Review – Thor: Love And Thunder

Thor: Love And Thunder

Trailer

Shiny!

The God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), having returned to the height of his powers, decides to end his time with the Guardians of the Galaxy, seeking a greater purpose. He finds one in the form of Gorr (Christian Bale) “the God-butcher”, a man dedicated to killing all Gods in the universe with his magical sword, who targets the settlement of New Asgard as part of his quest. When Thor intervenes, he discovers his former lover Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is now bearing his former weapon Mjolnir and is capable of using its powers, but is hiding her own secrets. Along with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taiki Waititi) the two embark on a quest to stop Gorr’s deicide, and sort out their lingering relationship issues.

Some might remember my thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok, all the way back in 2017. It was a film that I thought was a perfectly well put together action-comedy, but one that signified an enormous problem with the MCU, in its inability to resist the temptation to always plump for comedy when the opportunity presented itself, even when the time and space called for drama. Ragnarok got away with it on the strength of its comedy, leaning into that aspect of itself all the time, and the genuinely good visuals. Waititi’s follow-up takes an unfortunate step back, by trying to balance the same kind of zany madcap comedy with a deadly serious, and surprisingly gothic, villain. In essence, having spent one whole film attempting to piss on the tone of 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, Waititi for some reason has decided he wants to resurrect it for approximately half of this flick, and the result is one of the most unpalatable mish-mashes in the 34-film history of the MCU.

The cutesy rom-com side of things is absolutely fine, good even. While the adherence to the comics plot of Jane Foster balancing her role as Thor with a terminal diagnosis of breast cancer can even here cause some tonal issues, it’s good to see this cast, who have more than enough experience with comedies, get their teeth into what’s on offer. So we have Thor going through a mid-life crisis where he wants to find a purpose, then gets upended by the return of the one who got away; Jane Foster, trying to workshop a catchphrase for her superhero alter ego; Valkyrie, setting off on a journey to save the children of New Asgrad with a keg of beer designated as “vital supplies”; and Korg, whose deadpan narration of events will always bring a smile to your face. Our heroes discuss love, leadership, purpose, as they attempt to save the day and fix their own lives, and all of is brimming over with the kind of wit and warmth that Taiki Waititi is already becoming something of an old hand at. Hemsworth, Portman and Thompson are good in their roles, with Hemsworth especially having a ball as this comedic version of the character that has never seemed further from the person we first met in 11 years ago now.

But then, oh but then, the Christian Bale stuff. I wasn’t the only one surprised when he signed on for an MCU film, though after watching it I suspect a relatively straight-forward make-up job and the chance to use his normal accent might have been big attractors, along with whatever he was paid. Gorr has potential as a villain, in the mould of a Killmonger: someone whose goal doesn’t seem all that unjust, he’s just going about it in a way that engenders heroic response. Waititi tries to get us there with a prologue dedicated to his justifications, which are acute, and his targets who are reprehensible. But then Gorr starts exhibiting glowing eyes, his skin turns white, he exhibits a penchant for terrorising children (that he has kidnapped and imprisoned in what I can only describe as a “living spider cage”) by ripping the heads off animals in front of them and generally monologues away to his hearts content. In other words, he becomes a more one-dimensional bore than he should otherwise have been, and especially with an actor of the calibre of Bale in the part. He’s perfectly alright in Love And Thunder, but this is just a footnote on the way to other, more notable, things for him.

Mix these two radically different elements together, and what you get is not the fusion Waititi and Marvel Studios might be hoping for, but instead something that will leave you feeling whiplash from the change of tone that is happening scene to scene and moment to moment. Love And Thunder just can’t settle on what it wants to be, going from a farcical sojourn in the city of the Gods (the terribly named “Omnipotent City”, wherein Russell Crowe makes his truly awful extended cameo as a Zeus with an Allo Allo-eqsue Greek accent) to the Gorr the Childcatcher terrorising his detainees for no reason. Never mind, here’s another Guns N’ Roses song, did you know they will be the musical theme of the exercise? Don’t worry, you’ll cop on about the time we get to #3 on their greatest hits. Love And Thunder just can’t settle on anything, and as a result the whole film just feels insubstantial, two hours that came out of throwing 50 ideas at a wall and seeing which ones stuck.

It does look good, I’ll grant you, though even in that department the tonal inconsistency is readily apparent. A highlight is the journey into a centre of the universe where colour doesn’t exist, and our heroes are forced to combat a group of monsters on a planetoid that will have you thinking of The Little Prince, but that’s put against the kind of kaleidoscopic colour that Ragnarok luxuriated in, and which is replicated in numerous sequences on the other half of the production. Omnipotent City scenes are a visual feast for the eyes certainly, but that hard work just partially covers up the gaps in plot and writing (and acting, in the case of Russell Crowe). It seems as if I am going against the grain when it comes to this kind of opinion, with even Waititi himself creating a stir when he decided it was OKto mock the CGI for his own film in a recent promotional exercise, but maybe I’m just not expecting total photo realism in my CGI: the work in Love And Thunder is enough, especially on a big screen and when the framing is done correctly, that I can’t see the metaphorical seams. Considering the manner in which CG artists are routinely treated by the studios, they perhaps deserve more support and less snark from the man nominally in charge of the picture.

Love And Thunder is a forgettable enough experience of its own accord, a tonally uncertain smorgasbord of ideas marked by some well done humour, some gothic horror and enough half-decent action set-pieces that it will be considered a mildly diverting two hours at worst. In the larger context of the MCU however, it portends badly. The streaming side of things has been doing gangbusters work this year in Moon Knight and Ms Marvel, and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness was lots of fun. But Love And Thunder makes the MCU, in its movie department anyway, look like it is treading water, relying on efforts to replicate what came before with a little bit of dark spice to shake it up, with nary a future direction of any major significance to be found (at the risk of spoiling, this is another MCU film who regretfully plays fast and loose with the idea of death as a major plot point). There’s no Infinity Stones to grab the interest this time, and not enough compelling reasons to keep following this subset of the MCU’s character base much further. It’s a malaise, and a lot of pressure is on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to arrest it. As for Love And Thunder, it’s one of the weakest MCU offerings, and not just in the last little while. This is perhaps the moment when Taiki Waititi lost his touch. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

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1 Response to Review – Thor: Love And Thunder

  1. Pingback: Review: Samaritan | Never Felt Better

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