Thor: Love and Thunder review: a reasonably storming MCU adventure
Thor: Love and Thunder: key info
– Launches in theaters in US and most other territories on July 8 (July 6 in Australia; July 7 in the UK and India)
– Chris Hemsworth returns as the god of thunder
– Natalie Portman reprises her role as Jane Foster
– Christian Bale plays the movie’s villain
– Helmed by Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi
– 29th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) heroes, Thor’s journey is arguably the most compelling. The god of thunder’s transformation from a serious and somewhat egotistical warrior, to a heroic and charismatic goofball, has made for fascinating viewing. Equally, Thor’s Shakespearean tragedy-style story has resonated with fans, reshaping their perspective on an MCU character who, early on, struggled to match the popularity of other Phase 1 heroes including Iron Man and Captain America.
Now, Thor is not only as beloved as his fellow Avengers, but he’s outlasted many of them. Thor: Love and Thunder is the Norse god’s fourth solo Marvel movie – the first MCU character to achieve such a feat. And, with Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi at the helm once more, Love and Thunder looks to build on the success of its predecessor with a progressive story filled with Waititi’s signature blend of surreal humor, heart, and captivating twists.
So how does this Marvel Phase 4 project stack up against other MCU movies? Thor: Love and Thunder is another entertaining installment in Marvel’s juggernaut franchise; a superhero film that isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself and one that largely strikes a pleasing balance between its multiple parts. However, its disjointed narrative and bafflingly underused villain prevent it from being the top-tier film it could’ve been – inescapable flaws that are difficult to look past.
A narrative ax to grind
Thor: Love and Thunder picks up the Norse god’s story sometime after Avengers: Endgame. Leaving Earth alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of that film, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) joins his newfound friends on numerous, swashbuckling adventures as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Unfortunately for Thor, nothing can fill one gaping void in his soul – i.e. the one he’s been unable to plug since breaking up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) eight years earlier.
Thor’s never-ending quest for a newfound sense of identity, though, is put on hold when a new intergalactic threat emerges in Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). A powerful foe who seeks retribution against (and the extinction of) the universe’s gods, Gorr’s vengeful quest inevitably puts him on a collision course with the god of thunder. To combat the MCU’s latest supervillain, Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi) – oh, and Foster who, to Thor’s surprise, wields a reassembled version of his former hammer Mjolnir. Together, the quartet set off on a cosmic quest to stop Gorr from enacting his masterplan and destroying the universe in the process.
If Thor 4 sounds like it takes a while to get going, that’s because it simultaneously does and doesn’t.
Thor: Love and Thunder’s runtime, which is just shy of two hours, ensures it doesn’t take long to introduce its main storyline. Like Doctor Strange 2, Love and Thunder barrels through its opening act to get to the main course of its narrative. We don’t need to spend 20 to 30 minutes catching up with Thor and the Guardians, and the film’s brisk opening act allows the movie to predominantly focus on Thor and company’s mission to prevent Gorr from killing any more gods.
That said, as with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Thor 4 feels like it breezes through important story beats too quickly to get to the heart of the action.
For one, the movie’s first half is a breathless trek through multiple locations, comprising a wide variety of characters and subplots, before Thor even puts his team together. It isn’t until the film’s second hour that things calm down, giving the film’s plot room to breathe before it settles into the thrill ride it becomes.
Gorr’s backstory and his acquisition of the Necrosword – the blade that imbues Gorr with his superpowers – also lack context. Sure, it doesn’t need an elaborate exposition dump to cover every element of his origin tale. Additionally, given how Gorr is introduced in the comics, his backstory required a slight alteration to allow it to slot seamlessly into the MCU. However, exploring certain aspects of Gorr’s life before he acquires the Necrosword wouldn’t have gone amiss, and would’ve helped his positioning as a tragic villain, thus making him more relatable.
Foster’s wielding of Mjolnir, and the subsequent introduction of her superhuman alter-ego – aka the Mighty Thor – requires more space to lean into as well. Comic fans will already know how and why Foster becomes the Mighty Thor. And, while this story aspect is almost copied beat-for-beat in Love and Thunder, there isn’t enough time devoted to this subplot to make it as heartwrenching as it should be. Again, an extra scene or two to really hammer home one of the film’s most emotional moments would’ve been most welcome.
Don’t expect the Guardians to play a major role here, either. Without overstepping the mark when it comes to spoilers, the ragtag group of galactic misfits’ appearance isn’t as prominent as you may expect. Yes, this is a Thor-centric movie but, considering their pre-release positioning as key supporting characters, it’s a slight disappointment they don’t stick around for longer.
With Waititi and company revealing that over two hours’ worth of content was cut from Thor 4’s final edit, there’s an argument that Love and Thunder would’ve benefitted from the inclusion of some of those deleted scenes. An extra 10 to 15 minutes would surely have made for a more cohesive narrative and less of a patchwork quilt-esque story that jumps around a bit too much.
All is fair in love and (Gorr’s) war
Story-based issues aside, Thor: Love and Thunder is, well, a thunderously entertaining adventure.
As the MCU’s first rom-com – one with multiple layers that humorously sees Thor also pine for his ex-weapon Mjolnir, much to the chagrin of Stormbreaker, his ax – it does a stellar job of capturing the awkwardness of running into your ex. Thor and Jane’s first encounter since their split, and the break-up itself, is played for laughs, as is their uncomfortable-but-necessary team up and the handling of the Jane-specific subplot. However, Waititi’s knack for dark comedy, coupled with Hemsworth and Portman’s on-screen chemistry, make these moments equally amusing and poignant. Setting the right tone for these scenes, particularly for a rom-com, are vitally important, and Thor 4 pleasingly finds the right balance in each instance.
Like 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s comedic flair is evident throughout Love and Thunder. It’s a movie that isn’t shy about mocking itself and the MCU at large, nor is it one afraid of parodying the fantasy or sci-fi genres. Audiences will get a kick out of amusing potshots at the likes of Harry Potter and He-Man, while references to Flash Gordon, The Muppets, and even Willow are evident throughout Thor 4’s 80s-inspired style and vibrant aesthetic.
Speaking of tonality, Thor 4 isn’t a solely bright and colorful affair. Certain scenes are stylistically darker than their counterparts, imbuing Love and Thunder with an occasionally horror-esque vibe. One particular sequence even trades in the film’s dazzling, color saturated visuals for a monochromatic look – a block of scenes in stark visual contrast to the rest of the movie, but equally as stunning to gaze upon.
Wonderfully funny as Love and Thunder is, it’s occasionally too goofy and silly for its own good. That’s particularly true when a shocking or dramatic moment is followed by a witty comment or some black humor. Viewers unaccustomed to Waititi’s signature style may not enjoy the lightning-quick juxtaposition between its amusing and emotional instances. Fans of the popular New Zealand director, though, will revel in the regularity of these contrasting elements.
Character arc wise, Thor: Love and Thunder is a decidedly mixed affair.
Hemsworth delivers another impressive performance as the film’s lead; his portrayal as hilarious and moving as it was in Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Endgame. The film’s thematic exploration of escapism and identity are an ever-present throughline in Thor’s journey here, helping to shape the next stage of the character’s MCU evolution and providing Hemsworth with plenty of funny and emotive material to sink his teeth into.
Thompson and Waititi equally revel in their supporting roles as Thor’s comrades-in-chief. Neither has as significant a role to play as many will expect, which is slightly disappointing given how integral the pair were in Ragnarok and their similar positioning as much here. Still, they’re no less important to how Love and Thunder’s narrative plays out, and both receive satisfying character development despite the film’s condensed runtime. Russell Crowe’s scene-stealing portrayal of Zeus is also suitably crowd pleasing, the veteran actor delivering a typically grandiose performance that exhibits the hubris of the MCU’s so-called gods.
Portman’s Foster, though, is the real star of the show. Discounting Marvel’s What If…? animated anthology series, we haven’t seen Foster in the MCU since 2013’s maligned Thor: The Dark World (that is, outside of her very brief cameo in Endgame). Back then, Foster was restricted to playing a support role; an archetypal damsel in distress who needed a buff space viking to rescue her on numerous occasions.
Here, Foster is front and center of Love and Thunder’s story – and it’s a marvelous decision on Waititi’s part to effectively have Portman co-star alongside Hemsworth’s Norse god. The pair ooze chemistry, bouncing off each other with a pizzazz and playfulness that was in short supply in earlier Thor solo movies. Armed with Waititi’s whimsical script, Portman reinvents Foster in the same way Hemsworth did with Thor for Ragnarok, too; the dramedy of Love and Thunder providing Portman with ample fresh material to breathe new life into one of the MCU’s most misused characters.
The biggest disappointment about Thor 4 is how criminally underutilized Gorr is in proceedings. That’s not from an acting perspective – Bale brings malice and menace to his portrayal of Gorr; a creepy and deranged bogeyman-style individual whose descent into madness owes much to the corrupting influence the Necrosword holds over him.
It’s a massive shame, then, that Bale’s unquestionable talents aren’t put to better use in Love and Thunder. Sure, Gorr’s presence is keenly felt throughout, and he absolutely makes up for lost time as he takes center stage in the film’s latter half. Even so, Thor 4 doesn’t take advantage of Gorr’s bloodthirsty quest for vengeance, nor does it make full use of Bale’s intimidating performance. Pre-release, the film’s cast and crew regularly suggesting that Gorr is one of the MCU’s most terrifying villains ever, so it’s a pity Gorr doesn’t appear more often.
Thor: Love and Thunder is an endearing and fantastical superhero romp, but one that just falls short of being a truly great Marvel movie.
It bears the hallmarks of every good MCU big screen offering – thrilling action, jokes aplenty, a large heaping of sentimentality, and surprises galore, especially those that feature in the film’s post-credits scenes. And, with its all-star cast on top form, there’s plenty here for casual MCU fans and diehard Marvel comic fans will enjoy.
Regrettably, there are a couple of major complications that prevent Thor 4 from joining previous MCU movies, including Thor: Ragnarok, in Marvel Studios’ “best of” category. Its oft-times muddled plot and disservice to its main villain hinder Love and Thunder as a spectacle – issues that could’ve been ironed out with the addition of more scenes and a subsequently longer runtime.
Thor: Love and Thunder isn’t the surprise thunderbolt out of the blue that Ragnarok was from narrative or character reinvention perspectives. And, if the god of thunder returns for an unprecedented fifth solo movie, it may be that Thor requires another revamp to maintain his relevancy in the ever-evolving MCU. For now, Thor’s latest rollicking adventure cooks up a fairly entertaining storm – and that’ll be good enough for fans of Marvel’s cinematic behemoth.
Thor: Love and Thunder storms into theaters in the US and most other territories on Friday, July 8. The MCU movie lands in UK and Indian cinemas on Thursday, July 7, while it’s out now in Australia.