Another day another Marvel movie. After breathing some much-needed life into the Thor franchise with Thor Ragnarok, Taika Waititi follows up with Thor: Love and Thunder, which I vaguely remember much about. After watching 27 Marvel films, I see the story’s structure far before the credits roll, and I’m getting tired of it. I’m tired of the villain of the week, I’m tired of the climactic third act boss fight, I’m tired of the nostalgia grabs, and I’m tired of the dull love stories. Initially, the movie felt serviceable—the same reaction I had to Dr. Strange in The Multiverse of Madness. Walking out of the film, I didn’t feel this sense of morbid cynicism. But as time began to sync in, the more disparaged I was from the picture. Thor: Love and Thunder, unlike Dr. Strange, is at least about the protagonist, which isn’t saying much.
I’m beginning to think Thor isn’t very adaptable for the MCU. In my transparency, I’m not much of a comic book reader. However, from what I’ve heard and read about Thor, he seems too trippy for Marvel. When speaking to a friend involved in the film industry, he told me Marvel shoots the movies the way they do (with a flattened color palette) because the litany of contrasty reds, greens, and blues, might be too overwhelming for the audience.
If that is the case, I would add that every film must match a particular contrast ratio to maintain visual continuity across the MCU. For those unaware of what a contrast ratio is, in a nutshell, it’s how vibrant you want your film to be. An example of a high contrast ratio is Batman vs. Superman. Although the colors are intentionally muted, the colour grading allows the essential elements of the frame, like the red in Superman’s cape or the dark blue sky during the big showdown, to pop for the viewer. Another example can be the different modes you set on your television. Between all the presets in picture mode, you may notice “Dynamic” (or vibrant if you own a Sony television) compared to “Standard.” Every Marvel film is coloured for standard, which can go against Thor’s overall aesthetic from the comics.
Thor is a character that rides on a rainbow bridge connected to a mythological planet oozing with vivid multi-changing colored crystals. The character himself is a God who hones the power of thunder. Attempting to find the right tone, Marvel decided to go in a stern direction with the story so audiences could take Thor seriously. Since Thor is rooted in Greek mythology, Disney hired Shakespearian actor Kenneth Branaugh to bring the type of grade A acting one would expext from a modernized period piece. The result is a mix of Shakesperean tragedy and a fish-out-of-water story rooted in fun to break from the moody tone. The two styles didn’t mold well. Audiences enjoyed the stage presence of Asguard but not the falling in love with Jane Foster on earth subplot. Its follow-up Thor: The Dark World, doubled down on the drama giving little room for comedy.
Thor didn’t win audiences over with The Dark World’s weighty aspects. Disney needed to give Thor a little spark. In comes a guy who’s funny in front of and behind the camera (Taika Waititi) to make Thor into a comedy. Although his father dies and all his people are killed in the end, Thor Ragnarok is thematically hilarious since most of the tragedy occurs in the background. Waititi struck the correct tone with the character, noticing what may translate dramatically well in the panel may seem silly on screen. Waititi has just the type of humor Marvel was looking for and is one of Disney’s golden prospects with a Star Wars project he’s helming currently in development.
The magic Taika has doesn’t last for more than one film. Thor: Love and Thunder feels like it’s not only repeating the beats of the last film, including every other MCU picture, Usually, I wouldn’t complain about a film being the same, but when it’s not only me but the general public who can see what the storytellers and executives are doing, it’s hard not to call the obvious out.
Attempting to reconnect his style with the first two Thor’s, Taika Waititi brings back Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Foster was nonexistent in the MCU after Dark World. That’s possibly because Disney was trying to find a way to distance themselves from a box office failure as much as possible. Much like how Disney shows love for the Star Wars prequels they once bashed, the company wants to ensure that every film, even the disliked ones, gets recognition.
That’s admirable, at least when it works. For all its faults, Obi-Wan Kenobi delivered where it counted; Thor: Love and Thunder reintroduces Jane because the writers don’t know what other aspects of Thor’s character to explore after spending three films with him. Not to mention all the Avengers flicks.
When in doubt, go back to the well. Unfortunately, that well is filled with salt water. Although it’s nice to see why Jane practically disappeared from the MCU map, it doesn’t contribute much to Thor’s progression. With Asgard destroyed and Loki trapped in another timeline, Thor’s only buddies left are the Guardians of The Galaxy, who depart early in the film. That’s disappointing as the movie starts on a solid note until it regresses into another villain of the week plot.
At the film’s start, we find out how/why Thor lost his Big Lebowski body from Avengers Endgame. Now with a new team of allies, Thor goes on adventures with The Guardians of The Galaxy, defending many solar systems from endless threats. What could have been Guardians 2.5 similarily to how Captain America: Civil War was Avengers 2.5. is a lost opportunity.
If I remember anything about Thor: Love and Thunder, it’s Gorr the God Butcher, played unnervingly well by ultra method actor Christian Bale. One of the finest performers of this generation, Bale completely disappears into whatever role he plays. Luckily this time, it seems Christian is giving his body a break from significant transformations. Instead, the makeup department does a degree of the heavy lifting for Christian. Gorr lives up to his name as he drools Tim Burton Penguin black goo from his mouth, is covered in dirt and looks like he smells like fecal matter. Mr. Bale speaks softly with inference drawing me to his every word. .
I’m beginning to see a pattern with the newest Marvel pictures. A director can incorporate their style, except that style is noticeable for the third act’s closing action piece. In Dr. Strange in The Multiverse of Madness, Stephen Strange reanimates his corpse to fight the evil version of himself. Known for his Evil Dead films, Director Sam Raimi got to be a little gothic at the end of what is essentially a Wandavision rerun where Wanda goes on a killing spree. In the big fight against Gorr, Thor: Love And Thunder switches to a black and white template, only bringing color to what the director wants the audience to focus on.
These final fights seem like a contractual compromise from the studio. “you tell our story; we let you make the hi-light of the film.” When the fights conclude in both pictures, the movies end with the same cryptic mid-credit cameos and gags you’d expect. I used to love this stuff, but I get tired of seeing the same thing close to thirty times.
If Thor Ragnarok is about leadership, then Thor: Love and Thunder is about letting go of the ones you love. That’s a beautiful theme handled like an eaten plate of sloppy Joes. The subjects Mr. Waititi handles aren’t light by any means. The events immediately following Ragnarok are tragic. Yet the film’s a laugh riot. It’s like enjoying a glass of fine wine before Thanos comes into breakup the party. When Thor learns his big lesson, it’s obvious to anyone what he will find out. So the dramatic impact isn’t there unless you constantly fall for the same story beats brought to audiences across the last decade.
There isn’t far to go after Avenger’s Endgame’s finality. Our main heroes have told their stories. Or so I thought. We can get something that handles nostalgia with grace like Spider-Man: No Way Home or tv show that’s wildly imaginative like Loki. After so many years, I know Marvel can do better than throw away sequels like this and Dr. Strange 2. When the movie ends, not much changes at all with Thor. So why even tell this story?
If Disney is insistent on sticking with Thor, then they need to take some chances. The type of chances Edgar Wright may have had if he got to make his Ant-Man instead of Adam McKay. Thor Ragnarok worked because it was a bold stylistic choice from the first two. Why not continue to roll the dice on the unknown and continue to push the envelope with Thor? Please give him a higher contrast ratio than the other films, making it look different. Have it stand out. Forget visual continuity. Stick with story continuity and tell tales of the other gods in Thor’s comic universe that can be brought to the screen.
Natalie Portman is a fine actress, but Jane Foster isn’t fascinating to watch. Alas, Edgar Wright left Disney because they dislike taking risks. Sure here and there, we’ll have an Infinity War where all the good guys die, but otherwise, Thor: Love and Thunder rests on the middle shelf among many other Marvel pictures that have long left my memory.