‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ a campy letdown after the rewards of ‘Ragnarok’
The Avenger must team up with his newly empowered ex (Natalie Portman) in a disjointed Marvel mess.
Thor is a joke.
That’s as much fact as opinion, because “Thor: Love and Thunder” is one of the goofiest and least consequential sagas in MCU history — an allegedly wild and wacky but ultimately disappointing and disjointed chapter in the ongoing story of the God of Thunder, who seems to get more clueless with each passing movie. Often he’s the dumbest superhero in the room, responding to nearly every crisis with either a jokey wisecrack or a preening declaration of his greatness.
Whereas the wildly talented director Taiki Waititi found the perfect formula for bruising action, legitimately effective drama, wicked-smart comedy and even a bit of social commentary in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), this attempt to recapture that magic falls flat. It’s as if we’ve been served a heaping helping of warmed-over Ragnarok, with a side dish of corn.
Disney presents a film directed by Taika Waititi and written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity). Running time: 119 minutes. Opening Thursday at local theaters.
Set after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” our story begins with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor effortlessly taking care of business, like a heavyweight champion knocking off a series of tomato cans before the next real challenge comes along. He joins the Guardians of the Galaxy in an early sequence that feels like such a Contractual Obligation Moment that we half-expect to see Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan et al., collecting their paychecks before heading to Wardrobe to leave their costumes behind.
Meanwhile, in what is probably the most dramatically effective scene in the entire film, the great Christian Bale is a father who is unable to save his young daughter from starving on a parched planet and becomes filled with rage that the gods he so fervently worshipped literally laughed off his prayers for her survival. He acquires a powerful weapon known as the Necrosword and becomes Gorr the God Butcher, and as you can tell from that name, he’s all about, well, butchering the gods.
As was the case with the Disney+ series “Hawkeye” and “Ms. Marvel,” the mere mortals on Earth have come to celebrate their superheroes with tourist attractions. The idyllic fishing village of New Asgard has become a major vacation destination, with group tours, theme attractions, a chance to guzzle some genuine Asgardian Mead, and some well-known actors playing Thor and Loki et al., onstage (a gimmick that was done to better effect in “Ragnarok”). Thor’s rocky buddy, the sweet and loyal warrior Korg (Waititi), also fills us in on the backstory of Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane, which plays out like a rom-com from the 2000s.
In a development so rapid and startling it feels as if a key scene has been left on the cutting room floor, Jane, who is battling Stage 4 cancer, suddenly becomes Mighty Thor and must join forces with Thor to track down and stop Gorr the God Butcher, who has kidnapped all the children of New Asgard. Thor commandeers a tour boat and with the help of two giant and quite annoying screeching goats, the ship flies through the galaxy. Given how things ended between Thor and Jane, it’s a bit awkward for them to be on this mission together, and Korg doesn’t help matters when he keeps getting Jane’s name wrong, calling her “Jane Fonda” and “Jodie Foster,” because her name is Jane Foster, get it?
Director Waititi and the usual five-minute credits crawl worth of technicians serve up some pretty cool visuals, e.g., when we see space dolphins flitting across the sky, and a climactic battle that is rendered in stark, black-and-white, noir tones. All too often, though, “Love and Thunder” goes for the jokey, campy approach, as when Mighty Thor struggles to come up with a catchphrase, or Thor has to accept that his ex, whom he still loves, now has control over his big giant hammer, so to speak, while he tries to smooth things over with his axe, Stormbreaker, which somehow seems … jealous?
Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher has a fantastic, Nosferatu-like visage and he’s a potentially memorable villain, but he’s offscreen for large chunks of the story. Also, we’re subjected to a bizarre sequence in which Thor et al., journey to Omnipotent City, I kid you not, and Russell Crowe (the third Oscar winner in the cast, along with Portman and Bale) plays Zeus as a portly, horny, vainglorious clown with a cartoonish Greek accent that’s so heavy he might as well be exclaiming “Cheeseborger Cheeseborger!”
Tessa Thompson adds some spark to the proceedings as King Valkyrie, a brave and smart and heroic character who deserves a movie of her own. Waititi goes heavy with the needle drops and it’s fun to hear Guns N’ Roses, Enya and even Abba on the soundtrack — but again, we’re reminded of how much more impactful it was when Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” was put to perfect use for the epic bridge battle in “Ragnarok.”
Chris Hemsworth has played Thor so many times and has always made the big lug likable and sympathetic, but I’m not sure there’s any more emotional growth left for this character. After rattling this way and that, “Love and Thunder” has multiple endings that fall short, whether the aim is for dramatic resonance or light humor. The “Love” element of the equation is surprisingly underwhelming, and the “Thunder” isn’t as powerful as it should be.