These days, it is hard to avoid rumors and reviews and spoilers if you have any sort of social media presence but if you are lucky (or strong-willed), you can dodge all the nonsense and hearsay and anything else that floods the internet. Unfortunately for me, I was curious what critics were saying leading up to the weekend and I could not help but notice that reviewers were harsher than I would have expected for Thor’s fourth solo film. And after seeing the movie myself, I sort of get why.
Minor spoilers ahead.
One major bit that I have noticed with Marvel Studios as of late, not specifically with Thor, but all of Phase 4, is that it all sort of feels like it is fairly aimless. I am not seeing any trends or connections or any suspenseful build-up that gets me excited for the next major ensemble collaboration of heroes against some major big bad. This would be fine, since you know, superheroes can have periods of self-contained exploration and adventures without some encroaching universal threat. But this many movies in does make us wonder just what it’s all for. But, this is about Thor: Love and Thunder so let’s focus on that.
Up front, straight up, my biggest gripe with the film was the humor. Or, more specifically, the constant and forced humor.
Superhero movies are supposed to be fun and Marvel has a pretty good understanding of timing for executing jokes. Thor Ragnarok stood out as being among the most humorous while also being a fantastic film with plenty of action and excitement and a plot that served its purpose and served it well. Love and Thunder… well, I wouldnt say it is the exact opposite but I would say that it didn’t quite land as much for me this time. I suppose after seeing Taika Waititi’s previous work, including a few dozen doses of Ragnarok, I expected more from him and his sense of humor. For some reason, Love and Thunder put the humor first above all else and it felt constant, much to the film’s detriment.
Humor is something that is an art form. Taika Waititi knows this and is, dare I say, is a master of it. Based on his previous works, anything he is tied to is something I know that will at least be entertaining while hitting my type of humor. But something seemed off about it in Love and Thunder. Typically, in the MCU, the humor follows a formula. Love it or hate it, MCU humor does a good job of letting the jokes breathe a bit. There usually is a long string of serious chats and events between characters before some sort of comic relief steps in to cut the tension. The timing is crucial and is, in fact, quite literally everything. For whatever reason. Love and Thunder either forgot to take this into account or simply ignored it as the jokes felt constant but never really seemed like typical Taika Waititi hilarity, if that makes any sense. On top of that, the jokes never really felt like they were coming from Waititi, and very seldom seemed like they were jokes he came up with at all. Maybe I am wrong but it all just felt… off.
Those f-cking goats. Seriously. The first time was okay, the second time immediately after was too soon, then the third and the fourth and the fifth time beat that horse so bad that I was hoping the joke was over and done with before it came back a sixth and a seventh time. Jesus, move on already.
Love and Thunder’s main antagonist is Gorr (Christian Bale), a devout follower of the god Rapu. After circumstances lead to Gorr’s daughter dying, despite his excessive prayers to Rapu, Gorr comes into contact with his god only for Rapu to belittle him which leads Gorr to denounce Rapu. And after coming into contact with the Necrosword, a legendary weapon with the power to kill gods, Gorr kills Rapu for not being there for his followers and allowing his daughter to die. Gorr then vows to kill all gods for allowing such pain and suffering to exist to their worshipers.
Pretty heavy stuff.
My issue with this plot is that we never see a build-up between Gorr and the gods, specifically Thor. The idea that Christian Bale, an A-List actor among A-Listers, is off-screen slaying gods is truly irritating. Instead of seeing Gorr out there taking on gods that we would recognize deep from within the Marvel comics lore and mythos, he just shows up in New Asgard one day and Thor conveniently pops back on earth after a long leave of absence to engage him. I personally would have loved to have seen Gorr take on lesser gods and show his might against them while cutting them down God of War style. But we never see any of that and of course, we all know the good guy is going to win so the only battle we see is between Gorr and Thor and, again, we know how that turns out. The whole thing just felt like a major missed opportunity.
The introduction of the gods and their home city does raise a lot of questions for me as an MCU fan. I wonder just how involved they will be now that we know the likes of Zeus and Hercules exist among pretty much every other major and minor god from every form of worship. Now, I am not a religious person per se, but there were likely to be dozens of easter eggs sprinkled around for religion buffs during the scenes involving Thor seeking an audience with Zeus. And after it was all over, I wondered just what implications shaking that godly beehive would have on the realms of man going forward. Of course, the mid-credits scene also aims to tease that question as well.
Between the forced, aggressively constant humor, those damn obnoxious goats, and the missed opportunity to see Gorr the God Butcher actually butcher the gods, I have much to complain about. But outside of those three things (forced humor, goats, no Gorr god-butchering), the movie otherwise is a lot of fun with some really brilliant visuals.
Seeing Natalie Portman return as Lady Thor was exciting, even though I felt like they could have done a better job building up her transformation and then having an epic introduction. It did fall a bit flat for me as I expected something spectacular, mighty, even, but most probably won’t care to notice so maybe that is just me being picky. But Portman as Thor was awesome. She kicked ass, looked great doing it, and the awkward ex-girlfriend thing between she and Thor was fairly relatable.
Don’t get me started on Mjolnir and Stormbreaker. That was very well done and a great example of Taika Waititi’s humor knocking it out of the park, though it was among only a few jokes that hit their mark.
Eventually, when Valkyrie, Foster, and Thor track down Gorr, a really awesome visual battle takes place in the Shadow Realm. I was truly blown away by the visuals here as the scene was largely, if not entirely, black and white, save for Gorr’s eyes and the electricity from the Thor duo lighting the way. Brilliant stuff.
Plotwise, Gorr was a great villain not only because his motivations were sort of teetering between revenge and justice but also because he was just a guy, a loving father, who was chosen by a cursed sword to carry out a dark and heinous act. While Gorr didn’t possess the power to slay the gods on his own, nor would he have tried to do so without the Necrosword, you really felt for the guy. Losing his daughter the way he did and the sword choosing him and corrupting him meant that his humanity (or whatever equivalent his species had) was locked in the trunk while the sword took the wheel. You feel for him because he was just a man with a broken heart and any malevolent acts that were carried out by his hands were not entirely to blame. It has been a while since we have seen a villain so moving.
The acting, per usual, was quite good but there were some moments with Bale’s Gorr that felt like maybe they could have used a different take or maybe a different angle or something. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it but I almost cringed once or twice during Gorr’s delivery of a few lines but again, that may just be me being picky.
Without throwing any specific spoilers out there, the mid-credits and end-credits scenes offered very vague ideas about the future of the MCU and Thor’s next film. Hemsworth himself says that he will keep playing the character for as long as fans want him to and the credits did say Thor would return but in what capacity is not clear just yet.
Still, we have no idea where Kevin Feige plans to take us in a post-Thanos universe and fans want answers. With so many characters still out there waiting for their big-screen debut, such as the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Deadpool, we wonder how all of it will fit together and if there is even a big plan at all. I mean, we are cool with seeing buddy team-ups for a while and taking a tour around the universe to get to know new characters and see what the old ones are up to now that everyone is getting used to post-snap life.
Overall, despite the curious case of direction, or lack thereof from recent Marvel films and their lesser Disney+ companions, Love and Thunder is a good enough film to be seen in the theaters and not worthy of all the harsh words from critics. But having said that, some of the criticism is valid as fans have come to expect a certain level of flare from Marvel Studios and the likes of Taika Waititi. Anything less than an A- will leave fans wondering if Marvel is losing its touch and although it remains close, especially after the A+ that was Ragnarok, I would have to give Thor: Love and Thunder a strong B or B+.