The 2013 mockumentary film What We Do in the Shadows made New Zealander Taika Waititi a household name, but his career as an entertainer has its roots in live comedy; Waititi was a member of the five-man comedy troupe “So You’re a Man” and he won the prestigious Billy T Award alongside his good friend Jemaine Clement. Case in point; Waititi is equal parts a brilliant comedian and a talented director. I’m particularly fond of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Jojo Rabbit (2019), so I had high hopes going into Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) — which hits theaters on July 8 and will likely hit Disney+ in late August/early September.
In Love and Thunder, the twenty-ninth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), things start off well with an extended opening scene that introduces us to Gorr (Christian Bale) and his ailing daughter. Once circumstances take a turn for the worst, Gorr arms himself with his signature weapon — All-Black the Necrosword — and sets out on a crusade against deities. Cue the now-iconic Marvel Studios intro (with power chords) and I figured that we were in for a good time.
Unfortunately, those good vibes wouldn’t last for long. As Thor: Love and Thunder progresses through its two-hour runtime, the film’s characters become less intricate, its plot becomes less coherent, its action scenes feel less impactful, and its jokes (especially the ones that don’t land) stretch out for far too long. I truly wanted to like this film more, but it ultimately obscures Waititi’s talent as an artist and comedian.
Retreading Old Ground
By all intents and purposes, I’d classify Thor: Ragnarok as a comedy flick with some action elements that just so happens to be about superheroes (and aliens. And godlike aliens — You get the idea). Regardless, I felt that film struck a balance between cracking jokes and developing characters; Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) produce several phenomenal scenes together while newcomers like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Hela (Cate Blanchett) shine in their own way. Heck, even The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) gets some well-deserved character development in Ragnarok.
In Love and Thunder, I feel that the vast majority of the cast suffers from a flawed script. Thor and Jane Foster/ Mighty Thor (Natalie Portman) snag much of the screen time and their chemistry is… questionable. I had a hard time buying into their relationship — not helped by the fact that Marvel practically abandoned their arc after Thor: The Dark World (2013) — but it’s clear that the writers (this film was co-penned by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) tried to make it work. I’m not sure if the same can be said for the likes of Valkyrie, Korg, and Gorr.
Korg worked best in small doses in previous films, but he overstays his welcome in Love and Thunder. He’s less comic relief and more of a bipedal exposition machine that tells us what characters think or feel instead of letting us see for ourselves. Valkyrie gets the opposite treatment; she feels tragically underused in this film, and doesn’t really have anything to do that advances her character arc. Valkyrie’s bisexuality also remains firmly out of focus, despite whatever rumors you might’ve heard — unless pecking another woman’s hand passes for queer representation these days.
Thor: Love and Thunder Can’t Escape The “Phase 4 Curse”
I largely feel that a superhero film is only as good as its villain. Spider-Man (2002), The Dark Knight (2008), Dredd (2012) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) are some of my favorite examples of this. Gorr, unfortunately, isn’t as compelling of a character as he’s set up to be. He has just one note to play (“all gods are bad”) but never struggles with that ideology when he’s presented with evidence of the contrary. Moreover, Christain Bale’s performance as Gorr isn’t the MCU-friendly version of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman you might have expected. Instead, it’s akin to what I can only describe as an “E-rated version of Jared Leto’s Joker.”
Thor: Love and Thunder does have several redeeming qualities. Certain sets and special effects look amazing, the soundtrack features iconic rock songs like Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and some of the jokes are genuinely clever and witty. But, as I mentioned before, other jokes go on for too long. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say this much; I wouldn’t be surprised if an entire generation of children develops a deep-seated hatred of goats thanks to this movie.
Sadly, I feel that Taika Waititi and his team didn’t aim to push the bar with this film. Even if you view Thor: Love and Thunder as another comedy with a couple of fight scenes sprinkled in, the jokes are very surface level and safe in that familiar MCU way. Maybe I’m wrong for hoping that this movie would take a chance and do something different than its contemporaries. But after 28 feature-length films, I truly think it’s time to shake up the Marvel formula.