Thor has become the first superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to reach his fourth film. Chris Hemsworth returns once more as the God of Thunder in the appropriately titled Thor: Love and Thunder. Taika Waititi is also back as director and the voice of the craggily Korg, who serves as something of a one-man Greek chorus.
Love and Thunder picks up with the Odinson on his backpacking through Europe phase. Or, in his case, adventuring across the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy. For all the victories they’ve achieved, there’s still an emptiness inside of Thor. He’s still trying to find his place in the universe after the destruction of his homeworld and the deaths of almost all his family and friends.
Speaking of death, a disheveled Gorr (Christian Bale), cradling his dying daughter (played by Hemsworth’s own daughter India Rose), wanders a desolate wasteland in desperate search for food and water. He stumbles onto an idyllic oasis and finds only an uncaring god, who mocks his suffering, and an all-powerful weapon known as the Necrosword. Gorr takes the Necrosword and transforms himself into the God Butcher, vowing to slaughter all gods for not answering his prayers. He sets his sights on New Asgard and uses the sword to create an army of shadow beasts to do his bidding.
Meanwhile, Thor’s old flame, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), is also transformed by a reassembled Mjolnir into the Mighty Thor. Unfortunately, her mortal form grows weaker and weaker as the power of the hammer does little to stem her stage 4 cancer.
Thor: Love and Thunder is largely based on Jason Aaron’s run on the Thor comics, which lasted seven years and crossed timelines and the multiverse. Waititi’s film distills all of that into a two-hour cinematic rollercoaster ride. Bad news, some important plot points like Jane’s struggle with cancer get short changed. Gorr himself feels underwritten and underutilized in spite of a scene-chewing performance by Christian Bale. Comic book fans may also be disappointed in how different the villain looks from the source material. The origins of the Necrosword are also never divulged though that may be due to rights issues with Sony Pictures since it ties into the symbiotes.
On the other hand, Waititi’s eccentric style lends itself well to the outlandish concepts found in the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe. This is a universe where abstract concepts of reality exist as all-powerful, anthropomorphic beings. The New Zealand native lent much needed humor and visual flair to the franchise after the drab Thor: The Dark World. The eye-popping colors and off-kilter architecture of Thor: Ragnarok took clear inspiration from Jack Kirby. That same panache is in full effect. Love and Thunder takes us into the Shadow Realm, a dimension where almost all color is drained away, resembling the look of Frank Miller’s Sin City. Waititi also takes the Asgardians to Omnipotence City, an opulent realm where the gods have gathered under the auspices of Zeus (Russell Crowe). It’s here that Thor learns the disappointing truth that the gods care more about their own pleasures than the safety of the universe.
The film is just as sensational aurally as it is visually. Just as Waititi used Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to great effect in Ragnarok, Love and Thunder leans into the 80’s rock aesthetics with some of Guns ‘n Roses’ greatest hits. Naturally, “Paradise City” gets playtime as we see how New Asgard has upgraded from a meager fishing village to a bustling tourist port. “Welcome to the Jungle” welcomes the audience to the first major action sequence as Thor cuts through a band of avian marauders. The needle drops don’t just provide a rocking soundtrack, but bring an air of nostalgia. It puts us into the mindset of the hero, who longs for the rosier times of the past while looking forward to an uncertain future.
Waititi embraces the absurdities of comic book superheroes without mocking the loonier elements. His style meshes well with Hemsworth’s natural charm and comedic skills. Not to be outshined are Portman and Tessa Thompson, who share a winsome chemistry with one another. Hopefully, we’ll see the pair again as fierce battle sisters.
Thor: Love and Thunder moves at such a breakneck pace that it sometimes forgets to slow down and let some of the plot points marinade for a bit. Still, it’s a funny, garish, and action-packed blockbuster. In terms of the Marvel pantheon, Love and Thunder never reaches the heights of Captain America: Civil War or the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home, but definitely belongs in the upper-mid tier of MCU movies.
Film Rating: 7