Lessons have been learned since Ragnarok.
While off gallivanting with (special guest stars) the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trains himself back to optimum health and tries his hand at proper ravagering (is that a thing?) Unbeknownst to the god of thunder, a self-proclaimed god-killer name Gorr (Christian Bale) has begun a galactic crusade to destroy the callous deities who demand worship yet care nothing for their worshipers… and he has the power to do it. The villain’s arrival in New Asgard on planet Earth is met by Thor himself, King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and inexplicably by ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) wielding a reassembled Mjölnir — details to follow. With Asgard’s children in danger, the heroes seek help from the gods of the galaxy who are themselves in mortal danger, but will it be enough to stop Gorr from completing his master plan?
Directed by Taika Waititi and co-written with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the follow-up to Thor: Ragnarok continues Waititi’s odd sense of comic book creation and realization. While full of fun imagery and over-the-top insanity, Ragnarok was undermined by the countless in-story deaths of innocents brushed aside for wanton silliness. Films like What We Do In the Shadows and amazingly even Jojo Rabbit included such childlike moments while still communicating the gravity of their respective stories. Similarly, Love and Thunder cribs in part from a dark Marvel comics arc featuring Dr. Foster dealing with health issues, not exactly a laugh-out-loud subject. Still, Waititi is more than capable of balancing the two even if Ragnarok couldn’t; with his second MCU film up to bat, will the gravitas be tempered by the fun, or will Asgardian history repeat itself dancing on their graves?
Thankfully, Love and Thunder not only redeems Ragnarok tonal missteps but balances those very elements to produce pure superhero comic joy… but at a different cost. By narrating his “space viking” story, the director embellishments in-character as Korg, an unreliable narrator if ever there was one. This allows Hemsworth plenty of leeway toward cheesiness and camera mugging, invoking the borderline narcissist Thor from older comics before reinventing himself as a plot device. Additionally, children becoming central characters is a second crutch, toning down everything our big bad villain has cooking in spite of what he’s set out to do. This also plays into the narrative in positive ways; for those keeping score, this is why Christian Bale is perfectly cast in such an unusual part. Falling short in giving real weight to any threats to overcome, the fifth Thor film settles into a story about love, loss, and sacrifice that every viewer can relate to while still wallowing in mandatory spectacle.
There’s been this weird thing about Asgardians over the five films in which they appear. In one story, outsiders proclaim “All Asgardians are powerful and fearsome!” while in the next film there are “peasant Asgardians” who need constant protection from Thor and “the elites.” The plot seems to dictate which is which, but it was something the MCU was already doing before Waititi took the reigns. When it comes to the idea of how much super-power there is to go around, Marvel has always been kind of nebulous… in the same way the DC’s Superman can move planets in one story and struggles to stop a runaway train in the next. These “phantasy physics” are the bread and butter of comic book stories, and this type of storytelling seems to be the best way to dip into it.
It’s cringe-worthy hearing an Asgardian not understand how to get into Valhalla. It also may be hard to forgive Marvel for fueling a min-max detail about Thor’s godlike power — you’ll see — allowing Waititi to go there with the foundation already in place. The worst use of screen time this round is easily Russell Crowe’s Zeus — a waste of both the actor and the character — but the subtext here is more about the director’s view on religion than any particular story detail. Pretty sneaky, Mr. Director.
Thor: Love and Thunder is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material, partial nudity, and of course screaming goats.
Three skull recommendation out of four