It’s almost hard to believe that Thor: Love and Thunder would amount to anything less than a home run. After Thor: Ragnarok successfully skyrocketed the titular character’s worth back to the top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, filmmaker Taika Waititi returns (now with an Oscar to his name) with even more creative control and a new Thor by his side. Being a comic reader himself, Waititi chooses to bring Jane Foster’s Mighty Thor to the big screen, allowing star Natalie Portman to claim the superhero glory previous films never gave her. Additionally, moviegoers get a special treat with Christian Bale’s return to the comic book sphere as Gorr the God Butcher, a fan-favorite Thor foe of recent years. Throw in other returning faces like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and even the Guardians of the Galaxy and you have a guaranteed good time at the movies at the very least. Well, in this case, that points to our biggest problem here… even when given the greatest opportunities of them all, Thor: Love and Thunder seemingly chooses to settle for the very least.
By now, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Phase 4 of the MCU has been the most divisive so far. Critical reception to these films now mostly relies on whether or not people were convinced that Marvel actually tried to step out of their comfort zone. And as most recently seen with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Eternals before it, when Marvel evidently does try for something new, there are just as many people upset for that change of pace as there are those happy for it. Such is the tricky scenario for an ever-growing franchise that is perhaps now best known for giving dedicated followers exactly what they want. Thor: Love and Thunder feels tailored by this formulaic code in every single way, only this time we won’t be able to point to studio interference for the blame. No, Thor: Love and Thunder is undeniably a Taika Waititi movie through and through, one that highlights both the best and worst of this filmmaker’s tendencies.
After the film opens with a prologue for Gorr the God Butcher, Thor: Love and Thunder almost completely undoes that promise for a new adventure through an egregious cycle of rinse and repeat. Aside from the fact that there are new characters at play, it quite literally feels like you’re watching a movie you’ve already seen before. The film in question is obviously Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waititi goes through almost all the motions of what made his first MCU outing stand out so well, but this time he’s allowed to go more quirky with his distinguishable humor. This isn’t to say that Waititi shouldn’t be allowed to bring back his creative sensibilities to Thor, it’s just that this film here isn’t really giving you something all that fresh and, more importantly, exciting. The plot itself may be different, yet the beat sheet is all the same. The first hour or so is the biggest thing working against the film, as you wish you could have gotten something more thrilling out of Jane Foster’s reintroduction as well as the many new cosmic and mythological elements at hand. Thematic weight is traded in for the expense of even more of Waititi’s whimsical, parody-like humor. That same comedic taste worked so well in Ragnarok when used wisely.
It’s not until the second half that Thor: Love and Thunder truly comes into its own journey worth telling. When Jane Foster opens up about having cancer to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, it becomes clear what Waititi is aiming for in dealing with love and loss. The same goes for Gorr’s villainous arc as the God Butcher running parallel to these events, wiping out all the deities in the universe in honor of the people he lost under his own false God. Waititi’s best stories play a fine balancing act of tragedy with humor that still knows how to pluck at the heartstrings even when a bit too silly. His type of comedy can still be deeply human in its purest form, and when meshed well in this new story, Thor: Love and Thunder is worthy in its own right.
This emotional drive just arguably comes a little too late, again, only really kicking in after the first repetitive hour of the film. Even then, the common Marvel setbacks are present from beginning to end. From flat lighting to poor visual effects, these criticisms lead to what we already know about Marvel productions and their efficiency, although they are notably more damaging in the case of Thor: Love and Thunder. Many already voiced these concerns in the previous Thor film, but for a tale that literally features Gods and monsters galore, Thor: Love and Thunder rarely feels as epic as it rightfully should be. There’s no real sense of thematic scale or weight, one moment the Thors are standing in one visually flat hallway and the next they’re in space! And when all of Gorr’s creature army is undefined meshes of black shadow goo, you get the feeling that you’re just watching actors swing at lifeless CGI the whole time. Neither Mjölnir nor Stormbreaker actually pack a punch in Thor: Love and Thunder, which is really saying something about how far we’ve come in this series.
Furthermore, it can’t be understated how much of a missed opportunity Christian Bale’s Gorr feels. The character certainly doesn’t fall in the lower half of Marvel’s underutilized villains, but he definitely doesn’t reach the top either. He gets the job done right in the middle, which might be more offensive given that Bale is giving a performance that is far from phoning it in. When given the chance, he revels in making Gorr terrifying and visually expressive. The character work with Gorr and Natalie Portman’s Mighty Thor makes for the best of the movie, with Portman radiating a genuine brightness that these comic book adaptations often try so hard to replicate, however, there is simply not enough. With Thor: Love and Thunder being under 2 hours, the shortest MCU film we’ve seen in years, so much time is wasted on Waititi’s self-indulgent bits of humor for the sake of setting up a bit rather than spending more on these characters. This can be understood best when you realize just how much time is spent with Gorr the God Butcher – most of his actions all happen off-screen. When the Thors are merely describing Gorr slaughtering Gods across the universe in between one joke after the other, you wonder why you aren’t watching that version of the movie instead of the one Waititi is insisting on. The same goes for Jane’s arc as the Mighty Thor, which also includes a lot more talking than showing. Talk about epic.
Thor: Love and Thunder will still satisfy many since it does check off almost everything that you could expect from another Taika Waititi Marvel joint. You get more Korg, who is narrating the story now, more self-referential humor, and more action set pieces set to classic rock music. Whereas Thor: Ragnarok almost feels like a magic trick, Waititi proving what can be done with a Thor story in his own unique way, Thor: Love and Thunder feels like a tired act. The needle drops start to lose their charm, and the jokes start to sour a lot quicker, especially when this flick will almost surely be praised for its LGTBQ+ inclusion when, in reality, it’s just more characters talking about their queerness rather than showing it. The film ends on a fascinating note, almost one that makes up for the 2 hours you just saw. You’re not sure if the film’s finale really works at all or not, but it at least makes way for a sequel that will surely be different next time. With the studio and Chris Hemsworth considering more Thor stories on the horizon, you can only hope that you won’t be watching the same movie again.