Thor: Love and Thunder is a backwards step for Academy Award winner Taika Waititi, much like Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was for James Gunn’s space traveling franchise. When Thor: Ragnarok was released, it was an irreverent blast and a breath of fresh air for a franchise that didn’t really know what to do with its hero.
Writer and direcgor Taika Waititi added an awareness and general humor that veteran-Thor-actor Chris Hemsworth knocked out of the park. This movie doesn’t feel like it has the same natural energy, pacing, and stakes of Ragnarok. In 2022, audiences have a much better idea of what to expect from a typical Taika Waititi project. Love and Thunder is recognizable to Waititi’s omnipresent brand, but it also feels a bit sloppy, repetitive, and lacking drama with numerous many goofy jokes.
I kept thinking about all the powerful dramatic potential in the different storylines that are barely explored because the driving plot is a universe-hopping caper to save a bunch of kidnapped children. Tackle the pathos of Jane Foster, who in her normal human state has her body betraying her.
With the power of Thor, Jane Foster becomes a superhero. However, this power trip also has its own ironic downside. Every time she powers up, the magic hammer is actually draining more of her life force, meaning she’s actually speeding up her terminal illness. Here is a character given a dire situation and an escape and yet that escape only worsens the illness. Then there’s Gorr the God Butcher, gloriously played by Christian Bale like he’s in a James Wan horror movie.
Bale’s villain doesn’t just have a sympathetic back-story, he’s correct in his aims, though maybe not in his method (think Killmonger arguing Wakanda should do more). Gorr is tired of the gods crushing the little guy with their general entitlement, indifference, and selfishness. These fancy deities aren’t worthy of worship and clearly the power structure needs upending. It’s easy to get behind Gorr’s plight and see connections to our own imbalanced world. This could have sufficed as the basis of an entire film.
If these storylines had been given careful development and the necessary time to breathe, Love and Thunder could have been one of the most interesting movies in the ever-expanding MCU cannon. Instead, it’s galloping to work so hard to stick to the Waititi brand expectations, to reignite our feelings of Ragnarok, and so these promising elements ultimately get shortchanged by hit-or-miss comedy bits.
As a fun matinee, Love and Thunder will amuse and brighten, even if its comedy highs don’t quite hit as high this time under the burden of franchise expectations. Love and Thunder is a movie that will be best known for Portman and Bale, both of whom elevate the scattershot material with their dedication and professionalism. It might even be known for Crowe’s hammy scene-stealing, or the super-powered cadre of cute kiddos, or even the screaming goats.
It’s a movie more of moments and ideas, too many underdeveloped or lacking the gravitas they deserve, especially concerning Jane and Gorr. I feel like a grump bemoaning that the big superhero movie should have more time spent on a woman contemplating her own existential demise as well as man’s relationship and fealty to our gods. Still, it’s Waititi doing his signature brand of quirk with $200 million of house money from Disney. Thor: Love and Thunder is a lesson in diminished returns but when you have Ragnarok as your starting point, it’s at least guaranteed to still be worth your two hours once.