Taika Waititi is an interesting cultural figure. He’s funny, but sometimes too funny; poignant, but often takes the piss out of his own point. It’s a bit of a conundrum for me, but overall I like his schtick. Jojo Rabbit was a charmingly sweet film, while What We Do in the Shadows made vampires fun, but his biggest film was Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel has always been good at picking talent from amongst the lower-budget directors while never truly allowing them to leave their fingerprints on a final product (and let’s face it – these are definitely more “products” than “films” at this point). In a post-Avengers: Endgame world the studio has been struggling for a direction, looking desperately at Disney+ streaming shows for the answer while their more recent efforts are a mixed bag. Eternals had some interesting ideas but ultimately bit off more than it could chew by trying to be a more mature film that still wanted to capture a four-quadrant audience. Feige is quoted as telling Raimi it was fine if he did his nerd thing on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but the director’s traits felt like an olive branch to those wanting more variety from these films while still keeping them as close to the formula as possible.
Enter Thor: Love & Thunder. The gods are in trouble as one of them ignored the cries of his final worshipper, Gorr (Christian Bale giving the MVP performance). Gorr’s daughter died in his arms, and his hatred makes him worthy of the Necrosword, which can kill gods. Gorr begins butchering his way through the pantheons of many a culture, all while Thor is cavorting around with the Guardians of the Galaxy. After parting ways he returns to New Asgard to try to save it from Gorr, only to find it well-defended by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and none other than Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The three will come together in more ways than one as they try to stop Gorr the God Butcher from reaching some wish portal that will allow him to kill all of the gods.
Oh, and Korg (Taika Waititi) is back and he’s still a sweet boy.
There’s a lot to love this time around, from the ’80s rock soundtrack to its drug-addled aesthetic. Waititi has always been a fan of adding color to his hilariously dry affairs, but the imagery here manages to range from bland to blockbuster. It has a lot to do with the tone of the scenes around it, as the film’s “Marvel-humor” nonsense reigns supreme for the first twenty minutes and really bogs down what might otherwise have been a fun bout of psychedelia. Jane Foster shows up and the film takes a decidedly different tone, one that more matches the first two scenes (a child dies and cancer is diagnosed). The film is a blast to watch but is at its weakest when adhering to the formula. The same issue occurred in Sam Raimi’s recent Marvel film and one is left to wonder…is the Feige of it all the real problem?
Outside of a frustrating adherence to Marvelism early on this one was a lot of fun. Hemsworth and Portman haven’t lost a step, playing their romantic scenes as if there hasn’t been a decade since they were onscreen together. Chris Hemsworth has proven his comedic chops, mainly best when allowed to be cocky and adorably obnoxious, but the Spiderhead actor really shines as a man lost in life. He’s living without true emotion, only bombast and spectacle, and as Marvel scrambles to recover from living in the same rut it looks good on those broad shoulders.
But the actor doesn’t do all of the heavy lifting. Bale is working his ass off to make something of his compelling-but-underwritten villain. He’s charming, funny, and truly horrifying in every scene. The two work well together, coming to a battle in black-and-white (with beautiful little splashes of color) that is perhaps the most stunning thing Marvel has put onscreen in years. While Thor: Love & Thunder may be a bit of a mixed bag I have to admit…it’s got style. Sometimes the film has more in common with the heady romanticism of an Aronofsky film intercut with Jonathan Glazer visuals than it does anything else in Marvel, giving me glimmers of hope that this might just lead Marvel somewhere. If Bale is the type of actor and Gorr the type of performance they’re wanting sign me up.
This isn’t going to blow any minds, but it might just awaken the romantic in all of us. Waititi’s film is ultimately one that questions what is important in life. It decides on love (and it isn’t wrong), but it goes about this in an unfortunately inconsistent way. Its positives outweigh its failures, but the real fireworks come from some very moving moments that are all performance. Sure it looks cool and it thinks it’s cool, but what truly makes this film shine are the little bits in between.
Thor: Love & Thunder is currently in theatres