The first THOR film in 2011 brilliantly straddled the line between goofy and gallant. It was a clever adventure, not to mention a star-making turn for Chris Hemsworth, with just the right amount of Shakespearean gravitas. (Thank you, director Kenneth Branagh.) Its sequel THOR: THE DARK WORLD went a little too dark in 2013, so when the God of Thunder returned for THOR: RAGNAROK in 2017, the film played as more of a comedy. A very funny one too. (Thank you, director Taika Waititi.) Add in AVENGERS films along the way, and here we are in 2022, with Thor’s eighth appearance on the big screen in THOR LOVE AND THUNDER. His return this time though is seriously diminished by far too much shtick. There’s just too much corny humor and not enough thrilling heroics.
It’s a question of tonality as this story comes with some very heavy stakes. Gorr (Christian Bale) is a villain out to destroy all the gods in the universe, driven by revenge for as they let his young daughter die from starvation. Mix in a B story concerning Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) fighting a losing battle with stage four cancer and you’ve got a narrative begging for sobriety. Waititi does gives a lot of such narratives their serious due, but he pads everything around it with so much over-the-top silliness that the comedy throws off the story’s delicate balance. The humor feels less like a respite and more like insensitivity.
That’s a shame too as the film starts out with a devasting 10 minutes showing the god-fearing Gorr watching his young daughter die on a barren planet. The ever-wonderful Bale keeps our sympathies even as he turns from mourning father to avenging villain during that introduction, even when he slaughters a batch of deities with his newly discovered necrosword. As Gorr vows to rid the universe of gods, Thor is summoned into action to save his brethren. He enlists the help of former colleagues Korg (Taika Waititi), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Jane to stop Gorr’s carnage as well.
Jane even takes on a god-like status of her own as she uses her ex’s hammer to stave off her cancer and catapult her into heroics that make Thor envious. The gentle humor between Hemsworth and Portman plays with charm, as does his jokey banter with former Ragnarok sidekick Korg. But then the film starts to gild such lilies with a dragged-out sequence with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the rat-a-tat cornball retorts grate. It all feels wholly gratuitous, as if Marvel had to justify the paychecks of such star cameos, and should’ve been trimmed.
If Pratt feels like fat here, wait until you see what happens when Russell Crowe shows up as a chubby and self-important Zeus, holding court at a convention of the gods. The vainglorious deity is utterly full of himself, prancing about in mini-toga, speaking of orgies, and ignoring Thor’s pleas to take Gorr seriously. Then to punish the petulant Thor for piping up, Zeus strips him nude in front of all the other gods, opening the door for even more crass sex jokes. The camera lingers on shots of Hemsworth’s backside and goddesses ogling his front. Does such lowbrow humor belong in the MCU, especially in a film that will attract plenty of kids? Talk about low-hanging fruit.
Gorr disappears from the story for big chunks at a time, and when he does finally reappear, he inexplicably kidnaps children from New Asgard, USA, threatening to kill them all. Isn’t his argument with gods, not kids? It also doesn’t help the story when Thor & company eventually inspires the brood to become vicious warriors, fighting back against Gorr with sticks, stones, and even stuffed animals as their weapons. What happened to the mourning-a-child angle in this story?
Additionally shocking is how cheap parts of the film look. The visual effects look nifty by and large, but Thor’s costume has never looked more like plastic than armor, and the vaulted bolt of Zeus looks like a plywood prop from a high school play. There’s a lot of such tackiness in this production, further marring the more serious themes. And not giving Thor a true foil who could toss about acidic zingers with him like a Loki or fellow Avenger inhibits this sequel all the further. Thor isn’t even given any genuine opportunity to banter with Gorr. Hemsworth can still be a stitch, even when he’s not wearing a stitch, but his shtick here is barely worth swooning over.