MOVIE REVIEW – This shallow superhero blockbuster doesn’t give enough time to Natalie Portman’s huge comeback or Christian Bale’s creepy baddie.
Thor: Love and Thunder was guaranteed to pack a punch. Director Taika Waititi is back in the director’s chair after 2017’s quite punchy Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian avenger has found his endearingly comic touch, but Natalie Portman also makes an epic return to the Marvel Universe after a nine-year hiatus.
Surprisingly, the 29th MCU movie, which hits cinemas from 8 July, missed the mark. Thor’s fourth solo adventure becomes too sprawling and shallow towards the end as it tries to balance comedy and drama, melding several classic comic book story threads into a single narrative.
A tough start
It starts promisingly enough, with a tough introduction of the villainous Gorr, the divine butcher played by Christian Bale. After his harsh desert homeworld claims his daughter’s life, an encounter with a callous, cruel god leads him to launch a campaign to slaughter all the divine beings in the universe.
This scene is atmospheric and patient, giving Bale’s character time to breathe and allowing us to feel his growing desperation, confusion and anger. Then the Marvel Studios logo appears and the rollercoaster begins. A later emotional resonance? No, that was all we got in this film.
Thor was last seen in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, deciding to join the Guardians of the Galaxy for a space adventure after Thanos’ defeat. However, the God of Thunder completely outclasses his new allies, making him seem like an overpowered video game character as he crushes his enemies, making the Guardians seem a little useless next to him.
A tangled dramatic thread…
We get a colourful, visually stunning action sequence and a generous dose of superhero action from this, but Thor and his ‘rocky’ ally (he’s literally made of rock) Korg (Taika Waititi) soon decide to go their separate ways, leaving the Guardians of the Galaxy after a terribly botched and moronic scene between Thor and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his friends. It’s obvious that Waititi has forced the Guardians of the Galaxy team into this just “out of necessity” and really doesn’t “feel” them, but we “cast” them off before the jokes have a chance to unfold. It felt like this clunky set of scenes was a film eager to get rid of its annoying continuity and return to the Asgardian history of Thor solo films.
Thor meets his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Portman) in battle on Earth, while Gorr attacks Thor’s fellow Asgardians. She wields her old hammer, the Mjolnir, after being found worthy in the darkest hour and gaining abilities similar to his.
Given the very real human health issues Jane faces, this story thread would be supposed to be the emotional part of Love and Thunder. But the film doesn’t take enough time to make us sufficiently aware of and empathise with the challenge Jane faces – it’s as if the film is afraid of becoming too real and is desperate to whisk us away to the next adventure (some dramatic moments are undermined by the two aftermath scenes).
… and too fast cuts
The need for speed extends to the action – Jane, in particular, uses her new skills to impressive effect, but neither the editing nor the cinematography allows time to savour it. It’s unlikely that many of the shots in this film will be etched in your mind like moments from other MCU adventures – nothing matches the dizzying heights of Captain America’s elevator fight, the three Spider-Men’s leap into battle or the Scarlet Witch’s encounter with the Illuminati.
The awkward affair between Jane and Thor is initially entertaining enough – thanks largely to the charisma and chemistry of Portman and Hemsworth – but it doesn’t develop in a particularly convincing way. The one-word jokes about Thor and his new weapon, the Stormbreaker, are much better at first, but then they too become increasingly corny.
The team of heroes is rounded out by King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who is tired of her role as the leader of the magical tourist trap that has become New Asgard. Although the film doesn’t reveal enough of her boredom, Thompson fills the character with so much mischievousness that it’s a joy to watch. Even his choice of clothes hints at a fascinating inner life – his Phantom of the Opera T-shirt is more exciting than any superhero costume.
One of the most powerful scenes is a quiet conversation between Jane and Valkyrie, as it’s a rare example of the film slowing down a bit and giving the actors and writers space to connect emotionally.
Gorr is not a deep enough character
After his memorable introduction, however, Gorr’s menacing power was greatly diminished. The comic book counterpart of the divine butcher (introduced by Jason Aaron in his beloved 2012 Thor: God of Thunder) looked like a serious threat as Thor went on a rampage of massacres across the universe. But Love and Thunder merely hints at this, reducing Gorr’s evil largely to kidnapping Asgard children as part of a larger conspiracy. We don’t feel that huge threat to the heroes, so Gorr becomes, ultimately, more of an annoyance than a formidable foe.
It’s a shame, because Bale’s performance and aesthetic elaboration could really make the character both creepy and spooky, but the clunky script prevents him from being fully fleshed out into such a punchy protagonist. The middle confrontation with the heroes is one of the most visually stunning scenes in the MCU, with ingenious use of shadows and colour.
This film isn’t nearly as cameo-heavy as its direct MCU predecessor, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, but Russell Crowe as a narcissistic Zeus does have a few scenes. Unfortunately, his role is mostly rather shallow and unremarkable and Crowe doesn’t shine as the god of storm.
Love and Thunder does not live up to the incredible stories that inspired it. It neither relies on the director’s famously unique style nor maximises the dramatic potential of the actors, instead coming across as a shallow, unsatisfying mess. It’s still a genuinely entertaining MCU adventure, but if you were looking for more than that – Christian Bale’s Gorr or no Christian Bale – you’ll be sorely disappointed.