Another day and another MCU project is upon us. At this juncture in Phase 4, the new piece to the puzzle is Thor: Love and Thunder. Directed by Taika Waititi, the film picks up after the events of Avengers: Endgame with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trying to find his place in the world while the King of Asgard, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), is tending to the Asgardian people on New Asgard. However, as we all know, figuring out where you belong and what the meaning of your life might be is tough—especially when you’ve experienced so much loss throughout the journey.
This is something that Thor grapples with throughout Love and Thunder, especially when his former flame, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), is thrust back into his orbit as the Mighty Thor during a skirmish started by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Not only is Jane a new Thor in town, and he’s no longer the one and only, but she also wields his old trusty hammer, Mjølnir. This happens amid a madman trying to kill every god in the cosmos.
[*Please note, this review contains story elements from the film and mild spoilers for those unfamiliar with Dr. Jane Foster’s origin story as Mighty Thor. ]
Firstly, let’s talk about Jane. Portman’s back and better than ever in a decisive return as Dr. Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder. Portman’s return was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con, and needless to say, I and many others have been waiting patiently to see the Mighty Thor on the big screen. Portman reinvigorates the character, and her screentime lends to the emotional elements where the film is at its best. For those familiar with the comics and Dr. Foster’s journey to becoming the Mighty Thor, Portman delivers a pitch-perfect performance grappling with the highest of highs and lowest of lows when she wields the famed hammer. Some of Portman’s scenes are tough to watch and will likely have you teary-eyed. I mean, if anyone is going to put the audience through the wringer with an emotionally impactful performance, it’s Natalie Portman.
Thompson is just as excellent as Valkyrie. While this is not Thompson’s first time as the Asgardian warrior, things are different now that Valkyrie is the King of New Asgard. Tasked with protecting what remains of her people, Thompson bravely meets the challenge. However, it would have been nice to see King Valkyrie in her element and not just have a vignette of her character dealing with her various responsibilities. While Thompson is given more to do than in previous outings as the character, not seeing much of Valkyrie in her new element does a disservice to the character and, unfortunately, limits Thompson’s screentime.
That said, all the applause in the world for Thompson and Portman for all the gains (they really said, “ARMS!”) and for being the film’s best parts—even though I would have preferred to see more of them. Regrettably, more often than not, the pair gets lost in the silliness that surrounds them in the film.
The best thing about Thor: Love and Thunder is how it brings together this unique duo. Easily one of the film’s standouts, the friendship between Val and Jane makes for some of the better humorous happenings throughout the movie. Thompson and Portman have great chemistry that excellently plays into the buddy cop dynamic the pair share on-screen. I’m telling you right now, a Jane and Valkyrie series would be a smash hit.
We rarely see this kind of friendship in superhero films as, more often than not, the women characters are the only women on their respective teams in the beginning—The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Warriors Three & Lady Sif, and the list goes on. In fact, the last MCU film that showed a similar bond was released nearly a year ago, Black Widow. So, it was refreshing to see the scenes between Portman’s Jane and Thompson’s Val. Their rapport was genuine, funny and heart-warming. However, as much as I loved it, their moments were few and far between, and I genuinely wish there was more of it.
Of course, we cannot talk about a Thor movie without speaking of the titular character. As always, Hemsworth embodies the essence he’s spent years playing. Not only has he continued to grow with the role and its changes from film to film, but Hemsworth has his best performance in Love and Thunder since he was directed by Kenneth Branagh in the first Thor. Hemsworth nails Thor’s restlessness, his need to find out what path he should take and what it means for his life’s old and new relationships. Hemsworth plays the emotional aspects of Thor’s journey brilliantly throughout the movie. Hemsworth, Portman and Thompson do well together, building on the chemistry previously established in the past Thor films, and it’s never been better.
It’s been a while since the Thor films have had a great villain. Don’t get me wrong, Cate Blanchett was a force as Hela. However, she was primarily wasted for most of the film (in my opinion). As Gorr the God Butcher, Bale does not fall victim to such a problem. From start to finish, Bale does what Bale does best and wholly inhabits the character. On an unstoppable vengeful rampage, Gorr is a frightening character and one of the MCU’s better villains, thanks to Bale’s stellar performance. Although, it would have been nice to see more of Gorr’s god butchering happening on-screen rather than off.
In true Waititi fashion, the film is imbued with his signature brand of comedy (and all the folly that comes with it). To be quite honest, most of the humour was hit or miss this time. While it’s on-brand for Waititi to pair comedy and plenty of emotion, at times, the jokes were very reminiscent of the ones in Ragnarok. I likely wouldn’t have noticed this much had I not rewatched the third film in the series in anticipation for Love and Thunder, but it was belabouring moments that had already come and gone. In addition, certain jokes simply didn’t land, like the screaming goats (sorry, Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder). Thor’s goats are no strangers to the comic books—having been around since the ’70s—and it would have been nice to see more of their mythological background versus primarily being used for laughs.
Unfortunately, the goats weren’t the only misplaced humour. A joke made at the expense of The Warriors Three, who met an untimely demise at the hands of Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, didn’t sit well with my spirit, and that is just one example of some of the comedy that seemed shoehorned into the film. The movie spends so much time trying to shove goofy comedy down the audience’s throat that important parts and character moments get lost. It can be tough to balance many opposing elements, but it can be done. Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is an excellent example of this. For me, this is where Thor: Love and Thunder was extremely lacking—and its short runtime didn’t help the matter.
Although the film is shorter than other MCU films of late, it would have benefitted from more time. There were a few moments where things seemed to be missing or oddly edited out—such as Jane Foster’s first transformation as the Mighty Thor, which happens off-screen. The restricted time allotted to the movie is primarily squandered in the wrong places to the detriment of the film and its characters. Between this and the repetitive running gags, which are clearly trying to recapture the essence of Ragnarok, Love and Thunder miss the mark.
Had the film been treated as more of a standalone, it would have done wonders. Of course, it’s not all bad—I liked it better than its predecessor, namely for the Mighty Thor and King Valkyrie. As I’ve already mentioned, the cast members’ performances are some of the actors’ best. The score by Michael Giacchino is infused with rock elements befitting a gnarly space adventure. The film boasts epic action sequences and high stakes, so Love and Thunder could have been the best Thor movie. But the bag is fumbled with bungled jokes, imbalanced tone and the treatment of its leading women characters.
Ultimately, Thor: Love and Thunder is at its best when it wholly leans into the emotionally compelling parts of its story and stops trying to be Thor: Ragnarok 2.0.