- Thor: Love and Thunder
- Directed by: Taika Waititi
- Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi
- Action/Adventure | PG-13 | 1 hr 59 min
By Reed Ripley
Thor: Love and Thunder is nostalgic 80s excess come to life, and not just because Thor wears a rad, cutoff leather vest. Too much of a good thing is still too much, and the indulgences of Love and Thunder keep it from being the best version of itself.
Love and Thunder recenters the franchise on the relationship between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) after the two drifted apart amidst universe-saving efforts and world-renowned scientific breakthroughs. Presumably scarred by the precipitous decline in her Star Wars prequel character’s agency, Portman left the role back in 2013 after she sensed Foster had devolved into little more than Thor’s love interest.
It’s clear why she came back, and there’s something comforting about seeing Thor and Jane together again, now with a full and rewarding character arc for Jane. She wields the power of Thor this time around, but it’s not just a fan-servicey “what if Jane held the hammer?” device. Instead, becoming the Mighty Thor is a coping mechanism for tragedy that’s befallen Jane’s life, and seeing her work through those complicated emotions, recapture her relationship with Thor, and accept her fate is certainly effective.
Unfortunately, that effectiveness highlights a big problem: the God of Thunder feels underdeveloped. Ostensibly, his arc is supposed to show him learning that love is worth experiencing, even with the pain and loss it inevitably brings. He starts off in the appropriate place (as a pretentious jerk who pretends that “meditating” once or twice means he’s enlightened), and he ends the right place (rewarding love is back in his life), but that endpoint feels completely undeserved.
Plenty of characters around him, especially Valkyrie (played again by the always-charming Tessa Thompson), call out his repression and glaring lack of self-awareness, but the story doesn’t give much reason to think Thor truly develops, save for the closing scenes that tell us that’s the case. Hemsworth is winning as always in the role, but the lack of depth kneecaps the final product.
The Bale performance is also frustrating, not because it never works, but because there are brief windows where it works so well. Specifically, Bale’s first and final scenes are two of the film’s best, thanks to their emotional weight and Bale’s extraordinary ability to get it across. In those scenes, Bale plays Gorr more reserved, letting the emotion subtly play across Gorr’s face and delivering lines in quiet, devastating fashion.
I wish he could’ve carried those choices in the space between those scenes, but instead he spends much of the film as a caricature, wildly oscillating between wild-eyed cackling and shadowy glowering. It’s uneven, and it turns too far toward the Marvel villain problem that’s befallen every villain antagonist save a Thanos or Loki.
These character drawbacks may be a product of too much Taika. We all had a great time with Thor: Ragnarok, and Waititi ported that same energy into Love and Thunder. However, Marvel clearly let Taika do just about whatever he wanted, and it led to a ton of interesting ideas without enough room for execution. The film could have used a couple more visits to the editing bay to focus more on character development, and it’s hard not to see that as a product of Waititi having unfettered access to his toybox.
Taika being Taika wasn’t all bad, though, and his comedic interpretation of the Thor franchise, coupled with his uniquely creative vision, creates such a visually rich and cunningly engaging product that its flaws don’t ultimately win out.
Too, Love and Thunder doesn’t give its flaws much room to breathe, as it runs just under two hours, the MCU’s shortest runtime since 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. The fun parts are fun, the emotional parts are adequately effective, and speed bumps are quickly left behind. Additionally, and refreshingly, it’s very self-contained and even includes two explanatory montages for any audience members who haven’t quite caught up on the past 28 MCU entries.
During one of Marvel’s (relatively) rockier patches, Love and Thunder feels like a throwback to when the Marvel Machine consistently churned out solid entertainment at the box office. No, it’s not going to rocket up the MCU charts, but plenty of people are going to have a great time at the movies, and that’s not a bad place to land.
You can find more review from local movie critic Reed Ripley at Ripleysreviews.com