Thor: Love and Thunder
The God of Thunder questions his sense of identity and place in the universe in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder.
Identity and purpose often come into play in superhero stories. It takes many forms such as people adapting to suddenly having powers and figuring out what that means for them or re-evaluating in the wake of seismic events. At the end of Avengers: Endgame Thor left Earth with the Guardians of the Galaxy in an effort to find himself and this film makes that one of its central plots
One of Love and Thunder‘s biggest problems is that it tries to do more than it can reasonably cover in its running time. Thor’s search for purpose is one of three major character-driven narratives the film contains with each of them vying for attention throughout. Competing for screentime is the newly powered Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her desire to solve a particular mortal problem and Gorr the God Butcher’s (Christian Bale) relentless campaign to slay all Gods. None of the competing narratives are badly done but Thor’s search for purpose dominates with the other two scrambling for the remaining available coverage.
It also suffers from uneven tone in places. Comedy, horror and tragedy uncomfortably rub up against each other at times, often in the same scene and the shift is jarring because the intended emotional connection changes without warning. It doesn’t derail the experience significantly but it is noticeable and some moments don’t land as intended because of the unsophisticated tonal shifts. The comedy will fit right in with those who enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, the serious moments can be really heartfelt thanks to the excellent performances of those involved and the horror-inspired sequences are well executed. Each of the elements work well on their own merits but issues arise when they are pressed together.
The film opens with Thor adventuring with the Guardians of the Galaxy. He joins them on their missions and conducts himself with his usual lack of subtlety with an amusing lack of self-awareness when it comes to how his exploits are perceived and his own understanding of his connection to the Guardians. There is definitely a missed opportunity in seeing Thor interacting with the Guardians as they leave the story very early on but what the film offers of this partnership is entertaining. Once they part, Thor gets mixed up in Gorr’s anti-God campaign, deals with the reminder of his past relationship with Jane and generally questions who he is.
Thor’s existential crisis forms the root of what this film sets out to explore. Over his long life, he has been many things such as a Prince, Avenger, King, Guardian and likely others that haven’t been depicted. His time with the Guardians positions him as something of an intergalactic good samaritan going from place to place using his considerable strength to settle disputes and protect the innocent. A conversation with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) clearly and hilariously outlines Thor’s arc for the film that necessitates his parting from the Guardians. It’s a simple objective but allows for a lot of emotional ground to be covered.
Chris Hemsworth has arguably never been better in the role of Thor. His perfect comic timing is brilliantly deployed throughout and the film does a lot with his oafishness. Chris Hemsworth also excels in the film’s few quiet moments where raw expression of genuine emotion is necessary. He believably plays a man confused about his place in the universe and struggling with feelings he tries to keep buried. He also has his heart in the right place and a genuine desire to help those in need.
One of the title words, “Love” receives a lot of attention through Thor and other characters with a variety of interpretations beyond the standard romantic definition. Romantic love is a big part of Thor’s arc with the re-emergence of Jane. An amusing montage chronicles the rise and fall of their relationship while helping contextualise Thor’s feelings for her. That tension underpins many of their interactions and it plays out nicely. Added to that is the idea of learning to love oneself and casting off the expectations people unfairly place on themselves. So much of Thor’s history has been defined by what others expected of him so he was guided by what he was “supposed to be” but is slowly coming around to the idea of forging his own path and learning to be comfortable in his own skin while he does it. What results is an engaging story of self-discovery that also allows him to define the important connections in his life. Another example of exploring “love” on a conceptual level is a creative love triangle that provides a unique riff on the relationship between warrior and weapon.
Gorr the God Butcher is one of the more engaging villains that the MCU has delivered. He feeds into the theme of “love” in a natural and visceral way with his origin and motivation both being logical. Gorr’s conclusion is possibly the best of any antagonist the franchise has offered but the character lacks depth and fades into the backdrop for much of the second act. Despite this, Christian Bale delivers an engaging performance and imbues Gorr with an intense creep factor supported wonderfully by impressive makeup.
Jane fares better because she has a stronger connection to the main narrative. Natalie Portman is fully engaged in her portrayal of the character with a textured performance ranging from the glee of having power she once only witnessed to vulnerability as she deals with an inescapable human problem. Her dynamic with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor leaps off the screen thanks to their electrifying chemistry and she has a fun back and forth with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie. A connection in circumstances existed between Gorr and Jane that is addressed but unfortunately never receives the attention it needs to become more than an idea and a passing reference.
Valkyrie has a lot of screen time and all of it is good but she lacks a central hook of her own to fully justify her presence. One scene addresses her current mindset and there is some dialogue discussing how she views her role as King of Asgard. Valkyrie continues to be excellent in a fight and Tessa Thompson fits in well with the rest of the cast but audiences will have to wait for a story that does the character justice. A refreshing take on approaching relationships exists through her when she conveys that she isn’t in the right emotional place to consider a romantic connection. She’s working on herself but unfortunately, the film doesn’t detail much of that work.
Other characters find a place in the narrative such as Thor’s faithful friend Korg (Taika Waititi) who delivers some fun narrations over the various montages that parody tales of myth and legend while efficiently delivering relevant information to the viewer. Korg himself doesn’t develop significantly and is the comic relief in a film where everyone is excessively quippy but the character is endearing and even feeds into the central theme of love in his own way. Russell Crowe’s Zeus is another highlight with Crowe delivering a delightfully unhinged performance that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Love and Thunder is visually stunning with some incredible design work on display in the various locations the characters visit on their journey. The action is fun if typical but there is a standout sequence involving a complete lack of colour that stands out among the rest. On the whole, the film is colourful and vibrant with plenty of visual variety to keep the experience from becoming stale. It all contributes to the cosmic, magical world that Thor inhabits while keeping it accessible by peppering familiar locales throughout. In general Thor: Love and Thunder is a strong entry in the MCU that proves it’s a franchise with plenty more to give.
A fun and visually stunning entry into the ever-growing MCU that has a strong grasp of theme, great characters and an excellent sense of humour. The theme of “love” and the variety of definitions is wonderfully explored through the various characters and their connections to one another. Chris Hemsworth has arguably never been better as Thor and the existential crisis he faces that forms the root of the storytelling works really well. Natalie Portman is fully invested in the revamped Jane Foster, Tessa Thompson remains engaging and Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher numbers among the MCU’s strongest villains. The film is visually stunning with impressive action. At times it suffers from uneven tone, there are missed opportunities and some things are covered in the detail that is needed but Thor: Love and Thunder is a strong entry in the MCU that proves it’s a franchise with plenty more to give.
- a strong grasp of theme
- exploring the concept of “love” in a variety of ways
- Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing and dramatic chops
- Natalie Portman’s excellent portrayal of the two aspects of Jane
- Tessa Thompson being engaging as always
- Gorr the God Butcher as one of the MCU’s strongest antagonist
- Christian Bale embodying the creep factor
- the creative riff on the relationship between warrior and weapon
- stunning visuals
- lots of creative design work
- engaging action
- great examples of comedy, drama and horror
- uneven tone in places
- some opportunities squandered
- a lack of detail in some of the character connections and plot points
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