Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
Despite Marvel Studios’ fairly consistent quality control, the Thor franchise has proven to be oddly inconsistent. The original Thor (2011) was a risky prospect, as it unashamedly embraced the thoroughly weird aspects of the source material with complete sincerity. This was especially brave considering that most superhero films at the time were doing everything they could to be as grounded as possible. The sequel, Thor: The Dark World (2013), tried to replicate the original’s success, yet it didn’t really impress anyone because the first film’s freshness now felt too safe. If the Thor series was to survive, it needed to push the boundaries even further. Thus, Marvel entrusted the third film to Taika Waititi, who delivered arguably one of the best superhero films ever made with Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Finally, the Thor franchise found the perfect mix of action, humour, spectacle, imagination, heart and heroism. With that in mind, it was a no-brainer to bring Waititi back for another outing in Thor: Love and Thunder (2022).
For the last few years, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) has been travelling the cosmos as a member of The Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite this, he feels a sense of aimlessness, unsure of his current place in the universe after defeating Thanos in Avengers: Endgame (2019). Suddenly, Thor is called into action following the emergence of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a formidable new foe who has been leaving a trail of murdered Gods in his wake. This poses a threat to Thor and his friends in Asgard, as they make up the pantheon of Viking Gods. Meanwhile, Thor’s ex-girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has returned to the hero’s world, only this time she has mysteriously obtained Thor’s powers after proving herself worthy to lift his enchanted hammer, Mjolner. As such, Thor and Jane need to set aside their differences and learn to love each other again if they are to be strong enough to defeat Gorr.
Some of the previous Thor films were marred by controversy surrounding certain actors’ contractual obligations to make an appearance. Most notably, Natalie Portman’s dissatisfaction with her role as Jane in Thor and Thor: The Dark World is an open secret, resulting in her being totally absent for Thor: Ragnarok. The prospect of seeing Jane Foster become the hero appears to be as equally exciting for audiences as it was for her, as it’s quite clear that this character evolution has given her more to work with than ever before. It’s wonderfully infectious seeing Portman finally let loose and have a bit of fun in a blockbuster film. Similarly, it’s just as surprising (and equally enjoyable) seeing Christian Bale enter the action as the terrifying villain, Gorr the God Butcher. These two performances elevate their respective character arcs and imbue the film with the strongest and most nuanced dramatic moments.
It’s a good thing that Jane and Gorr insert the necessary drama, because Thor: Love and Thunder is otherwise lacking in that regard. While irreverent comedy is key to keeping audiences entertained throughout, the film does overdo it. While its predecessor Thor: Ragnarok can attribute its monumental success and popularity to its sense of humour, it wasn’t without an engaging plot, high stakes or thematic layers. Granted, Thor: Love and Thunder also has these essential elements and makes them clear enough, but the constant barrage of jokes makes it difficult to connect with what’s on screen. Not only that, but the jokes end up feeling repetitive after a while, in addition to feeling more stupid than witty.
With that in mind, this can also be directed to Thor himself, who feels more like a parody version of the character, as opposed to the go-getting hero we saw in Thor Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) or Avengers: Endgame. Across those three films, Thor became one of the most engaging, inspiring and enjoyable characters in the Marvel series. As such, he was a successful source drama, action and comedy, portrayed excellently by the charming Chris Hemsworth. The actor is of course still perfect in the role and is still a joy to watch, but there seems to be something missing from the characterisation this time around. It’s almost as if the dramatic elements of the character have been completely jettisoned, leaving Thor to feel more like a buffoon than a hero.
That buffoonery not only hurts our lead, but also does damage to the film’s overall plot structure. So much time is dedicated to the silliness that entire scenes play out without actually covering important ground as far as the storytelling goes. All the big moments are there, with all the major story turns, but the connective tissue is left pretty loose. It’s hard to get too upset by it considering it’s very much by design, but it does leave the film feeling a messy. In a way, it’s almost as if the film doesn’t really care to explain how or why things are happening, because that will get in the way of everyone’s good time. Once again, Thor: Ragnarok didn’t have this issue, so it’s strange as to why Thor: Love and Thunder does. As that film proved, it’s possible to explain things in an organic and imaginative way without compromising the enjoyment.
With that being said, Thor: Love and Thunder is still a fun time despite all its issues. Every action sequence is unique and interesting, even with the less than perfect visual effects. Russell Crowe’s performance as Zeus will leave you on the floor laughing, even though most people (outside of Australia) will be completely confused as to why he’s performing the role the way he does. Even all of the bizarre, strange and completely baffling story choices will elicit some kind of memorable reaction, with some probably finding it all hilarious while others will be left cringing. This confusion of emotions extends to how the film connects to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, as these story points will make some fans chuckle, yet cause others to consider the internal logic of the entire franchise to be utterly destroyed.
When all is said and done, it’s hard to dislike a film that’s having this much fun with itself. All the elements that make Thor: Love and Thunder as enjoyable as it is, also contribute to why it doesn’t completely work in a filmmaking sense. It’s a fun romp, but the dramatic threads and thematic arcs were begging for the overall presentation to be taken a tad more seriously. It’s certainly a memorable experience and should be commended for the tonal tightrope it walks, it unfortunately doesn’t click in the same way its predecessor did. Regardless, this will probably be a film that you and your friends will debate the merits of forever more.
Best way to watch it: With a good Souvlaki.