They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, but surely if anyone can buck that trend it’s the God of Thunder… right?
“Thor: Love and Thunder” is the fourth film of the “Thor” franchise and the 29th in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (fatigued yet?). Chris Hemsworth reprises the titular role, alongside Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, and Natalie Portman, the latter of which returns after a near-ten year hiatus from the series. Taika Waititi directs once again after 2017’s “Ragnarok.”
Thor is probably my favorite character of the MCU (I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s Iron Man because Robert Downey Jr. is just next-level good in the role, so it’s too cliché a choice). I think what Hemsworth, Waititi, and the Russo Brothers were able to do with the character between “Ragnarok,” “Infinity War,” and “Endgame” is commendable, turning one of the franchise’s most-boring characters into its most charming. “Love and Thunder” is a massive step down from all of those films, with way too much focus on jokes and not enough on the story, characters, or action.
Chris Hemsworth is a decent actor, though he really hasn’t managed to find a non-Thor project that worked for him (his Netflix joint from this year, “Spiderhead,” is pretty bland, though he’s kind of fun in it). Here he is given a lot of free reign by his director to improv and while Thor’s classic Shakespearean charm is there, he doesn’t really do anything new with the character. The last few films have seen Thor deal with great loss and redemption, but “Love and Thunder” only half-attempts to have him fill the void still remaining in his heart. By the end of the film, you don’t really feel like he’s in a much different place then when we began.
Christian Bale took Harvey Dent’s advice, seeing himself live long enough to go from being the hero in Batman to the villain here. As Gorr the God Butcher, Bale is somewhat sympathetic and sometimes menacing, though in classic Waititi fashion he is not fleshed out enough to make a lasting impression (we only see him actually butcher one god). Bale is quietly one of our best working actors, so he does do what he can here and by-default is in the top-half of the MCU bad guy catalog, but you just get the sense that it was wasted potential.
The rest of the cast is fine, though it’s hard to tell if Natalie Portman is mailing her performance in, or if Jane Foster is simply a boring character that Marvel has run out of things to do with. Tessa Thompson is her normal charming self, though a lot of her jokes don’t land (a common problem here), and Russell Crowe has fun chewing scenery as Zeus.
The film’s biggest problem lies in its script, and how Taika Waititi directs it. After getting heaps of praise for redeeming the character in “Ragnarok” (though he did not officially write that script, just made tweaks) then winning the Oscar for “Jojo Rabbit” (two films I very much enjoy), it’s clear some of the power went to Waititi’s head. He throws joke after joke against the wall to see what sticks, and while it was a breath of fresh air in “Ragnarok” and needed in order to to offer some levity in a film about Nazis with “Jojo,” here it just ruins the pace and tone. I did laugh on several occasions, but sooo many of the jokes do not land, and they’re pretty basic-level material to begin with.
I’m not sure what Marvel has planned for the next year of projects (to be clear, I don’t think Marvel has a clue, either) but they need to get back to formula. For years I was critical of how cookie-cutter the MCU was, how they were film-by-committee with no distinct directorial style. Phase 4 has allowed its directors to have a little more say (“Black Widow’s” title sequence, “Shang-Chi’s” martial arts influence, “Doctor Strange 2’s” horror elements), and those have all been welcome additions to the superhero genre. However with that also comes this growing sense of disjointed randomness; there’s no clear path ok which we are being led to the next big team-up movie.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” is a pretty big disappointment, and another middling entry of Phase 4 of the MCU. Hemsworth and Bale give it a fair shake, and some of the colors and jokes are in-the-moment fun, but after the last few Thor appearances, this feels like a return to the “Dark World.”
Critics Rating: 5/10
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