Thor Love and Thunder: A More Sincere, Less Flashy Waititi Film

A man and woman look at each other
[L-R]: Natalie Portman as JANE, Chris Hemsworth as THOR in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

Over halfway through Phase 4 of the MCU, Taika Waititi dips back into the matters of the gods with Thor: Love and Thunder, the fourth Thor movie to grace the screen. With story by Waititi and screenplay crafted by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Thor: Love and Thunder re-introduces the Asgardian God of Thunder post-Endgame. It's the ultimate comeback story, with Thor finding his confidence after losing almost everyone he loves. While the first half of the movie drags with jokes that don't always land, once the real plot gets going, the battle scenes reverberate with rock n roll energy, assisted by Guns N' Roses, and the screenplay offers genuine moments of tenderness between characters. While I felt sure Love and Thunder would provide barrels of laughter, even the coldest heart might shed a few tears by the end.

Although Thor (Chris Hemsworth) gets a little screen time in the What If … television series, for all intents and purposes, he's been off the radar since Avengers: Endgame, foraging the intergalactic realms with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Since then, he's left the affairs of the court to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), now named King of Asgard. The sabbatical has been kind to Thor – he shed his depression weight and now wields Stormbreaker instead of Mjölnir. And although he misses what was, he's learning to be content in any circumstance. Well, Thor's bubble of contentment gets popped when Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) shows up in New Asgard, attacking the community and kidnapping the children. Complicating matters further, Thor's ex, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has shown up, looking like a badass and with Mjölnir in hand. What Thor doesn't know is that Jane, in fact, is dying of cancer.

A woman on a horse

Although he's shocked at this new turn of events, Thor teams up with Jane, Valkyrie, and Korg (voiced by Waititi) to save the children and bring them back home.

After his success directing Thor: Ragnarok, fans anticipated Taika Waititi's return to the MCU. His blend of humor and heart really landed in Ragnarok, in just the right proportion. Waititi made the most of Hemsworth's comedic timing to weave a story of fathers, brothers, and legacy. That just-right formula gets thrown off balance in Love and Thunder, especially in the first half. Whereas the humor in Ragnarok felt effortless, in Love and Thunder, it all seems a bit forced, as if Waititi had a quota of jokes he felt needed shoving into the relatively trim two-hour runtime. A shtick with screaming goats becomes tiresome after the fifth time, and I outwardly cringed when it happened after a particularly heart-wrenching moment. To build up genuine emotions over a character's well-being and then overlay that with screaming goats felt genuinely disrespectful to the solemnity of the moment. Why even bother?

Perhaps Waititi would have been better off leaning into the heart for this film – settling for only subtle humor – because the emotional journey the characters take is genuinely moving, despite my resistance to the jokiness of the first half.
Christian Bale as GORR in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

The cold open depicts the painful origin story of Gorr the God Butcher, played brilliantly by Christian Bale. After losing his daughter due to dehydration, Gorr discovers the gods lounging in an oasis and begs them to resurrect her. When Rapu denies the request and tries to kill Gorr, Gorr acquires the Necrosword and swears vengeance upon all gods. Christian Bale is almost unrecognizable as the driven Gorr and easily earns a place in my top-tier Marvel villains list. But he's a brokenhearted father, a parallel counterpart to our beloved Wanda turned Scarlet Witch. While we spend very little time with Gorr before his turn to the dark side, his grief for his daughter's fate is emotionally resonant, even with a short introduction. After he flips from devoted father to necromancer, Gorr makes a compelling and scary figure. And we can see his perspective. The gods didn't seem to care for him in his moment of need. Even worse – they laughed at his pain. A villain you can almost root for holds a captivating power indeed.

And then there's the second chance at romance for Thor and Jane. Waititi does a great job showing the awkwardness of exes who come back into contact with one another. Thor stumbles through his conversations with her and feels jealous that his beloved Mjölnir now rests in her hand. This last bit only becomes even funnier when we realize that Stormbreaker feels its own form of resentment that Thor still gazes at the hammer with something akin to desire. In truth, this more subtle form of humor is what Waititi pulls off brilliantly. For her part, Jane plays it cool and chooses to spend her time with Thor perfecting her battle cry, but only to hide her illness and the toll cancer has ravaged on her body. As the pair re-establish intimacy and drop their guises, the reunion is tender, authentic, and touching.

An action shot in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

Metalheads of the 80s, rejoice! The soundtrack of Guns N' Roses tracks ramp up the lightning-bolt energy of the battle scenes. In truth, I've always enjoyed Thor's fighting style more than almost any superhero in the MCU. Who else gets to ride the lightning with such dazzle? While Ragnarok had Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" as its anthem, Love and Thunder spoils viewers with four of the Hoosier band's top hits, the final one which had me cackling with delight.

Thor: Love and Thunder operates best during the quieter, relationship-driven scenes than in the outlandish attempts to create humor where none is needed. With cinematic fight choreography and heartfelt moments, this Waititi picture majors in sincerity, which defies what the lowest common denominator expected. I do wonder where they will take Thor as a character, and I deeply felt the loss of Loki in this Thor-story. The MCU is still fighting to find its footing after Endgame. They created something the whole world enjoyed and craved, and now the franchise needs to find its new identity. For the crowds are restless, crying "Send it back!" as loudly as screaming goats.

Release info: In theaters July 8, 2022

Final score: 3.5 out of 5