One could say that we’re at a crossroads for Marvel’s Phase IV. After Phase III concluded with Avengers: Endgame, fans breathlessly waited to find out what would be next for the MCU’s heroes, both new and old. Now, as we enter what we could conceivably call the halfway point, I think we can safely say … we have no real idea. Six films and seven TV seasons in, and truthfully, there’s barely any connective thread between all of these entries. Which would be fine, except that … there’s supposed to be a thread.
This brings us to Thor: Love and Thunder, the fourth film in the franchise starring Chris Hemsworth as the titular character. Directed by Taika Waititi (returning after the massively entertaining and successful Thor: Ragnarok), we now find Thor trying to rediscover his purpose in life just as he learns of a plot by an enraged supervillain called Gorr aka “The God Butcher” (Christian Bale), a man scorned by his deities who is now determined to wipe out every god from every pantheon. Thor is reunited with the fierce and loyal Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), now serving as the King of Asgard, as well as his old flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who (for reasons I won’t spoil) now wields Mjolnir and has the power of Thor as well. Joined by the ever-faithful Korg (Waititi), the group must try to find the means to stop Gorr and his army of shadow creatures and protect the people of Asgard as well as the other deities of the universe.
In typical Waititi style, the film is brightly colored, saucily humored, and wildly silly from start to finish. Hemsworth continues to portray Thor as a sort of arrogantly bewildered himbo, but it’s starting to wear thin this time around. After Ragnarok and the last few Avengers films, it’s beginning to feel less like a personality and more like a gimmick, unable to evolve into anything greater or more interesting. This is a frequent problem throughout the film — there are things that make the film funny, but they don’t make the film good. Too often, Love and Thunder feels like a series of skits, peppered with cameos by actors from Waititi’s other projects.
There’s a plot to Love and Thunder, but it’s hard to ever care about it. There’s rarely any real sense of stakes and no reason to care about the fate of these gods, who are mostly portrayed as greedy, avaricious, arrogant jerks. But even if they aren’t, what is it about the fate of a group of omnipotent beings that we’ve never seen before that we should care about? This bizarre story is hindered further by a story that’s so tonally messy that even the main villain vacillates between vengeful force of hatred and weirdly, awkwardly comic relief.
What makes this especially frustrating is that the film is entertaining. Bale is terrific as Gorr, even if the writing ultimately fails the character as much as it fails Hemsworth’s. Thompson continues to absolutely delight as Valkyrie, evolving into a shrewd, clever leader who still revels in the chaos of battle. Portman is a surprising high point (after never quite fitting in with her two previous appearances), a powerful character that you’ll wish you could see more of. While Bale does an excellent job, he has no real allies other than an army of boring, generic “shadow creatures” who are indistinguishable from not only each other but from all the other CGI monster armies that Marvel has used over time. As for the overall amusement factor? Several moments in the film are absolutely laugh-out-loud funny, and the chemistry between the three leads is terrific. It’s just that the film itself lacks any sense of cohesion or purpose, so you’re left watching a series of witty vignettes trapped within a larger, messily disjointed narrative.
There’s no question that there are some great moments in Thor: Love and Thunder. There are funny moments, exciting moments, and even some emotionally affecting moments. Waititi’s style and colorful design are on full display, which definitely makes the film beautiful to look at often enough, even if it sometimes feels like he’s a bit too impressed with his own style and cleverness at the sacrifice of any kind of real substance. In many ways it feels like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — fun to watch at times, but narratively empty and ultimately not particularly memorable.
Header Image Source: Marvel