunder is a double-edged sword. There needs to be room for stories that aren’t beholden to the larger MCU narrative. At the same time, it can cause a film to feel inessential compared to others. Thor: Love and Thunder is too enjoyable, and has too many bold character developments, including a bittersweet final moment, that all of its problems are washed away like rain during a thunderstorm.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in theaters on July 8th.