God butchery is no joke
Lightning doesn’t strike twice for Taika Waititi and his mildly loveable but thunderously hollow Thor: Love and Thunder, the writer-director’s eagerly awaited encore outing with Marvel’s favorite space Viking. The Kiwi auteur revived the hammer-wielding character’s moribund franchise with the deftly irreverent but still thrilling Thor: Ragnarok. This time around, though, he’s pushed Thor so far away from self-importance that the poor Norse God has stumbled into self-parody. Why else would a goofy flashback show Asgardians going into battle with infant Thor in a Baby Bjorn?
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Natalie Portman
Running time: 119 mins
The earthbound New Asgard, a far cry from their regal home planet’s original setting, is now a Scandinavian fishing village that doubles as a tourist-trap theme park where sightseers ride a levitating Viking ship and kids get treats at the Infinity Conez ice cream stand. In an outdoor venue, hack thespians—cue Matt Damon’s return cameo—reenact moments from the previous film, Odin’s hokey death scene followed by the entrance of Hela (a very hammy Melissa McCarthy). Meanwhile, a half-bored Thor is somewhere else in the universe deigning to tag along with the increasingly resentful Guardians of the Galaxy, swooping in to save the day—and blithely cause a bit too much collateral damage in the process. “Another classic Thor adventure,” he sighs. “Hurrah!” By the way, Thor has a tribute back tattoo that says “R.I.P. Loki, Rest in Mischief.” It’d be funny if it weren’t so irritatingly glib.
What’s at stake if everything is a joke? Apparently the lives of deities on every planet everywhere. Blame Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a formerly devout follower who turns apostate after his daughter dies of famine. “Suffering for your God is your only purpose,” his divine lord cackles at the inconsolable father, right before Gorr grabs a conveniently located super-powerful weapon called the Necrosword and slays his savior. The demonic blade infects its owner with the craving to destroy, so the now pasty-skinned, orange-eyed, blackened-mouthed Gorr grows increasingly hungry for vengeance. “This is my promise: all Gods must die,” he hisses with Nietzschean gusto. Seems like antagonistic overreach, but fine. It’s a plot engine.
Because this installment in Thor’s neverending story shows him struggling to find love, the MCU brain trust has brought back his old flame, brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The twist: she has stage 4 cancer. The other twist: she heeds the mysterious call of Mjölnir, or at least its remnants. And in her grip, the hammer reconstitutes itself, in turn transforming her into a superbuff, blonde-with-a-blowout lady God of Thunder who the film refers to as the Mighty Thor.
Good thing, too, since she can help out when Gorr kidnaps all the Asgardian children and uses them as bait to get Thor’s axe Stormbreaker, open the Gate of Infinity, and gain the power to wipe out all the Gods in one fell swoop. It’s a lot, and also not enough, since the film seems to tire of its own premise quickly, preferring to let scenes bloat with silly riffs that puncture any dramatic momentum. Weirdly, other gods don’t seem as concerned about Gorr, even as he hacks his way through the galaxy. Least concerned: Zeus (Russell Crowe), a fatuous clown who says things like “Chill, babycake!” with a strangely Greco-Roman accent that’s more Guido than Dimitris.
The tone of Thor: Love and Thunder is generally a smug one, dismissive of the quickly dull fight scenes and preferring instead to focus on everyone’s own amorous viewpoints. Thor and Mighty Thor get their chance to rekindle unresolved emotions, Valkyre gets a bisexual flex by flirting with everyone, and tagalong stone gladiator Korg (Taika Waititi) even reminisces about his two daddies. Makes sense that the very Marvel characters who famously travel on a rainbow bridge turn out to be the most queer-positive.
It also makes sense that Waititi’s interest is in the marginalia, since the wildly existential premise just seems banal in a post-Thanos world. Gorr’s own character arc even feels cribbed from the infinity-stone-wielding mass murderer. “I’m truly creating peace,” the deluded God Butcher tells himself, secure in thinking his serial slaughters will liberate people across the universe. It all just feels too familiar.
Marvel movies work best when they mix levity with earnestness, a light touch with heavy emotions. Waititi did hit those marks with Ragnarok, but this time he seems less intent on threading that needle, trading out adventure for absurdity and heroism for kid-pandering climaxes—complete with a deadly stuffed bunny.
There’s a poignancy to Jane Foster’s journey, from her struggle with cancer and how it affects her sudden turn as a mythical superhero to her touching reunion with a cocky jock-God who’s only now realizing how empty his life is without her. But it feels short-changed among all the bombast. The director’s all-you-need-is-love mantra just seems like a safe off-ramp for his narrative tangles—a hard message to beat, but not exactly one that feels earned.