Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale, Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1 hr 59 mins
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 7 July 2022
Synopsis: Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Love and Thunder” finds the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) on a journey unlike anything he’s ever faced – a quest for inner peace. But Thor’s retirement is interrupted by a galactic killer known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who seeks the extinction of the gods. To combat the threat, Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who – to Thor’s surprise – inexplicably wields his magical hammer, Mjolnir, as the Mighty Thor. Together, they embark upon a harrowing cosmic adventure to uncover the mystery of the God Butcher’s vengeance and stop him before it’s too late.
So much has been said about Taika Waititi as a creative genius that you wonder just why ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ is such a dull mess. To be fair, expectations for Waititi’s second swing of the franchise hammer are inevitably high, given how he had breathed a windstorm of fresh air into the last solo outing of the blond-tressed, mythical Avenger; and yet, that hardly explains why this go-around is a collision of silliness and seriousness, stunted subplots and small stakes.
The contradiction is apparent right from the start. A pre-credits prologue shows how a grieving father (Christian Bale) turns into the rampaging being known as Gorr the God Butcher, after discovering the indifference of his god to the fate of his race, especially that of his daughter whom he eventually loses to the elements. Then right after the opening Marvel credits, we get a tongue-in-cheek recap, courtesy of Thor’s rock buddy Korg (voiced by Waititi), of Thor’s exploits so far, his losses and loves, and his physical makeovers to date (going from God-bod to Dad-bod to God-bod all over again). It is amusing all right, but these zippy once-upon-a-time montages sit jarringly next to Gorr’s seething menace, and Waititi never manages to resolve the clash in tones.
That imbalance isn’t just between Thor and Gorr, but also between Thor and his lost love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Jane’s return in the form of the Mighty Thor is indeed one of the highlights here, not only because she gets to wear the same outfit as Thor, but also because she gets to wield his old hammer Mjolnir and display her own superpowers in battle next to Thor. Yet that rousing transformation is diminished by the melodramatic treatment of Jane’s condition with Stage IV cancer. Whilst that circumstance is being true to the Jason Aaron-penned comic book from which this subplot draws its inspiration from, Waititi struggles to manage the swerve from silly to sentimental with the same practised ease as he did in the previous Thor outing.
Because the movie never quite leans fully into Gorr’s annihilation, there is no real sense of danger, adventure or fulfilment. At no point do we feel the danger felt by the children of New Asgard, whom Gorr kidnaps to advance his god-elimination project. Neither is that much of an adventure, what with the only memorable stop of Thor and his companions being that at the Golden Temple of the Gods where they encounter a vainglorious Zeus (Russell Crowe) and humiliate him in order to score his golden lightning bolt. Nor therefore is there any final sense of fulfilment, when they confront Zeus at the realm of shadows and thereafter at the gates of Eternity.
What ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ ends up being is a series of loosely stitched together set-pieces, only some of which work. Easily the most amusing is Thor’s encounter with Zeus, thanks to Crowe chewing the scenery in an exaggerated Greek accent and with complete self-absorbed egocentricity. Despite the change in scenery to Sin City-esque black and white at the realm of shadows, the battle itself is too scattershot to truly thrill. Ditto the showdown at Eternity; though granting the kidnapped children the power of Thor to face off against Gorr’s shadow monsters is inspired, that potential is never fully realised as the action shifts restlessly to and from that and the fight between Thor/ Mighty Thor and Gorr himself.
These failures are ultimately Waititi’s, whose shortcomings as a filmmaker were evident even in his earlier films such as ‘Jojo Rabbit’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’. As refreshing as his cracked-auteur sensibility is, Waititi often strains to combine what is essentially a string of irreverent episodes into a compelling whole. ‘Ragnarok’ had the benefit of three other Marvel writers pulling their weight, but this one credited to Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson is not saved from his flaws; in fact, we would even say it lays bare his sloppiness, especially when so many scenes come across like they were thrown together just before the cameras started rolling.
The saving grace, as with most of Waititi’s films, is his knack for getting the best out of his cast. Hemsworth is once again great musclebound himbo, at once deadpan and winking. Portman is a blast as the Mighty Thor, though even she and Hemsworth are unable to find true pathos amidst the extravagant CGI action and ridiculous humour. Bale plays Gorr with emaciated intensity, and demonstrates one of the final scenes when he finally gives up his vengeance for love why he is quite simply one of the best actors of our generation. Tessa Thompson is still cool as ever as Thor’s ally Valkyrie, but is unfortunately sidelined here. There are also amusing cameos by the Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Melissa McCarthy as stage actors re-enacting the story of ‘Ragnarok’ for tourists to New Asgard.
But these bits cannot save what is otherwise an unengaging episode that is one of the dullest Marvel movies we’ve seen in a while. Like we said at the start, it is a pointless mess of tones, subplots and stakes, with Waititi’s loose, jokey style coming off aimless and slapdash. For the sake of Thor and the MCU, let’s hope the next time Waititi is let loose, he does so with the framework of a better storyline and script; whoever had thought Hemsworth wisecracking, a pair of screaming goats and occasional Guns N’ Roses needledrops could make a fun superhero movie need only see this latest instalment to realise that such arbitrariness can spark neither love nor thunder.
(Almost a complete joke of a superhero movie, this collision of silliness and seriousness, stunted subplots and small stakes makes this latest Taika Waititi misfire an utterly pointless exercise)
Review by Gabriel Chong