Thor: Love and Thunder will remind you of a few things.
For many fans of the MCU, Taika Waititi’s followup to Thor: Ragnarok will remind them of a simpler, pre-Endgame time when Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans roamed the Earth-199999. With Downey Jr.’s Iron Man all snapped out and Evans’ Captain America feeling his age, Hemsworth’s Thor is the last god standing of what proved a triple threat of casting alchemy for Marvel and the Mouse. Love and Thunder may take place after the Snap that ended the threat of a Snap that would undo the Snap that undid the original Snap, but the franchise’s fourth installment (and Hemsworth’s eighth turn as Thor Odinson) nonetheless feels as close to “Original Recipe” MCU as audiences are likely to get for a while.
Love and Thunder will also remind you how good Thor: Ragnarok is. Waititi’s particular brand of weird and relentless sense of situational whimsy (aided by Hemsworth’s own comic chops) makes a film filled with death and destruction—Odin dies, Mjolnir is shattered and the Warriors Three get slaughtered all in the first act—a joyous, rollicking ride. It remains remarkable that Kevin Feige and company allowed one of the tentpole franchises in their grand design to be reinvented (and reinvigorated) in tone even as the MCU made its epic final approach to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. (It seems likely this transformation had a hand in convincing Hemsworth to take another stroll down the Bifröst.)
The tonal refresh of Ragnarok also goes a long way in explaining why, amongst a Phase 4 featuring movie-length baton exchanges, C-list headliners and super teams, and a multitude of multiverses, Love and Thunder is the first that doesn’t feel expressly handicapped by flaws stemming from sacrifices made to set up and get aloft the post-Endgame MCU. Granted, Waititi’s brand of “no riff unjuiced” comedy generates some flaws of its own, but it remains a potent antidote to the often dark, dour and dire storylines found in the source material.
And based on plot alone, Love and Thunder needs some lightness. It opens with Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) acing his interview for said god butchering position and establishes that Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is on a cancer-propelled homestretch of her particular mortal coil. (Fun stuff!) While traveling with the MCU’s other dependable source of space opera chuckles, the Guardians of the Galaxy—and during his own unofficial audition for patron god of bulls in china shops—Thor stumbles upon evidence of Gorr’s handiwork. Accompanied by embedded narrative delivery device Korg (Waititi) and two one-note joke goats (that made me laugh every time, dammit), it’s time for adventure!
Much as with Ragnarok, Love and Thunder has no shortage of spectacle, and mostly maintains a strict no-plodding policy in terms of pacing. Unlike in the comics, the origin and identity of the new Thor is immediately obvious to viewers and characters alike, allowing writers Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson to move straight to a barrage of relationship jokes revolving around … Mjolnir and Stormbreaker (which, in the Waititi-verse, feels inevitable). But unlike Ragnarok, in which Waititi’s disruptive playfulness felt mostly harnessed and in proper proportion to the scale of the events unfolding (and by both the scene-chewing and ensemble work of the larger cast), Love and Thunder’s story is prone to extra beats (bleats?) and extended riffs meant to fill the spaces left otherwise unoccupied by absent Hulks, Lokis, Helas, Grandmasters, Skurges and the like. This results in moments that feel off—like the light banter in the immediate (and perhaps still ongoing!) kidnapping of children—or just over-stretched—like the introduction and visit to Omnipotence City. (Blame the source material for that “unobtainium”-level name.)
Still, as is often the case with Waititian whimsy, moments of sincerity make their way through the bits, and Hemsworth, Portman and Bale all deliver when those moments present themselves. The result is a movie significantly more flawed than its franchise predecessor yet more fun than anything we’ve seen in Phase 4 thus far. That’s enough to make Love and Thunder stand out for now—the other yuks-focused MCU franchises (Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-man) don’t arrive until 2023—but in the long haul? Well, we’ll always have Ragnarok.
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Jaimie Alexander
Release Date: July 8, 2022