2 out of 5 stars

Having reinvigorated Thor’s corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with the sublime Thor: Ragnarok (2017), talented New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) returns with the similarly madcap but considering less amusing Thor: Love & Thunder. The problem with this fourth instalment boils down to an imbalance of the comedy to drama, with the incessant quips and everyone’s inability to take anything seriously creating issues for its grim villain’s place amidst the hijinks.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), the lovable Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is now galavanting around the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy as their overpowered trump card in any dangerous scenario. He may have lost his beer gut and put the shadow of Thanos behind him, but the God of Thunder’s also lost his sense of place in this crazy universe. Unfortunately, Waititi doesn’t want to explore Thor’s state of mind as someone who abdicated his throne after the deaths of his father and brother, and eventually even his identity—in the sense ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) comes to acquire his abilities after his hammer Mjölnir reconstitutes itself to restore her strength as she deals with terminal cancer.

Instead, Jane becoming ‘Lady Thor’ is treated as a bit of amusement and their broken relationship isn’t given enough focus—despite the film inserting flashbacks to Thor and Jane’s dating life, which shows the kind of blissfully happy couple we never once saw during the first two Thor movies. Portman herself was likely tempted back into the MCU fold, ignoring her cameo in Endgame, thanks to the irresistible chance to wield Thor’s hammer and do more than be the brainy love interest. She acquits herself well in the action stakes considering she’s a petite woman less accustomed to fighting on screen, although her comedy chops aren’t strong and she’s noticeably less confident in scenes with co-stars Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (back as Valkyrie), who can’t help stealing her limelight. And considering Jane isn’t a focus of the story and Mighty Thor’s presence doesn’t even trigger a crisis of identity for the OG Thor now she’s supplanted him as Asgard’s protector, it’s unclear why she’s needed with Valkyrie around.

Chris Hemsworth is clearly relishing the chance to keep playing this role in the Ragnarok style, less encumbered by the tragedy surrounding Thor in Avengers Infinity War (2018) and Endgame, and his performance is often amusing because he’s a naturally charismatic actor. The problem is Thor’s written almost entirely as a laughable beefcake in Love & Thunder, apparently having lost even more brain cells since Ragnarok, and that quickly becomes repetitive and irritating. Hemsworth is ultimately doing what’s required, so I don’t put any blame on him in particular, although as someone with influence on this sub-franchise it’s a shame he didn’t realise Thor works best when there’s enough seriousness underpinning things.

The central problem with Love & Thunder lies in the muddled screenplay Taika Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Waititi clearly took the wrong lessons from Ragnarok’s incredible success—a film he didn’t write, but was able to stamp his personality onto. Clearly given more artistic freedom in this sequel, Waititi broadly mixes two storylines from the Marvel comics together and attempts to paper over the cracks by throwing jokes at the audience every minute. Love & Thunder is more of an outright comedy than Ragnarok, but there’s so much levity the drama loses any potency. Comedy is a great way to release tension when it’s needed, but I found myself desperate for the story to ditch the self-aware humour and start treating the characters and situations with more respect. It becomes tiresome after half an hour and the story refusing to switch gears is its major downfall.

This is a particular problem for Christian Bale (Le Mans ’66), who was presumably attracted to this project by the appeal of working with Waititi on a lighthearted and well-paid blockbuster, but who decides to play Gorr the God Butcher entirely straight. The film opens with a sequence explaining Gorr’s reasons for turning against his own god after the cruel death of his daughter, corrupted by the influence of a Necrosword that can vanquish seemingly omnipotent deities, but the opening sets a tone Love & Thunder has no interest in maintaining. Bale is thus stuck playing one of the MCU’s better supervillains—a freakish, slender, albino monk-like figure you’re unnerved by but also sympathise with—in a film that tonally doesn’t work for a nasty character like that. It’s like seeing Tim Burton’s Penguin from Batman Returns (1992) thrown into the Adam West 1960s TV show. Gorr is nevertheless one of the film’s highlights because Bale’s performance is so committed and interesting, so you can at least be guaranteed his scenes aren’t going to be crippled by lame jokes.

The positives of Love & Thunder extend to a few entertaining action and VFX sequences— particularly a set-piece on a tiny planet where the picture’s drained of colour and evokes a classic horror that suits Gorr’s Nosferatu-esque appearance perfectly. It also has a surprisingly decent resolution and denouement that sets up a fifth film I’m more interested to see. I just hope Marvel hires someone else to write the script for Thor 5, as it’s the indulging of Waititi’s oddball sensibilities that push things off the rails here. Maybe producer Kevin Feige’s been too stretched to have noticed the script wasn’t good enough before they started filming, or he put too much faith in Waititi weaving some magic he didn’t see on the page, but Love & Thunder is a warning movies of this size need some clear-headed guidance.

Overall, while not without its entertainment value and fun moments, Thor: Love & Thunder is hamstrung by its inability to juggle tones and relies too much on a gag-heavy script that isn’t as amusing or clever as it thinks. It’s one of the most disappointing Marvel movies since Captain Marvel (2019), purely because Ragnarok is one of the MCU’s best and reuniting the same creative team seemed an easy win. Whatever the reasons for why this turned out so poorly, the fact remains Love & Thunder is a lesser entry into the MCU and almost the kind of Thor: The Dark World (2013) level misfire they need to now recover from.


Cast & Crew

director: Taika Waititi.
writers: Taika Waititi & Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (based on ‘Thor’ created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby)
starring: Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaime Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe & Natalie Portman.