Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder fails to recapture the magic of Ragnarok

Marvel’s best superhero falls victim to Marvel sentimentality.

Even for audiences who don’t like Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok often stands as an exception. Under the direction of Taika Waititi, Thor as a superhero came into his own. Irreverent, playful and self-reflexive, the movie seemed very much aware of the self-seriousness too often endemic to Disney’s new era. It figured out how to turn a god into a human by transforming his grandiosity into a smooth-brained, bumbling farce. It was living, breathing proof that the right filmmaker could still find a voice within the rigorous micromanaging of the ever-expanding, ever- homogenous Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Therefore, hopes were high for Thor: Love and Thunder, as the God of Thunder reunites with Waititi again. To keep it brief, after the events of Endgame, Thor retired but has been pulled back into action after the emergence of a new threat to the universe: Gorr the God Butcher, a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. Thor is joined by King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in his quest to save the gods and the kidnapped children of New Asgard. 

Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman in Thor: Love and Thunder
Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman in Thor: Love and Thunder

There was no reason to believe that Waititi couldn’t replicate the magic he achieved the first time around, and yet, from its earliest moments, something feels off with Thor: Love and Thunder. The comedy doesn’t land, and some storylines’ pervasive melancholy leech much of the film’s bounce. The comparisons and silliness of imagining living gods offering up their home as an amusement park has absolutely no bite in a culture war where Disney is the victor. The self-aware mocking of transforming New Asgard into a Disneyland-like tourist attraction feels in poor taste, channelling the same energy as McDonald’s rebranding themselves as a healthy option when the tides against junk food began to turn. 

Is it funny that the whole world has become a stage for superheroes and the ultra-powerful? While slightly more sophisticated than the referential humour that dominated children’s products and Family Guy in the mid-2000s, merely recognizing a reference does not equal a joke. Similarly, just because a line of dialogue is delivered in a joke cadence doesn’t mean there’s a punchline or a clever observation. 

However, the irreverence of these moments would be less offensive if the film successfully balanced the sombre and more lighthearted elements of its tone. Without going into detail, the return of Jane Foster doesn’t quite work, in part because Portman struggles to capture the empty-headed tone that the script imposes on her. Her performance also feels “too real” in a movie about big hammers, metal music and Voldermort-like villains. To say she can’t keep up with the rapid-fire dialogue isn’t entirely accurate, as her character struggles with identity and a big secret. It makes sense why she doesn’t have the effortless quip of a living god, yet, Jane’s obvious discomfort with witticisms also lends the movie a certain awkwardness that it never quite transcends.

Thor Love and Thunder 3
Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love and Thunder

As the greatest asset of Thor (its sense of humour) fails to land, the seams begin to pull apart. The so-called colourfulness of Ragnarok was completely overstated, but here the dull pre-packaged compositions of people standing in beige rooms talking feel particularly egregious. The movie has a lot of gold and at least an attempt at a risky audiovisual choice in the approach to the Shadow Realm. Still, it can’t escape the theatricality and artlessness impartible to the overall Disney voice. Much like the recent Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness directed by Sam Raimi, the unique directorial flourishes don’t liberate the movie so much as they underline how overproduced and uniform Marvel movies are and how not even the best examples of dynamism are transcendent. 

All that to say that Thor: Love and Thunder is still anchored by one of the few fun characters in the entire franchise. Chris Hemsworth is a delight as Thor, and much of the supporting cast is good, even when they’re misplaced. If you’re riding or dying for the character or Marvel films in general, it’s unlikely that my negative review will dissuade you from seeing and even loving the movie anyway. If you’re on the fence, maybe spend your money elsewhere, at least while you still have a chance to before Disney inevitably takes an even bigger piece of the theatrical pie. ■

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in Thor: Love and Thunder, directed by Taika Waititi

Thor: Love and Thunder opens in Montreal theatres July 7.

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