Directed by: Taika Waititi
Distributed by: Disney
Written by Anna Harrison
Once upon a time, “Thor: Ragnarok” was a giant breath of fresh air for the MCU—where once the “Thor” franchise was seen as staid and boring (though the original certainly has its merits, “Thor: The Dark World” was eighty percent slog, twenty percent Loki fun, which is a horrible ratio), director Taika Waititi came in an injected Marvel with his off-kilter sensibilities, and the result was a rollicking good time filled with humor and joy, a sharp slap in the face to those who said Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was the most boring Avenger. “Ragnarok” was filled with a rebel spirit from Waititi and served as the launchpad from which he has taken Hollywood by storm, so the anticipation for “Thor: Love and Thunder” was high—especially considering it marked the return of Natalie Portman to the MCU and promised a better character arc for Jane Foster, and furthermore saw the introduction of beloved comic villain Gorr the God Butcher, played by none other than Christian Bale.
Where once Waititi’s irreverence and flippancy seemed rebellious, in “Love and Thunder,” it only attempts to conceal the fact that he has stopped caring about his central character and just about everything else, too. It’s not only the bad visual effects, although those abound. It’s not only the flatness of the images onscreen, although they certainly look lifeless. It’s not only the overabundance of ineffective jokes, although there are plenty to spare (and most of them delivered by Waititi’s own character). It’s all of these and the disregard for proper character arcs, the lack of any plot intrigue, and the absence—on Waititi’s part—of any care and respect for the movie being made.
There’s a so-called God Butcher, though he barely does any god butchering. Jane returns and gets slightly more to do this time around (and some very nice biceps to boot), but ultimately her appearance does nothing to alter the plot of the movie. It does affect Thor’s character arc, but only because we’re told so, not because Waititi has done anything to show us this. Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) comes back for no apparent reason, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) hangs around and does some stuff (still unsure why Thor appointed a functioning alcoholic as king? Me, too), the late Heimdall (Idris Elba) apparently has a son with the same abilities because Waititi realized he didn’t want to work around the lack of Heimdall powers in this movie and opted for the laziest solution possible, on and on and on. The director doesn’t care, so we don’t care.
All of this becomes doubly frustrating when you remember that two of the arcs adapted here (Gorr and Jane’s time as Mighty Thor) had the potential to be some of the most affecting storylines in the MCU but get squandered here amidst screaming goats and “gay representation” that amounts to a couple of lines and a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joke. Gorr is dead set on killing gods because they failed him and his daughter. Will this cause some self-reflection in Thor, God of Thunder? Jane has found herself imbued with the power of Thor as she battles cancer. Surely that must cause some emotion other than a vague sense of jealousy in Thor, no? Nearly everyone Thor loves has died and he’s depressed. Isn’t that an emotional beat that will definitely make him an interesting character and not get reduced to half-assed jokes? Well, if you couldn’t guess, that’s a big, fat “no” on all counts.
So then why the positive score? Maybe because Disney bought me. Maybe it’s out of some misplaced brand loyalty. It’s probably because I still had a good enough time, and because Matt Damon, Luke Hemsworth, and Sam Neill showed up again as Asgardian theater adults, and Russell Crowe got to dance around in a short skirt and speak in a ridiculous Greek(ish) accent while Simon Russell Beale yelled at him from the stands. ABBA played at one point. Up until the child soldiers showed up and were played for laughs (yes, this is the same Taika Waititi who did “Jojo Rabbit,” and yes, I was as shocked as you are), even though I was growing increasingly frustrated at the direction this was taking, I was never bored or actively unhappy. So there’s that.
But, damn it, is it too much to ask for more? Don’t we deserve better, 29 films in?
(This movie would have been 100% better with 100% more Loki.)
“Thor: Love and Thunder” Trailer
“Thor: Love and Thunder” is in wide theatrical release.