2022 | PG-13 | starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Russell Crowe, Taika Waititi (VO) | directed by Taika Waitit | 1 hr 58 mins |
After the events of Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travels the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy and his mighty battle axe. Meanwhile on Earth, ex-flame Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and reluctantly seeks a solution from the Gods. Both come into conflict with Gorr (Christian Bale), the God Killer, an acolyte and the last of his race who found the God’s cruel when he needed them the most and spends his time now moving through the shadow world smiting the rulers of the universe.
Marvel movies were a lot of fun when they were just taking on the burden of expanding and advancing the cinematic universe of the series, but a decade later, Marvel movies have become an entire generation’s yardstick that movies get judged by. If it didn’t happen in a Marvel movie, it didn’t happen. Behold, in Thor: Love and Thunder you will see known artisan Christian Bale give a good performance, Oscar winner Natalie Portman given a character with more than 1 dimension, a female action hero, the director of What We Do in the Shadows (one of the very best comedies of the last decade) mix comedy into the superhero film. It’s the most important Marvel movie since the last Marvel movie.
The most immediately noticeable thing about the film is that despite famed Ragnarok director and co-writer Waititi, Love and Thunder looks like every other Marvel movie. I wasn’t a huge fan of Ragnarok but it joined that elite club of Marvel films that felt like the product of their filmmaker – along with Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 and Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange 2. Ragnarok looks like a comedy, it’s staged and paced almost like a sitcom. It’s cheap and static in a way that draws us into the characters with mid-shots. Nothing about this is less-than, it’s an acknowledgement that there is a style and a skill to comedy that Waititi understands the language of, fluently. Where Ragnarok was a comedy with action beats, Love and Thunder is like all the rest of the Marvel films, an action movie with comic beats. It’s big, flashy and cinematic. It’s full of swooping wide shots that distance us from the characters and reduces character comedy to broad running one-liners (Thor talks to his axe like it’s his girlfriend). It is occasionally beautiful – my favorite scene being a black and white battle in the shadowland of a small moon – but it more often than not doesn’t land in either the action or comedy department. It’s the fundamental flaw with the way these movies are run: plugging in indie directors and assuming they can all do all things equally well.
The big draw here is the return of Natalie Portman, who disappeared from the Marvel Universe after Thor: The Dark World. That Portman is turned into a new “Mighty Thor” and didn’t become an over-powered Mary Sue is probably a testament to her own influence. She gets to play a character with flaws and the ticking clock of a fatal disease hanging over her head. Even her heroics are awkward. And that’s how low the bar is now.
There were reports that Raimi’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was written on the fly as it was being shot. Raimi is a pro and puts it together smoothly. This movie does feel like it was written and re-written on the fly. Like all of these movies the villains aren’t particularly menacing, all powerful Gods are petty and trivialize everything. Zeus, like everything, is a joke. Nothing quite says written-on-the-fly quite like the ending of this movie, which redefines the theme of the entire film at the last minute to pay off something about Thor that is never really set up.
In the pro-column it is kind of surprising that Waititi is allowed to push this story forward in a different direction the way he does here. It’s just very forced. This if the God of Thunder’s 4th solo outing, outliving Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow and the end of the Infinity Saga. If a horror movie had this many sequels we’d be making fun of it. Another Michael Myers movie? Love and Thunder has that sense of fatigue. It’s like a season 10 episode of The Simpsons. It might be watchable and inoffensive but it’s flabby, tired and out of touch with what was so special about it in the first place in a way that shows it’s best days are probably behind it.