Thor: Love and Thunder Review
*Includes light spoilers*
Thor: Love and Thunder is a fast-paced, space-traveling adventure that is a decisive growing point for our titular character. Even more than a story about growth, it’s a natural progression for a character that has been on a path of self discovery since the loss of the Asgardian people in Thor: Ragnarok. While Thor may be the lead, it’s the entire cast of Thor’s film history that receive the full-circle treatment. This Guns N’ Roses-fueled sci-fi space adventure delves deep into the Thor films of the past while setting a course for these characters’ future. There’s a lot of promise in the Taika Waititi film, but it suffers under the weight of poor pacing and a plot that speeds towards an end game, even after it loses the plot.
Thor: Love and Thunder finds our hero lost without purpose. He is tagging along with the Guardians of the Galaxy but aimlessly, that is until distress signals ring out about gods being killed throughout the galaxy. Seeing a familiar face, Thor separates from the Guardians and begins his journey to stop Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale. Chris Hemsworth brings a solid, if not familiar, characterization to Thor. Cartoonish in demeanor, while still providing depth and a childlike wonder that remains specific to the man-child god of thunder we’ve grown to love. Hemsworth displays a lot of comedic timing of a seasoned vet but also can push the sensitivity needed for those emotional scenes when necessary. He’s very comfortable in this role, and it shows.
Now that we have the initial set up out of the way, the plot proceeds at breakneck speeds to Asgard, Omnipotent City, the Shadow Realm and even to eternity itself. Thor is accompanied by his cavalcade of misfit friends that include Korg the Kronan, Jane Foster now wielding Mjolnir as The Mighty Thor, and Valkyrie. We get brief reintroductions to each, including where they’ve been in the last year or so. These give answers and updates that feel appropriate and logical as trajectories for the characters but also feel rushed, as the plot continues to push forward. This makes the film lose depth or emotional weight, especially in Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the tragic Jane Foster Thor. The backstory on her becoming Thor is heartbreaking, but lacks emotional punch when it’s told within two-minute bursts between fight scenes. Similar can be said for Valkyrie, but her subplot is much less nuanced.
Gorr’s trajectory as a villain feels warranted as his back story is that of a man betrayed by his own gods; left to suffer while his family dies in his arms. From his perspective, the gods have grown passive and lazy. They no longer offer protection to their followers but are content with lavish parties and extravagant lifestyles (we see evidence of this more later.) Gorr’s lust for vengeance takes him from place to place creating chaos and destruction, including kidnapping the children of Asgard to the shadow world where no light can exist. This is a very cool design choice that creates a visual pop to any action that occurs here. Christian Bale performs his role as Gorr admirably, but his take on the character ranges from serious and deadly to downright kooky, which feels strange at points. There’s really one scene in particular where he slips into a deranged wacky lunatic, while the rest of the film pushes a weighty solemn performance.
The supporting cast practically outshines Hemsworth, specifically, Natalie Portman’s Thor is a supreme standout. Her sobering scientist persona has quickly been replaced with a budding superhero trying to find her footing in a world unbeknownst to her. She is discovering the extent of her abilities, even comedically struggling to find a new catchphrase. There’s flashes of the original Thor in her execution, and that’s a welcome throwback to an amateur's journey to accept these new responsibilities. How she came to wield Mjolnir is quickly glossed over to pursue the wider story. This feels like a real missed opportunity, but what isn’t missed are the details of Jane and Thor’s relationship. We are finally filled into the depths of their dating, including living together, date nights, and its dissolution. These moments are fascinating as their rapport had felt surface level at best. So, now with context there’s a depth and love that fleshes out a lot of lost time. It’s something I didn’t know I wanted but loved every minute of it. I wish Portman’s Thor was given this similar treatment, but it feels like concessions were made in the editing department, and something was given the ax (or hammer).
Alongside Natalie Portman we have Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Taika Waititi himself voicing Korg. Both are small but substantial additions to the film in both historical context and continuity. Korg has a hilarious role of narrator, talking over the proceedings in a way reminiscent of a 90s teen comedy. Thompson’s Valkyrie is more of a partner in anarchy. Her character was always billed as an agent of chaos, and that continues here, though her position has been relegated to King of Asgard which comes with tons of bureaucracy that is boring her to death. So with the looming threat of Gorr, it’s her welcome excuse to lose the business suit and kick butt once again. Tessa’s love for disorder matches well with the brash new bravado of a fledgling Portman Thor. They develop a girl-power partnership that is quirky and fun. They have the type of companionship that comes with a secret handshake, and I am here for it.
While I remain hesitant to delve too much further into spoiler territory, there are tons of notable call backs and details that bring about fond memories of the Thor franchise (including Matt Damon and Luke Hemsworth’s Asgardian playwrights) but now with new outlandish cameos. We also get a peek into the world of the gods with Russell Crowe playing the boisterous showman Zeus. Crowe does a great job portraying the pompous king of the gods, but his role is of limited capacity. He’s really given only one scene but propels it to something special. Also, “screaming, sidekick goats” punctuate every scene in a delightful way. There will be fans clamoring for more of these characters in the future for sure.
The quality of visuals in Thor: Love and Thunder vary wildly. The style of the shadow world is stunning but others like the Omnipotent City look like the CGI team couldn’t get the full budget. Consistency seems to be an issue over the past couple MCU films. The comedy on the other hand does seem to be the lynchpin of these films. Taika Waititi can still do no wrong when it comes to comedic timing and silly situations. I do wish some jokes were given more time to breathe, specifically with the dynamic between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. I could watch a movie of just their adventures, but we are only given a brief glimpse.
The biggest issue with this entry is its inability to slow down and let moments feel impactful. When the story gets serious, it's a little too quick to move on to the next action beat or funny encounter. It cuts itself short and delivers a visually stunning and jovial film that refuses to give into the darker tones that can invoke real emotional gravitas. The second qualm I have with the film is that it generally always needs a MacGuffin to push the plot forward instead of a natural progression. A lot of things feel like happenstance or without real purpose except for plot advancement. While this is commonplace in movies, it’s very apparent here, making me pose the question “why are we here?” There were several times throughout that I had to remind myself WHY they were going to the next place. This issue becomes jarring when the pacing moves at the rate it does. It always hastily cuts to the next action sequence or story beat with only a slim reason as to why. This film would be better set to be about 30 minutes longer.
The film’s glaring issues do not stop it from being a fun, sci-fi romp that gives a definitive direction for Thor moving forward. A chemistry between the character and his compatriots shines in a buddy-comedy way that’s unquestionable. There’s even a comical chemistry that exists between Thor and his weapons Mjolnir and Stormbreaker that will leave the crowds rolling in the aisles. After the grisly tone of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor brings us back to the status quo. The positive, upbeat nature makes this a perfect family film. The humor hits for both adults and children alike, the action is well choreographed and it sets an exciting next step for Thor. You just may have to turn off a bit of your own internal logic and lean into the rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack to enjoy it.