'Thor: Love and Thunder': Marvel's Latest is a Fun, Highly Uneven Romp
Updated: Jul 10, 2022
At a time where Marvel is churning out countless projects in a year, one can't help but wonder if they have hit a point of diminishing returns. Between all the movies and TV shows coming out from them, there seems to be a sense of fatigue, as well as an ever-growing skepticism towards every new project. As much as I tend to enjoy the MCU movies, I have been starting to grow a little weary of them, and the numerous TV shows have made keeping up with the franchise feel a little like homework. Despite this, I try to at least keep up with the movies, and approach them with cautious optimism. But going into Thor: Love and Thunder, I was a little more worried about how this film would play out. The previous Thor movies have been a mixed bag for me, with Thor: Ragnarok being my favorite of the three. With Ragnarok being directed by Taika Waititi, and with him returning for Love and Thunder, I was hopeful that this film would once again showcase his quirky sense of humor, and at the very least, be a fun movie. While I can't deny that this film has its fun moments, it doesn't quite capture some of the magic that Waititi pulled off with Thor: Ragnarok, and is held back by its scattershot narrative and uneven tone.
With Thor: Love and Thunder, it's as if Taika Waititi and Kevin Feige wanted this film to be many different things. It wants to fit into the standard Marvel style, but also have the humor of Thor: Ragnarok, and also be a rom-com, while tying it all into more mature themes such as loss and mortality. This is a bit of a tall order, and while Waititi seems game to try and make this movie fit all those categories, he does so in a rather ham-fisted way. Waititi has proven that he can handle making comedic films while also exploring more serious topics, especially with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, yet this film doesn't quite have the balance that those films do. Granted, those films are low-budget indies and this is a film in the biggest film franchise in the world, but I digress.
Still, you would think that based on his previous work, he would be able to balance comedy and drama a little better than he does here. The shifts between the two tones are a bit jarring and don't blend as well as they could have. It doesn't help that the film's comedic moments don't always land, and that the more dramatic elements feel rather surface-level and kind of out of place amidst the rest of the film. The film does work when it leans into the same sensibilities that made Thor: Ragnarok so much fun, but these moments just don't hit as hard this time around. I wish that the film would have just focused on some of its plot threads just a little more, as it would have helped the film tremendously. It would have allowed certain moments to have a bigger impact, and it might allow the film to flow a little better than it does. At the very least, Taika Waititi does make somewhat of an effort to balance all of the various plot threads and tonal shifts, but it doesn't fully come together as well as it should.
A lot has been said online about certain shots of this film looking cheap or just plain bad, and while I don't think some of these are too off-base, I do think that certain shots aren't nearly as bad within the context of the film. Some of them do look quite rough, but outside of one or two shots, I don't think it's as bad as people have made it out to be. This could be because certain visual effects elements weren't completed when these shots appeared in trailers or other ads, or that they just make more sense in how they are used in the finished product. To be fair, the cinematography in this film isn't anything revolutionary and is a bit more in line with Marvel's other films, but it isn't the worst I've ever seen either. Where the film shines in this regard is a sequence set in the Shadow Realm, which is mostly in black and white. These moments are quite striking, and in contrast to the bright colors we see throughout the rest of the film, really stands out.
The best part of the film lies in its cast, which is not surprising given some of the big names that this film has. Obviously, Chris Hemsworth is great as Thor himself, as he's settled into the character nicely over the past decade, and it's clear that he loves playing him. Hemsworth is a bit of an underrated comedic actor, and the moments where he gets to display this are some of the better ones of the film. I feel that he doesn't get as many chances this time around, but when he is able to lean into the himbo-ish qualities of the character, he nails it. The return of Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster is a very welcome one, and Portman is solid as always in the role. This film gives her a bit more to work with compared to the other Thor movies, and she pulls it off nicely.
The film does underuse some of its characters, with Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie as a prime example. Valkyrie is a character that I was hoping would get more screen time in this film, yet this doesn't exactly happen. Valkyrie is an interesting character, and Thompson is such a talented actor, so the fact that the Marvel films keep sidelining her is disappointing. She makes the most of what she has, at least, but I do hope she gets more time to flesh out the character in the future. I also felt that Christian Bale was underutilized, especially since he is playing Gorr the God Butcher, a character from the comics that many fans were excited to see make his live action debut. Make no mistake, Bale is great in the role, but the film almost doesn't know what to do with him. He gets sidelined for long stretches of the film, which is disappointing considering that Bale is rather terrifying and compelling as Gorr, and that the moments that the film does focus on Bale are some of the better ones. Despite this, he does a good job with what he's given, and is at least one of the more memorable Marvel villains in recent memory.
One of the film's biggest surprises for me is Russell Crowe's take on Zeus. While Zeus isn't in that much of the film, the scenes which he does appear are quite funny, mainly due to Crowe's over-the-top portrayal of him. It is so obvious that he had a ball with this character, and while his scenes are some of the goofier ones, I enjoyed them quite a bit. The same cannot be said for Taika Waititi's Korg. Korg was an enjoyable minor character in Thor: Ragnarok, but here he is much more prominent, and it just doesn't work as well. He fills more of an annoying sidekick role, and he is just not nearly as funny in this film. He gets maybe one or two moments that genuinely made me laugh, but the rest just didn't do it for me.
Much like how Ragnarok utilizes the music of Led Zeppelin, this film uses the music of Guns N' Roses so effectively. There are quite a few great needle drops throughout, but what really impressed me was how the musical style of Guns N' Roses was reflected both in the visuals in certain moments, but especially the film's score. The scores utilizes electric guitar in a great way, and allows it to stand out compared to other Marvel scores. As for the visuals, it feels like the film is channelling a bit of Heavy Metal, as well as some of the brighter colors associated with '80s rock. It at least makes for a more interesting aesthetic than some of Marvel's other films, and even if these choices don't always work, I still appreciate the effort.
I was hoping that Thor: Love and Thunder would retain some of the magic that Ragnarok had, but it doesn't quite achieve this. It does come close at certain times, but it is held back by its inconsistent tone and unfocused narrative. This film is definitely a mixed bag for me, as some aspects I liked quite a bit, but the issues I have with it are just hard for me to look past. Some of these issues are hard to get into without spoiling major plot details, but I will just say that the film's more dramatic elements feel a bit heavy handed. Beyond that the film isn't all that bad, but it is a bit of a letdown compared to Thor: Ragnarok. This is more of a middle of the road entry in the MCU, but there are some fun moments throughout. It's a prime example of a film that wants to accomplish so much, but has bit off a little more than it can chew. It will undoubtedly be one of the more divisive MCU films, but I would say that it is far from the worst of the franchise.