Thor Love and Thunder is finally in theaters, and the fan reaction online has been decidedly mixed. Some critics have said the movie is a bit too goofy, even compared to its predecessor, Thor Ragnarok. Director Taiki Waititi returned to Marvel for this fourth Thor outing, and he’s brought the same madcap energy that all of his projects carry. However, given the muted fan reaction and so-so reviews, is it possible that Waititi has overstayed his welcome?
Fans of the New Zealand director say his detached, aloof sense of irony is a perfect fit for the zany world of comic books. However, critics argue that this lack of sincerity makes everything in his version of Thor play out in a way that makes dramatic stakes hard to justify. So, is Thor Love and Thunder a dud, or does it deserve a place in the Marvel pantheon?
Speaking personally, I feel like the film did a good job telling the story it set out to tell, even if some of the jokes felt a bit incongruous with the tone of the scenes they appeared in. While Thunder is not on the same level as Ragnarok, which I adored, it’s a solid entry in the franchise and it moves Thor’s character forward in some interesting ways. Let’s talk about what worked (and what didn’t) in Thor Love and Thunder.
Spoiler Warning! Full spoilers for Thor Love and Thunder follow.
The Gods Must Die
The film opens with Gorr, a religious disciple of a minor sun deity, living on an unknown planet somewhere in the galaxy. Famine and drought have brought his people to the brink of extinction, and we see him cradling his dying daughter. It’s an emotional scene, something that the rest of the movie doesn’t really capitalize on.
Christian Bale as Gorr is really giving it his all, and he steals the spotlight whenever he shows up. The movie could have easily shed a few jokes to make more time for Gorr, and it would have been better for it. As is, he’s still one of the most compelling villains in any Marvel movie, quickly cementing himself as an antagonist on the same level as Thanos. He’s tragic, understandable, and so fundamentally opposed to the hero’s worldview that their conflict is inevitable.
Gorr bumps into his deity by happenstance, finding the sun god feasting on fruits in an oasis. He begs the golden deity for help, but the sun god just laughs at him and makes light of his suffering. Gorr, still mourning his daughter, picks up the nearest weapon–the Necrosword, a sentient blade made of shadows and capable of slaying gods. He quickly dispatches the sun god and sets out on his bloody path through the galaxy.
Asguardians of the Galaxy
The movie then moves to Thor’s perspective, as Korg recaps the events that have led him to travel with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We’re briefly reminded that Thor has lost pretty much everything he loves, including the realm of Asgard, his mother and father, Loki, and even his hammer, Mjolnir. Korg also briefly reminds audiences that Thor and Jane Foster, the human physicist Thor met in the first film, dated at one point.
This is easy to forget because Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth had essentially no on-screen chemistry in the first two Thor films. Their relationship was such a footnote that Waititi barely mentioned it during Ragnarok, aside from a quick gag about Thor not being remotely upset by it (while being visibly distressed by the breakup).
We then see Thor meditating under a tree with his new ax, Stormbreaker, planted in the ground like a sapling. Star-Lord and the other Guardians beseech Thor for help in a battle with a tribe of owl-headed raiders, and the ensuing fight is classic Marvel eye-candy. Sadly, Thor’s brief time with the Guardians ends all too soon, and Gorr’s rampage through the cosmos pulls the two groups in opposite directions.
Now is as good a time as any to point out the biggest issue with Love and Thunder. It’s not the jokes, per se, or even the inconsistent tone. The biggest problem with the movie is how hesitant it is to have Thor appear alongside legacy characters. The decision to have the Guardians fly off into the sunset in the first twenty minutes of the action is clearly a financial one, as Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper surely command hefty salaries these days.
However, the lack of the Guardians, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner leave the film feeling a bit disconnected from the wider Marvel universe. Ragnarok largely worked because Thor and Loki play so well off one another, and Bruce Banner and his Hulk alter-ego make incredible dance partners for Thor. Without them (or the ever-awesome Jeff Goldblum) Love and Thunder lacks much of the heart that made Ragnarok such a revelation for the franchise.
In any event, Thor quickly returns to New Asgard to battle Gorr’s minions. There, he bumps into Jane–now empowered by the fragments of Mjolnir, which Hela left in Norway after defeating Thor in Ragnarok. Portman and Hemsworth actually have great chemistry this time around, playing their fate as star-crossed lovers beautifully. At times, the film flirts with turning into a full-fledged romance movie, which is arguably when it’s at its best. They don’t have time to chat, though, as Gorr’s shadow minions kidnap all of Asgard’s children and retreat to the shadow realm.
The Mighty Thor
As in the comics, Jane picks up Mjolnir after she’s diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. While Mjolnir can’t cure her, it can give her the power of Thor. While holding the legendary weapon, she’s every bit the superhero deity that Thor is, flying around battlefields and raining lightning on baddies. Portman revels in this power-up, her character finally free to do more than act as a damsel in distress.
She joins Thor’s group (which includes Asgard’s new king, Valkyrie, and the ever-present Korg) on their quest to stop Gorr, and the group heads to Omnipotent City to seek an audience with the King of the Gods, Zeus. The Greek god (played by a hilarious Russell Crowe) is every bit the self-centered jerk that mythology buffs expect him to be, and he dismissively sends Thor’s group away without offering to help. Things go sideways and the gang makes a mess in the audience chamber, stealing his Thunderbolt weapon.
Thusly armed, Thor, Valkyrie, and Jane head to the Shadow Realm to confront Gorr. This sequence is beautiful, as the Shadow Realm saps all color from the surroundings and leaves the heroes fighting in a monochrome dimension. Where their divine weapons strike, light and color return briefly, making this one of the most artful shots in the movie.
Gorr bests the heroes and steals Stormbreaker, which can open the magical Bifrost and allow its wielder to travel anywhere in the universe. Gorr plans to use this power to access Eternity, an abstract cosmic entity that waits at the center of the universe. As the film enters its third act, the jokes largely take a backseat and things get significantly more interesting.
Thor learns that Mjolnir is inhibiting Jane’s ability to fight off her persistent cancer. He pleads with her to let him handle Gorr alone, as Valkyrie recuperates from injuries she sustained in the Shadow Realm. Here, Hemsworth’s emotional plea really sells the relationship between Jane and the God of Thunder, and she agrees to stay behind in New Asgard.
Thor confronts Gorr at the center of the universe, freeing the trapped Asgardian kids and battling to keep the God Butcher from beseeching Eternity. He fails and is nearly killed before Jane joins the fray, having thrown away her chance at recovery to save the man she loves. Together, the two nearly stop Gorr, destroying the source of his power–the Necrosword. He still manages to reach Eternity’s realm and calls on the entity to hear his wish.
The film’s climax is where we see Waititi at his best. Eternity’s realm is an infinite pool of water, rimmed by a blue, cloudy sky. Eternity itself looks like a human silhouette, lit internally by the cosmos. Thor and Jane beg Gorr to reconsider his wish, telling him to think of his lost daughter and “Choose love.” Gorr, who knows he’s dying from his injuries in the earlier battle, tearfully says he couldn’t leave her alone in the world without him.
As Jane also fades away due to her cancer, she tells Gorr that his daughter wouldn’t be alone. Thor could take care of her. Gorr relents and turns back to Eternity, begging for the entity to return his daughter to life. The girl, who is known only as Love, shares one last tearful moment with her father. Thor, likewise, says goodbye to Jane, and she transforms into the same golden dust that all gods become when they’re defeated.
As the film ends, Korg tells audiences that Thor and his adoptive daughter go on to become a force in the galaxy. They’re known only as Love and Thunder, and they’re inseparable. I couldn’t help but love this final reveal, especially given that Love is played by Hemsworth’s real-world daughter, India Rose Hemsworth.
Love and Thunder is an uneven movie, especially in its first and second acts. It’s funny in places where it should be serious, and it forgets some of Thor’s character development from earlier films. It’s worse by lacking Tom Hiddleston and only featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy for a few minutes. However, Portman and Hemsworth make a compelling central couple, and the film’s last act is genuinely moving and beautiful.
Love and Thunder is no Ragnarok, but it’s still a fun movie that deserves its place in the MCU. If anything, it does a great job of leaving you with an image of Thor and his new daughter protecting people in the wacky Marvel galaxy, and that’s an image well worth the price of admission.