Let me tell you a story about the Viking and the director. Thor was no ordinary hero. He had muscles galore, he couldn’t quite carry a movie on his own, but in a team Chris Hemsworth added a pile punch in action.
Then came the eccentric director from New Zealand. With her hilarious vampire mockumentary and crazy coming-of-age adventure, Hollywood quickly learned Taika Waititi’s name. Lo and behold, Waititi was invited into the world of Marvel, and with Thor: Ragnarok, he and the Viking added an irreverent, riotous spirit to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
WATCH| The official trailer for Thor: Love and Thunder:
But that was 2017: before the Russo Brothers wrapped up a decade of superhero stories with Avengers: Endgame; before Waititi goes familiar again by branching out with the Oscar winner JoJo Rabbit and several television series.
The first trailers of Thor: Love and Thunder promised a return to the hair-metal mayhem of Ragnarok, with the music of Guns N’ Roses providing the sonic beat for more Hemsworth and Waititi magic. But Thor: Love and Thunder sounds more like Guns N’ Roses today – familiar tunes but Axl can’t hit the high notes like he used to.
Cinema borrows a lot from comics
Set after the cosmos-quake events of Avengers: Infinity War, Thor: Love and Thunder is an oddly self-contained affair that finds Thor still searching for purpose. In what is essentially an extension guardians of the galaxy cameo, we see Thor as part of the team, but his heart doesn’t seem to be in it.
Fortunately for him (and for us), the new film borrows heavily from the comics where an ailing Jane Foster battled cancer by turning to Asgardian magic. As Foster tries to avoid asking the Thunder God for help, a new problem arises in the form of Gorr. Christian Bale plays fanatic with a vendetta determined to destroy all gods.
When Gorr the Butcher God arrives on Earth to capture the children of New Asgard, Thor rushes to the rescue to find his former ex-girlfriend wielding the mighty Mjölnir. The awkwardness of their reunion is effective. Thanks to a recap from Thor’s rocky brother, Korg, we learned what separated them, but could Foster be the answer Thor was looking for?
Maybe he just misses Mjölnir. The screenplay co-written by Jennifer Kaylin Robinson and Waititi sees Thor talking to the hammer like an abandoned lover. This goes to the heart of the problem. Who is this Space Viking? Is he still stuck in adolescence, or is he able to evolve?
Both Ragnarok and End of Game argued for the latter. They allowed Hemsworth to drop the smile, acknowledging the psychic toll the character was carrying. But Waititi needs the mighty man-child for a laugh. The result is a film that rolls back, with Thor mooning over his ex, while Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman make the most of what little screen time they’ve been given.
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The Complete Waititi
Although it is tempting to compare love and thunder at Ragnarok, it’s worth pointing out that the 2017 film had screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost shaping the story. As a director, Waititi overcame serious bravado, encouraging his actors to be loose and vulnerable.
Probably encouraged by the success of RagnarokMarvel let the director go full Waititi to love and thunder, but the result is a story that feels both familiar and flabby. Reports that Jeff Goldblum, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey filmed deleted scenes from the final product suggest a film that was shaped partially in the editing room.
While it’s great to see Portman return to flesh out Jane, she’s now fighting against stoic cancer patient tropes instead. (Also, where is Kat Dennings as Darcy? Those three minutes of screen time weren’t enough.) Soon, the Thors and their friends depart for what is essentially the United Nations of Gods (called Omnipotence City) to warn them about Gorr.
The setting is grand and golden, an endless amphitheater filled with a menagerie of magical beings, led by Zeus. Far from pious, Russell Crowe plays the Olympian as a lascivious braggart more concerned with lining up his next orgy than the fate of his fellow deities.
A comment on the hollowness of our leaders? The way we worship false gods? No, just another easy joke. Fruit at your fingertips in a movie filled with silly, shallow spectacles.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in theaters on July 8.