Synopsis: Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg, and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster to fight Gorr the God Butcher, who intends to make the gods extinct.
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe
Director: Taika Waititi
Running Length: 125 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: We’re pretty deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe now that we can freely talk about those first two Thor movies and how not that great they were, right? Good. Starting in 2011, the Norse god made a dull debut in a standard special effects picture when the gathering of the Avengers was still in its infancy. While Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Blackhat) would make a solid addition to the first Avengers in 2012, the next standalone film in 2013 was perhaps even more of a disappointment. Lifeless and aimless, coming out between Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier made Thor: The Dark World look even more pedestrian by comparison.
It surprised many, then, that 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok was the energy boost it proved to be. As part of the Marvel blitz of films in 2017/2018, leading toward the final official two Avengers films, new director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) brought a renewed strength and style this hero desperately needed. Leaning heavily into the silly comedy that Waititi was known to mix nicely with dynamic visuals and narrative, this third Thor outing had a dynamite villainess (Cate Blanchett, having a blast) and even gave Hemsworth a shot of adrenaline he’d been missing.
With the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe looking far into the future, Thor would always play a part. Still, it was never sure where he’d fit since Ragnarok and previous post-Avengers appearances changed much of his trajectory. While Waititi was on a solid roll as a director, sometime actor (Lightyear), and producer of several highly-regarded properties, it was a coup for Marvel to get him back on Thor: Love and Thunder. Part of the anticipation, then, for this fourth installment was to see where Waititi would take the blonde bodybuilder butt-kicker next.
Despite continuing to help when needed occasionally (hence an early appearance by the Guardians of the Galaxy), Thor prefers to keep a low profile and discover his inner zen after years of fighting world-crushing evil. Suffering much loss of family and friends, Thor has gotten good at holding others at arm’s length and not allowing them to get close. It’s only after Gorr (Christian Bale, Out of the Furnace), known throughout the galaxy as the God Butcher, appears and begins to enact a vengeful vendetta against the gods he believes wronged him when he needed them most that Thor is called back into action.
To defeat this potent foe, Thor must team up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Sylvie’s Love), now King of New Asgard and former flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Lucy in the Sky) transformed into Mighty Thor thanks to a reconstructed version of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, along with a rock gladiator (voiced by Waititi), and a duo of screaming goats (the funniest of several running gags). Their quest to stay one step ahead of the murderous Gorr will lead them to a city of gods ruled over by Zeus (Russell Crowe, Unhinged), where they hope to gather a greater allegiance and, later, to the far reaches of the universe robbed of all color.
I’ll start by saying that the marketing for this film (posters, trailers, etc.) are totally on target and nail the right vibe that continues to help define Thor as separate from the other Avengers, who are already adept at curating their brand. Waititi has contributed so much to give Thor and his gang a near-kitschy ‘80s feel, and it works as well here as it did in the previous film. What doesn’t work as well is Waititi’s insistence on overplaying that wacky comedy which, when doled out in spurts, works nicely. When it’s nonstop goofiness, as it often is in Thor: Love and Thunder, the movie can be exhausting to watch and genuinely baffling to experience.
It’s nice to see Portman back, you can see why the chance to work with Waititi was an enticing offer to get her to return. One wishes she had more robust material to work with and her overall purpose wasn’t so rudimentary. There’s an essential piece of her puzzle not given away in the trailers, so I won’t spoil it here, but the writers lay something on Jane Foster to overcome and care so little about it aside from it being a convenient plot device, they don’t give anything in the way of specifics. (I know that’s just as vague and non-specific but once you see the movie you’ll understand why and also what I’m talking about.) Then you have Crowe with the strangest of accents (perhaps wanting to compete with Tom Hanks in Elvis for the worst attempt at indistinguishable dialect) in a befuddling appearance that’s more jokey than jovial.
Thankfully, Hemsworth keeps the movie somewhat grounded and reminds you that Thor: Love and Thunder is, at its heart, a superhero film. As strange as it was to see Bale appear on the other side of the good guy/bad guy wheel, the Oscar winner does wonderful (and frightening!) work. Several sequences deliver quite nicely, despite an overabundance of somewhat shoddy CGI…if you can even see it in the first place. One battle near the end has monsters barely defined before they are defeated. Does it deliver the kind of standalone fun that recent Marvel success stories have? I don’t think so, and, based on the shoulder-shrugging post-credit sequences, I’m not sure I’d be chomping at the bit for the next installment of a Thor story either.