When examining the individual character-centered movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor films have been the most uneven. Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 “Thor” was a nice mix of superhero action and ‘fish out of water’ humor. Alan Taylor’s 2013 “Thor: The Dark World” had its moments, but as a whole was a little dry and derivative. And then you have Taika Waititi’s 2017 “Thor: Ragnarok”, a decent standalone comedy but a mediocre MCU movie with an out-of-whack tone and characters who often clashed with their previous MCU portrayals.
But audiences loved “Ragnarok” to the tune of over $850 million. That, along with lead actor Chris Hemsworth’s love for playing the character, made a fourth film inevitable. Enter “Thor: Love and Thunder”, a movie that mostly follows in the tracks of its immediate predecessor. That’s largely because of the returning Waititi who this time not only directs but writes the script along with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson.
“Love and Thunder” tries a little of everything and it results in a pretty disappointing mess. Of course Waititi’s lean towards humor is impossible to miss and leads to some of the same issues I had with “Ragnarok”. The problem here is that Waititi doesn’t seem to have a valve, and he goes so heavy into making this a comedy that it almost feels like a spoof of a Marvel film rather than a significant entry into the MCU. And much like the movie before it, “Love and Thunder” once again makes its main character a walking punchline rather than a character you can take seriously.
Casual fans with no real affinity for the comics (or for a cohesive flow of the overall universe) will probably enjoy “Love and Thunder”. It once again gives us ‘buffoon Thor’ and goes out of its way to squeeze a joke out of nearly every scene. Not only does it lead to instances were the comedy seems annoyingly forced, but it also smothers some of the more dramatic scenes. Worst of all, Waititi puts so much time into making jokes that he shortchanges other characters and their stories. There are numerous holes that could have easily been filled if Waititi would have simply dialed it back and given more thought to his overall story rather than making his audience giggle at every other line of dialogue.
In between the movie’s screaming goat gags and lazy Guns N’ Roses needle-drops is the tragic (and woefully under-served) story of Gorr (a terrific but wasted Christian Bale). The movie opens with his young daughter dying in his arms. After his prayers to save his little girl go unanswered, a humble Gorr approaches his god pleading for answers but only receives ridicule and mockery. He’s then (somehow) chosen by a weapon called the Necrosword which imbues its wielder with the ability to slay gods (don’t expect much of an explanation for the Necrosword. It’s one of several things the movie throws in but doesn’t bother with any details).
From their Gorr takes one of several extended leaves. The story shifts to Thor (Hemsworth) who is still out cruising around space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. After a silly (and visually shaky) “action” sequence on an embattled planet, the Guardians are quickly sent packing (more for story convenience than for any meaningful reason) and halfwit Thor is off to answer a distress call from Sif (Jaimie Alexander). She warns him of Gorr and his plan to eradicate all gods. Gorr’s first target – New Asgard.
If you remember, New Asgard is a village in Norway under the rule of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). As leader, Valkyrie has turned New Asgard into a popular cruise ship tourist destination where visitors can enjoy rides and corny stage reenactments of Thor’s adventures. They can even see the fragments of Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjollnir prominently displayed in a glass case.
This is also where we get reintroduced to Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (a returning Natalie Portman). Speaking of a character who gets the short end of the stick, Jane hasn’t played a significant part in the MCU since 2013’s “The Dark World”. She’s brought back to play a major role, but because of her long absence Waititi has a lot to catch us up on. We learn Jane has stage 4 cancer and hasn’t much time to live. For reasons barely explained, Jane feels Mjollnir calling her to New Asgard (it has something to do with an accidental enchantment years earlier. Again, it’s an explanation given out of convenience more so than good storytelling). When Jane arrives, Mjollnir magically reforges and Jane is transformed into Mighty Thor. Just like that.
After Gorr attacks New Asgard and makes off with the village’s children, Thor and Jane are reunited. And with Valkyrie tagging along as the perpetual third wheel, the trio sets off to stop the God Butcher and bring the kidnapped Asgardian kiddos back home. But to do so will require a visit to Zeus (a campy Russell Crowe) to warn him and the other gods and recruit an army. More goofiness follows, we get more iffy special effects, more time is spent away from the truly compelling elements of the story, and we’re given more reasons to grow frustrated with Waititi’s antics.
So Jane’s story is rushed and there’s hardly any spark between her and Thor. Valkyrie (a character in desperate need of some kind of meaningful arc) is too often left on the story’s fringes. Korg (voiced by Waititi) tags along for comic relief (as if the movie needed comic “relief”). And Gorr is left sitting on the sidelines while Waititi yucks it up to the point of overkill. And that’s notable for a movie with a father grieving the death of a child and stage four cancer as key story points. But “Love and Thunder” isn’t too concerned with all of that weighty stuff. And who cares if it’s a tonal disaster as long as you wedge a gag into nearly every scene. That seems to be the blueprint of the MCU’s latest underwhelming installment. “Thor: Love and Thunder” is out now in theaters.