Thor: Love and Thunder
by Hope Madden
Filmmaker Taika Waititi hit a gleefully discordant note with his first venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His Thor: Ragnarok was silly. It held no particular reverence for superheroes, even its own.
Who knew it would be such a welcome change of pace, and so very suited to Chris Hemsworth’s comic talent? Of course, Thor still had Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to play with, plus the great Cate Blanchette as a goth goddess Hela. Hell yes.
Thor: Love and Thunder does not benefit from the previous installment’s villainous one-two punch. But Christian Bale is no slouch.
Bale plays Gorr the God Butcher. The name alone gives you a sense of why Thor is in trouble. The weird thing is, though Bale’s performance intrigues, it’s as if he’s in an entirely different movie.
In Thor’s corner of this fight is the formidable Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), as well as another familiar face. Natalie Portman returns as Thor’s ex, Dr. Jane Foster, who now commands the Hammer of the Gods herself.
But after fighting his own flesh and blood to save his entire people and culture in the last episode, crushing on his ex while protecting his own skin feels pretty superficial. It’s a slight premise with weak stakes.
Even Waititi seems to think so. Thor and company visit the secret assembly of the gods to ask for help in defeating this new menace. The way Waititi (who co-writes Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) stages the whole bacchanal makes it hard to argue Gorr the God Butcher’s logic.
An interesting act of subversion or wishy-washy storytelling? Hard to say. Waititi’s focus on the film’s aesthetic is clearer, though.
Thor: Love and Thunder evokes a Saturday morning kids’ show, complete with hokey costumes and props. Here Waititi revels in the superficial, the kitschy and commercial. He’s a filmmaker who balances cynicism and goofiness as few can. He hits a couple of clever gags with a jealous Stormbreaker, too.
So, it’s fun. But it’s by no means the inspired fun of Ragnarok. None of the jokes land as well, and the action never approaches the same level of swagger and panache. And it just keeps getting harder to root against Marvel’s villains.