This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
Just like a bad breakup, Thor: Love and Thunder gets messy fast. In fact, it may be the messiest Marvel movie yet. The precise science that is Marvel worldbuilding and storytelling seems just a little off kilter in what’s now the fourth entry in the standalone Thor franchise. Luckily, that’s sometimes just part of its charm.
Like the relationship between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, Thor: Love and Thunder is at times awkward and uncomfortable, but almost always genuine and heartfelt. Much of the movie revolves around their relationship, oftentimes mining the rom-com genre in a continuation of Marvel’s trend towards true genre flicks.
Audiences meet up with Thor exactly where they left him, traveling the stars with the Guardians of the Galaxy without a home or much of a plan. He’s a god adrift essentially, looking for a purpose in his life beyond the constant strain of battle.
It almost sounds like a depressing set-up, yet that’s where the brilliance of Love and Thunder shines brightest. It’s grounded, much more so than most other Marvel movies. Thor feels like a real and relatable character, not just another brave superhero. The same goes for Jane Foster, and the interactions between the two are always entertaining as a result. Hemsworth and Portman have a certain on-screen chemistry with one another that just feels right, and their laughably blundering interactions fit perfectly with the kind of movie that director Taika Waititi is clearly trying to make.
Speaking of Waititi, who’s also once again brilliant as the voice of Thor’s sidekick Korg, he undeniably puts his stamp on this film and its characters, even more than he did in Thor: Ragnarok it feels. Similar to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, this movie unabashedly allows its director to really follow his own style. For Waititi, that typically means wry humor that propels the movie forward and keeps the story feeling fresh and funny rather than droll and dreary.
Waititi quickly contrasts Thor’s down-in-the-dumps demeanor at the start of the movie with an over-the-top comical fight sequence that might be one of the best action pieces in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it comes to sheer entertainment value. To discuss it any more than that would spoil the fun.
There’s also a quirky spirit to the movie overall that goes beyond the typical superhero one-liners. The goats Thor receives early in the movie as gifts have hilariously realistic screams that they let loose at the perfect times, for example. Thor and Foster’s interactions are also sometimes comedic gold, especially when they center around Foster’s wielding of Thor’s beloved hammer, Mjolnir.
Russell Crowe’s role as Zeus, in particular, is also absolutely ridiculous in the best kind of way. He hams up the part so much that you can’t help but smile while he’s sauntering around the screen. It takes what could have been a serious role, one that’s ripe with storytelling opportunities, and makes it fit with the looser, livelier vibe that follows the majority of the movie’s high points
The lightheartedness of elements like those come in conflict with the movie’s central villain though, Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale. As one might imagine from his not-so-sunny-sounding name, Gorr isn’t exactly a goofy fellow like much of the rest of the cast. He’s on a quest to butcher all the gods in the name of bloody vengeance for the wrongs committed by them in his past.
It’s a compelling motivation in the context of the film, especially in the hands of the always capable Bale. He lurks and stalks through scenes with a genuinely terrifying presence befitting of his character’s name and mission. The only problem is how few scenes of Gorr there actually are.
It feels like Gorr’s story is one of the least developed in the entire movie. He’s barely shown plotting any sort of villainous scheme, and audiences don’t really see him do much of anything before he’s already confronting Thor and Jane Foster. By time Thor and Foster figure out Gorr’s plan and reveal it to the audience, it feels completely contrived and unearned.
It’s the kind of problem that hints at the biggest issue with Thor: Love and Thunder. It often feels like two very good, and very different, movies playing simultaneously at once. The plot with Gorr, and even certain facets of Thor and Foster’s story, suggest a darker take on the franchise, one that Marvel could have packed with more rage and heartache that builds off the tragedy Thor has experienced as of late. It would also likely be a far more philosophical film as well, something which audiences don’t see done successfully as much on the Marvel side of the superhero movie genre.
Simultaneously, the rom-com shenanigans between Thor and Foster feels like the perfect vehicle to continue the evolution of Thor’s character following the events of Avengers: Endgame. It’s just not the kind of movie you really want to meet a guy nicknamed the God Butcher in.
At the end of the day, you’re left almost wishing Marvel had saved Gorr for a later film, or perhaps even split this movie into two parts. The balancing act between wildly different tones is just too much for Love and Thunder to successfully pull off as a single entry.
Still, while the parts may not always make for a cohesive whole, they’re almost all expertly executed in their own rights. At the end of the day, that makes Thor: Love and Thunder worthy of praise, even if it never quite finds its way.
Spotlight Score: 7/10