Movie Review - Thor: Love and Thunder
I hate to add on to the heap, but I have to confess, Thor: Love and Thunder is exactly what’s wrong with the most recent phase of Marvel Studios’ output. While I hope that I can be at least a little more positive about it than other online reviewers because, much like Wonder Woman 1984, it’s not a complete train wreck. However, with a Phase 4 that’s landing more misses than hits, one does have to sit and wonder about what exactly is going on in the once unstoppable ‘House of Ideas’. Before the bitching begins though, let’s go through the synopsis:
Beware the God Butcher! In an attempt to find himself after his failures in the Infinity Saga, Thor is travelling with the Guardians of the Galaxy, helping peoples in need. When he learns of a force killing Gods, he finds himself in a race to the very essence of reality itself – The Shrine of Eternity! Fortunately, he won’t have to go it alone as Valkyrie, Korg and a returning Jane Foster, now wielding the seemingly destroyed Mjolnir, are along for the ride. Can the powers of two Thunderers halt this mad god’s plans?
It was the first thing that came to mind as the film unfolded. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, under the right circumstances…for example, the previous Thor film, Ragnarök. But here? Well, let’s go back to Opera Buffa. Buffa. An Italian word. Let’s go back to the Latin, buffo…meaning clown. The modern-day English word? Buffoon. And therein lie the problem. You see, for the majority of the film, Thor is portrayed as a buffoon…an oaf…almost an utter man-child. Now, there’s two ways to look at this: kinda negative and extremely negative. For the kinda negative take, it’s at least somewhat forgivable for the opening of the movie. Thor’s hanging with the Guardians, so plenty of childishness there and that would be some influence on him, especially given that he’s still a little emotionally vulnerable after the events with Thanos. That, I kinda get. But once Gorr’s threat is revealed and Thor decides that he’s the one that has to stop him, we should be dialing that back…especially once the children of Asgard are kidnapped. The extremely negative view is that with Thor being a complete and utter buffoon, doesn’t this negate all the character progress from the previous films…especially the first one? I mean, we already had Thor going from man-child to a prince worthy to be king. Did his failure against Thanos make him regress that hard? Sigh…I guess anything is possible but narratively it feels like a personality just shy of a complete reboot.
The tone of the film throughout at least its first half doesn’t help any, as practically every scene is nothing more than a set up for a joke. In the beginning, sure, Thor’s time with the Guardians forces him to get back into shape but through that we’re subjected to some idiotic posturing, catchphrases and a man-crush on Star-Lord that is given no explanation nor context. You’d think things would get serious once the children are kidnapped by Gorr…but nope. Instead we’re treated to how incompetent Thor is at comforting them. Let’s head to where all the Gods gather to try and enlist their help? Nah, all we get here are nothing more than caricatures and stereotypes dialed up for ‘comedic’ effect…oh, and Chris Hemsworth’s naked backside. Granted, this was foreshadowed in the opening scene of the film where Gorr makes his first kill, his own God, after learning the deity he’d prayed to was little more than an indulgent, entitled idiot. [Hey, I’m an atheist, but as much as I should approve of this depiction, I recognize the storytelling potential of such constructs and as such, see nothing more here than wasted opportunities for the sake of a cheap laugh. – Ed.] Speaking of Gorr, even a serious actor like Christian Bale gets dragged down into this mess as he also is shown to be incompetent in dealing with the young Asgardians with ‘Ocky’. Ugh.
Both a plus and a negative is the fact that the second half of the film does take a serious turn. The trip to the shadow realm leads to some pretty stunning black and white cinematography and, given Gorr’s costume, does more than a little to evoke Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. We learn why Natalie Portman’s Jane has re-entered the picture and how Mjolnir recovered from the seeming oblivion that Hela had sent it to and, following the comic book, yeah, it’s pretty serious. We get some great allusions to more cosmic entities in the Marvel Universe and more great images as Gorr gets exactly what he wants: passage into the Shrine of Eternity. But after a first half of jokes, jokes and more jokes, there’s a thematic whiplash that’s prone to break any reviewer’s neck. And for me, the film doesn’t survive this jerk. We spent too much time making light of EVERYTHING in the first half to the point that when things finally do get serious, it’s more than a little unbelievable that our hero, Thor, would EVER rise up to the challenge…and certainly not successfully unless it is presented in an Inspector Clouseau-style fashion.
Okay, time for the elephant in the room. Many online reviewers have been taking not only Marvel but all the Disney imprints to task for pushing a ‘woke’ agenda. While I don’t entirely buy into that, I will say that if you fall into that line of thinking, there’s nothing here that won’t dissuade you from that or, in fact, may even help it along. First there’s the aforementioned man-crush Thor seems to have on Star-Lord for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Then you have the prolonged buffoonery of Thor himself, often times upstaged by either Valkyrie or Foster’s own Thor persona. Lastly, you have Korg’s revelation that all Kronans are male and they procreate by holding hands over a lava pit. Yes, if you’re all wrapped up in this anti-SJW rubbish, of course you’re going to interpret these things as what they appear to be on the surface. Now, the first point I brought up, the man-crush, shrug…I’ve got nothing. While I certainly won’t give in to the surface anti-LGBTQ+ what-have-you that typically goes with such criticism, instead I’ll simply point out that it’s a very poorly written thing. It seems like it’s inserted there to be a purely goofy thing. If we, as the audience, were given at least some inclination as to why such a crush exists, then yeah, maybe I’d buy it…but as it’s presented in the film, it seems to be either inserted as a way to piss off some audience members, represent others, and oddly minimize still others. Next up, we have the belittling of Thor himself. In the case of Jane, this is actually okay to me because the more I think about the film, this really should have been set up as her story, not Thor’s…although he should have been a strong supporting character (and not an idiot). Valkyrie doesn’t one-up Thor too much, but in the instances she does, she does so as the appointed ruler of the Asgardians…so, in my eyes, it’s kind of allowed. While I’m on the topic of Valkyrie, I’m sure there’s bitching about the character being lesbian or bi…but come on. She was a member of an all-female battle unit and thus fits under the same umbrella as Wonder Woman: if you think an island of women aren’t going to fool around with each other, have relationships, et cetera, buddy, I got a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you. Lastly, the Kronans. Seriously, anyone reading too much into alien physiology is just looking for things to get angry about. Now, granted, the film doesn’t help anything by naming Korg’s significant other ‘Dwayne’, but at the same time, it does vibe with Kiwi humor, which I’m a fan of…so I’ll stand by my initial premise here: if you’re upset about this, you’re looking for things to be upset about.
You know, back when they did ‘behind the scenes’ special features that had at least a modicum of depth to them as opposed to the current wave of glorified EPK materials we get now on home media, it seemed like the point that was stressed in any sub-par movie I’ve ever watched has been “it was such a fun set”. “We always had such a good time.” “Everyone was always laughing. The mood was always light.” It’s pretty clear that everyone had fun on the set of Thor: Love and Thunder, but it certainly didn’t result in good, coherent film. Taken on their own, many of the jokes ARE funny, but when you try to bundle them all up in the story at hand, the entire experience ends up being cheapened. Which is a shame because Natalie Portman’s final turn as Jane Foster is really, really good. This film simply cannot survive its tonal whiplash and that’s a shame, because Taika Waititi does create some fantastic images and story beats for the final half of the film. I get that the tone for Thor: Ragnarök worked, but his writing for this film seems to be an instance of ‘when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’. Sadly, this is not a new problem for Marvel’s output, as so many of their films never pass up an opportunity to shoehorn in a joke, whether it works or not. What makes this instance even worse is that up to this point, aside from Spider-Man No Way Home and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, both of which we hope to review soon, Phase 4 has been pretty weak. Even though some aspects of the Multiverse Saga have been revealed, Phase 4 has felt mostly directionless, both as a whole and the individual films and sadly, Thor: Love and Thunder, is no exception. There are some good bits here, but the film ultimately fails to hold together on its own. Thus, we’re forced once again to dole out another Plain Cat rating.