Thursday 8 September 2022

Film Review: Thor – Love and Thunder


Chris Hemsworth's muscled Viking deity Thor is back for round four, this time teaming up with a returning Natalie Portman to do battle with Christian Bale's Gorr the God Butcher.

Cast your mind back to 2017, and Thor: Ragnarok felt like a breath of fresh air. Not that Marvel needed it; five years ago, their cinematic universe was going from strength to strength. Nevertheless, Ragnarok was a revelation: New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, at the time best known for wholesome indie dramas like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, brought a kooky Kiwi sense of humour that was fun, offbeat, and offered a new slant on a character that had up to that point, felt a little one-note. 

Such was Ragnarok's popularity, that Waititi was brought back for another one – and the entire ethos this time around seems to be, 'just run it back'. I don't want to call it lazy, but there's an air of that wafting throughout Love and Thunder, as it strives and strains to find something compelling to anchor Hemsworth's fourth solo outing, and his eighth film as Thor overall. 

After a sombre cold open that establishes Christian Bale's antagonist Gorr the God Butcher (more on him later), we cut to Thor on his current adventure. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor is searching for new meaning, which right now means jetting around the galaxy with the Guardians (Chris Pratt's Star-Lord et al), fighting the good fight.

However, it's not long before Thor learns of a new foe – the aforementioned Gorr – who is threatening to put an end to all gods, including those who call Asgard home. It's here, on a visit to the new Earthbound Asgard, that Thor meets his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Portman), who somehow wields the previously shattered hammer, Mjolnir, and possesses the powers of Thor.

Alongside Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi), Thor and Jane set off in search of an army to defeat Gorr once and for all, a quest that sees them cross paths with Russell Crowe's gilded god Zeus.  

I think my main issue with Love and Thunder is how fast and loose it feels. I know Taika is known for films that are quite frayed or shaggy, but this time around it just feels unfocused and half-arsed. There's very little plot to speak of, and what plot there is doesn't seem to really matter in the grand scheme of things. So much so, that Love and Thunder almost feels...throwaway? Like nothing of consequence actually happens or changes?

Which is a real shame, because there's some good stuff in here, that doesn't shine through because Taika is more interested in indulging his sillier side. The running gags (there's one about a pair of screaming goats, which feels like it was pulled from a 2014 CollegeHumor sketch) bump up against some of the film's more emotional moments, of which there are plenty, in theory.

Jane's arc – she's been diagnosed with stage four cancer and is relying on Mjolnir's power to cling to life – would make for an interesting contrast, between Thor's immortality and her own mortality, if the film was at all interested in going there.

Their rekindled romance is also ripe for drama, but it's undercut by a recurring joke about Thor's axe, Stormbreaker, being jealous of Mjolnir. There's a theme in there somewhere around children or childhood, and how Thor and Jane missed out of their own children by pushing each other away, but it is brushed aside for a third act battle featuring a teddy bear that shoots lightning out of its eyes.

Hell, even Gorr has an emotional story in there – but after that interesting prologue, Bale is sort of reduced to a snarling Pied Piper-esque figure.

There's a couple of good set pieces – a face-off with Gorr in the second half, atop a desolate moon that is cast in stark black and white, is striking and captivating to look at, with imaginative use of lighting and movement. An earlier tussle in Zeus' palace is shiny and splashy, with lots of dazzling visual effects.

But it's not enough to distract from underlying sense of aimlessness. Maybe that's the point? Since that's what Thor is feeling at the start of the film? But a lack of direction or purpose doesn't make for a particularly interesting film, especially when you're this far into series. Without a compelling narrative thrust or weighty stakes, Love and Thunder is just a deeply unserious piece of disposable fluff where handsome people riff, wink and smirk for two hours. 

The Verdict: 5/10

Try as he might, Waititi can't make lightning strike twice. Thor: Love and Thunder is a sloppy and directionless mishmash of ideas that doesn't meld together. A surprising swing and a miss from all concerned. 

Thor: Love and Thunder is streaming on Disney+ now.

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