7/10 It’s really hard to care about post-Endgame Marvel movies. The point of these things, particularly post-pandemic, seems to be that of a soft blanket, comfort food ad infinitum. Thor: Love and Thunder could be one of the series’ most enjoyable films, but as it becomes more and more clear that the series was never really about enjoyment, how much does that really matter?
After Avengers: Endgame, Thor, God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has lost his enthusiasm for life drifting through the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy. He springs back into action after learning Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who has pledged to kill all gods in revenge for their silence, is headed next to New Asgard, Norway, where Thor’s people settled after Thor: Ragnarok. Thor journeys back to Earth to discover his ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has restored his shattered hammer and become a rival god of thunder. Together, they journey to a super-cool black and white planet called the Shadow Realm to confront Gorr.
For all the emphasis MCU architects place on continuity, one movie never seems to pick up where the prior one leaves off. Endgame set up fun, continuing adventures with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, something I was excited for despite myself, but those are hand-waved away in the first few minutes – Korg (Taika Waititi, who also writes and directs) narrates that they happened and they were awesome, but we don’t get to see much of them. Thor ends the film in the same place, implied to be going on a set of adventures with another group, and we’ll no doubt not get to see those either. There’s also a tendency to spend quite a long time walking characters from one status quo to the next, to the end that Love and Thunder spends remarkably few of its 119 minutes on the conflict with Gorr.
The tendency to not stick with one status quo is most visible in the aesthetics of Thor personally. Over the past few movies he appears in, Thor lost his hammer, his right eye and his Adonis physique, all of which were Hemsworth’s ideas for him to lose, but by the end of Love and Thunder’s first act, he’s got all of them back again.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a lot of fun, an unbridled version of the tone changes we saw in Ragnarok, where the subseries went from a dour “Game of Thrones” –esque family power drama with even more lore to a big, colorful sex party. It’s also much more self-contained than the MCU entries we’ve been seeing recently, with Korg narrating out backstories for Thor and Foster both to catch up anyone who forgot those often-forgotten earlier Thor films and also giving Waititi his spin on them – in Korg’s narration, they were also colorful sex parties.
Is Thor: Love and Thunder the fourth film in Thor’s saga, or the second part of a Thor trilogy with those first two movies dangling off the beginning? Hemsworth and Waititi are each saying they’ll come back if the other does, and the actor is under contract for three more appearances, though those are probably already earmarked for big crossovers. With the MCU’s other major leads having already left, it would make sense for Thor, the circular arc character, to be the one who sticks around until the franchise’ lights finally flicker out.
Gorr’s man vs god conflict, played out by one of the best working actors in Bale, is a desperately welcome addition to the MCU, which until now has had a lot of man vs god tension, but nothing like this all-out assault. Comic books are often contextualized as modern mythologies with superheroes as the gods, which is much more pronounced in the Marvel line that’s literally an adaptation of Norse gods, and Love and Thunder welcomes Zeus (Russell Crowe) and the Greek pantheon to the party as well.
I wish they’d put two and two together on this. Thor: Love and Thunder’s biggest missed opportunity is how far Gorr is shunted off to the side, with only six major scenes, half of which are big battles more focused on his spidery shadow monsters than human drama. Expanding the structure it already has, with Korg narrating out more of Gorr’s campaign against various gods, expanding the runtime, letting Waititi play on more zany sets and giving the MCU the opportunity to introduce more of its cosmology would be a win-win-win.
Gorr’s ultimate goal is a magic wish-fulfillment plot device in the galactic core – one that looks remarkably like a soul stone – and that only amplifies the question of where he was this whole time when Thanos, who is often described as a god, spent half a dozen movies putting together his own magic wish-fulfillment plot device. Like the man said, we have to get these two together.
Love and Thunder isn’t about any long-term plot contradictions it might create, it’s about Thor’s individual mid-life crisis and dissatisfaction as explored through his relationship with Foster, which decays onscreen for the first time, with a host of other love interests and metaphors of jealousy played out through his conscious axe, which haunts Thor’s reveries for his old hammer.
There’s been significant consternation over whether or not Thor: Love and Thunder is gay enough. In the prior film, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) famously had her blink-and-you’d-have-missed-it-anyway explicit bisexuality cut, but the implicit bisexuality wasn’t exactly subtle. In Love and Thunder, she discusses relationships with women and there’s a lot more than just friendship between her and Foster, and Korg is seen reproducing with a male partner in the picture’s ending scenes. After several years of Disney trying to find the bare minimum to satisfy queer viewers demanding representation, this seems like the ticket to me, but it isn’t my call to make.
The general critical reaction to Thor: Love and Thunder seems to have been just as cold as the queer reaction, with many specifically citing Ragnarok as a better film, which is the exact opposite of my thoughts, but horribly in line with mainstream thinking. Love and Thunder is the first really distinctive, self-contained Marvel movie in a little while, and my main problem with Ragnarok was that it wasn’t as distinctive as it promised to be, but critics and audiences seem to be agreeing here that distinctive isn’t what they want.
There’s been a lot of discussion about “the Marvel formula” over the past decade as the series devolved from its disparate first entries into well-coached recitations of its most popular tropes, and what’s apparently solidifying is a desire for that repetition. For me, Ragnarok wasn’t distinctive enough, but Love and Thunder is, but for most viewers, Ragnarok was great different flavor while sticking close enough to the same formula, but Love and Thunder strays too far.
Comfort food ad infinitum indeed.