Why "Thor: Love and Thunder" is such a blunder
Thor: Love and Thunder
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Jaimie Alexander and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Written by Taika Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Directed by Taika Waititi. Opens Friday at theatres everywhere. 119 minutes. STC
Strange math happens in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
Taika Waititi’s second swing of the franchise hammer has at least twice the jokes and double the action of “Thor: Ragnarok,” not to mention two title heroes with the same name. Yet it delivers only half the satisfaction.
The New Zealand writer/actor/director usually works wonders. He made merry with Hitler youth (and Hitler himself) in “Jojo Rabbit.” He turned vampires into hilarious frat boys in “What We Do in the Shadows.” And “Thor: Ragnarok” transformed Marvel’s most pompous Avenger, the mighty dull god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), into a self-deprecating superhero for fun and profit.
What Waititi can’t do so well is the same trick twice, which is essentially what he’s attempting to pull off with “Thor: Love and Thunder.” He ups the absurdity and the antics from his first go at the Norse myth narrative, with many recycled gags and diminishing returns.
The chubby “Ragnarok” Thor returns briefly in “Love and Thunder,” but his girth no longer raises an eyebrow or a chuckle. Thor also dresses up as a hot dog and in one scene nothing at all — the latter recalls the Hulk’s bare-assed buffoonery from “Ragnarok.”
And if one Thor is good, why not have two? The new Thor, courtesy of a plot contrivance, is Natalie Portman. She’s back in the franchise following a long absence and a split from her boyfriend, the original Thor.
Portman is no longer just the scientist Jane Foster, out to save the world. Now she’s dressed in the regal armour of her confused ex and out to save him (and also the universe) by swinging his magic hammer, Mjolnir.
Didn’t we see Mjolnir being shattered by Hela, Cate Blanchett’s Goddess of Death, in “Thor: Ragnarok”? The real Thor replaced his hammer with an axe called Stormbreaker, which doesn’t quite cut it.
No matter, because nothing is permanent in the ever-shifting Marvel Cinematic Universe, which makes it all the harder to get invested in MCU films, of which this is the 29th and counting (as well as the fourth solo Thor movie).
The story in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” co-written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, isn’t what you’d call a classic tale even within its nominal setting of Norse legend.
It merely serves as the loose stitching to a series of set pieces, some of which are admittedly entertaining amid their explosions of rocks and showers of stardust. Many are set to a furious soundtrack that features four — count ’em — Guns N’ Roses fist-pumpers, as well as, er, one ABBA track.
A promising prologue introduces film franchise newcomer Christian Bale’s character, Gorr the God Butcher, a wretched and grieving wraithlike figure who is bent on destroying deities and who has obtained a sword that can help him do just that.
Unlike most supervillains, who destroy just for the hell of it, Gorr actually has a relatable reason for his fury. Waititi’s knack for humanizing even the most despicable characters comes to the fore once more.
(So does his ability to combine tragedy with comedy. Another character, as readers of Marvel Comics already know, has to deal with a life-threatening illness.)
We don’t see enough of Gorr, though. Nor do we get much of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who appear in the film’s first act mainly to prove that the MCU initials could also stand for Marvel Comedy Universe.
Another newcomer, Russell Crowe’s paunchy god Zeus, gets a long scene that is almost worth the price of admission. He presides over a gathering of gods like a low-rent Don Corleone, with a bad gangster accent to boot. The two Thors, accompanied by Tessa Thompson’s bold warrior King Valkyrie (now the monarch of Norse realm New Asgard) and Waititi’s rocky Thor sidekick Korg, seek the help of Zeus in fighting Gorr.
They succeed only in annoying the Z-god, who roars, “You are this close to being uninvited to the orgy!”
So much for the thunder, but what about the love? The lingering regrets of Portman’s and Hemsworth’s star-crossed ex-lovers supply the film with needed emotional heft and the two actors genuinely click as a couple. But they can’t compete with Waititi’s essential need to always cut to the next joke, no matter how feeble it might be.
No wonder Thor seems so unsure of himself, muttering that he’s “trying to figure out who I am.”
That would be a good question for the next Thor movie, already promised, to answer. Maybe it’s time for Waititi to give the MCU a rest and to finally get going on the “Star Wars” film he’s been promising to do. I can’t wait to see what he does to liven up that shopworn franchise. 🌓
(This review originally ran in the Toronto Star.)