Remember the SNL sketch where Martin Freeman played Bilbo in The Office? Or when Adam Driver played Kylo Ren on Undercover Boss? That’s what Thor: Love and Thunder feels like: the actor who plays a character in a popular piece of IP (this time, Chris Hemsworth as Thor) not playing the character in a canonized entry, but rather a long-drawn-out spoof. It’s written and directed by Taika Waititi, who also directed the franchise-altering Thor: Ragnarok, but unlike Ragnarok, Love and Thunder’s disparate tones — comedy and drama — are too dissonant and disconnected to ever feel like a singular, cohesive film.
Waititi has always leaned into comedy with his films. What We Do in the Shadows, Boy, Jojo Rabbit and the rest of his movies each have their fair share of laugh-out-loud moments, but none of them forget to balance the humor with well-timed dramatic moments, heart, and interesting commentary. And each of their humor is secondary to the story. Love and Thunder is the opposite. The jokes aren’t as clever, and the same ones are repeated over and over, to diminishing returns from their initial low bar. Giant goats that yell? That’s pretty funny. 25 times later? Not so much. The same goes for Thor’s “relationships” with his axe Stormbreaker and hammer Mjölnir. They’re just not clever. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another movie be as embarrassed about what it is as this one.
In the singular vacuum of this film, the humor and general dismissiveness of any real stakes come out of nowhere. The opening scene is great — Gorr (Christian Bale) calls out to his god to save his dying daughter. But his daughter dies, he meets the god, who turns out to not care for his followers at all, and Gorr immediately becomes an atheist. Rather, he makes it his purpose to ensure that atheism becomes the truth, because he wants to kill each god from each religion. This setup is immediately compelling (both narratively and philosophically), it’s put together well, and Bale announces himself as a force to be reckoned with. But the tone immediately changes after this.
The slog of mostly unfunny nothingness goes on for roughly the first two thirds of the film. Thor (Chris Hemsworth, who seems ready to leave any shred of earnest humanity within the character behind) makes jokes, messes stuff up, and generally is in the same place as the end of Avengers: Endgame, except “he’s gone from dad bod to god bod,” as Korg (Waititi) puts it.
Meanwhile, Jane Foster (the returning Natalie Portman) has cancer, but because of some loosely explained Norse god magic, she’s chosen by the shards of Mjölnir to be the new Thor (but Hemsworth is Thor too. There are two Thors, I guess.). It’s an interesting and cool concept, but her character’s given next to nothing to work with. And it’s a huge ask for any audience member to remember where she left off in her last Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance. All we really know of her here is that she’s sick and she used to date Thor.
Thin motivations and characterization is par for the course for the first two acts of Love and Thunder, as characters hop around from place to place to make their basic jokes… until its tone miraculously and surprisingly shifts in the third act. After spending the majority of the film on the sidelines, only showing up when necessary, Gorr, now dubbed The God Butcher, makes his grand reentrance, and Thor finally is serious again.
The ultimate showdown, which lasts for about 45 minutes, is both visually and thematically engaging, though the latter potentially takes the film into some murky water. Visually, Love and Thunder isn’t quite as bad as the trailers make it seem. It’s no Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s also not as abhorrent as a couple of viral screenshots on Twitter would make it seem. Cinematographer Barry Idoine has an eye for those cool, epic shots, even if the fight sequences and basic dialogue scenes aren’t any better than the typical MCU drivel. But beautiful sunsets and giant dead gods are impressive in their own right. And an entire showdown with Gorr on a planet that drains out color is easily the most visually stunning bit of the movie. It’s a fight in black and white, but the light radiating from Stormbreaker and Mjölnir is enough to bring color to certain sections of the screen, and the attention to detail should be commended.
However, it’s those pesky confusing themes again that end any chances this film had of fully redeeming itself. Its most basic ideas work fine — love is the most important thing there is, and it’s important to open ourselves up to it (though for a movie that references Interstellar by name, it sure makes you want to watch that instead, since it hammers home (pun intended) the love in space thing so much better). Where it really falters, though, is in the incidental ideas it brings up while exploring the worth of gods. Zeus appears as a bumbling fool (played by Russell Crowe, with a brilliantly over-the-top Greek accent), and literally every god besides the Thors and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is self-serving and doesn’t care about any of their followers. They’re shown to be heartless ghouls, yet we’re supposed to think Gorr is the villain for taking them out one by one, thanks to lip service paid to the importance of gods. There was the chance to explore what makes gods great in a modern world, or even what their role actually is, but apart from Thor being a cool superhero, no sense of religion or importance for normal people is established. It’s too bad that the film opted to go with a more safe and cookie cutter message about love, when they had the chance to do some deconstruction on the idea of gods and religion. Black Panther didn’t waste Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, but Thor: Love and Thunder just about wastes Bale’s Gorr, who was ever so close to being an S-tier MCU villain.
Sadly, a genuinely very good third act isn’t enough to save Love and Thunder. After dragging its feet for the first two acts, it’s all just too thin by the third, and no connection, stakes, or ideas have been substantially built. I can’t say that my expectations were too high going into this, but they certainly weren’t so low to be ready for what we ended up getting.