In the constant onslaught of Hollywood superhero movies, it can be easy to overlook the whimsy and humor inherent in many comics. Cheesy one-liners are a must-have for Marvel heroes, who wear ridiculous costumes and often have oddly given powers. It is the juxtaposition of this theatricality with a world in constant peril that makes them so compelling. That sensibility is not lost on director Taika Waititi, who previously helmed 2017 Thor: Ragnarok. As he takes up the mantle of the Norse god in Thor: Love and ThunderWaititi turns the dial to 11, creating an offbeat superhero movie that’s equal parts humor and heart.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER ★★★ (3/4 stars)
The director quickly weeds out lingering Marvel Cinematic Universe plot points as the film opens, subjecting Thor to a visually hilarious bootcamp to get rid of his End of Game ballast. Guardians of the Galaxy makes a much-needed appearance, but Waititi sends Thor and his rocky pal Korg (voiced by the director himself) on their own adventure with the Guns N’ Roses soundtrack without delay. Although Thor has left New Asgard, now a thriving tourist attraction, in the hands of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a threat emerges that draws him back to his people and pushes him to become worthy of his powers again.
That threat is Gorr the God Butcher, played by a full-throttle Christian Bale. Gorr was once an ordinary man who lost his daughter to a decaying planet, but a confrontation with his god led him to hate all gods. Now armed with an immortal-slaying necrosword, Gorr sweeps through the universe without almighty deities one by one – and Thor is next on his list. The vengeful villain kidnaps the children of New Asgard and it’s up to Thor, along with Valkyrie and her former flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to save the day. Jane, as it happens, became Mighty Thor with the help of Thor’s broken hammer, Mjölnir, making her a valuable addition to the team.
While Gorr’s motivation seems somewhat weak – a god was snotty with him and now he wants to kill them all? – Waititi keeps the script tight and keeps the runtime to two hours. The best moment comes when Thor, Jane, Valkyrie and Korg infiltrate Omnipotence City in hopes of raising an army and beg Zeus (a brash, pissing Russell Crowe) for help. It’s a clever scene that illustrates just how dumb these superheroes are. Gorr’s threat is sincere, but we don’t have to take everything about the Marvel Cinematic Universe so seriously, which Waititi points out in great detail.
Amid the jokes and sight gags, Waititi also tackles a central theme: love. The movie is about the love between a father and his daughter, the love between Thor and Jane, the love we learn Valkyrie once had with a fellow warrior, the love within a community. Emotional moments hit harder because everything around them is so lighthearted and funny. Thor, despite being an eternity old, is still searching for his purpose, something he seems to discover by the end of the film.
If there are any downsides to Thor: Love and Thunder, they are picky. Only a male director would send Mighty Thor into battle with his hair blowing in his face (seriously, no female would fight a god with loose curls that aren’t at least partially tied back). Valkyrie is sidelined before the climactic fight, which seems a bit too convenient. The resolution to Gorr’s story is expected, but not necessarily in a good way. There are a few too many cameos, which makes the film feel overloaded with “Look who it is!” moments. More importantly, a Thor movie just isn’t a Thor movie without Loki, whose presence is notably missing here.
But despite those flaws, Waititi produced two of the most entertaining and lively Marvel movies to date. He gave us a complicated hero – Thor’s ego and lack of self-awareness continue to provide some of the best comedic moments – and who strives to be better. An epic fight scene, done entirely in black and white, is visually captivating and showcases the potential for future superhero showdowns. While it’s still completely unclear where the MCU’s Phase Four is headed, one of the two post-credit scenes hints at what’s to come for Thor with a reveal that will have audiences applauding. At the end of the day, Thor: Love and Thunder does what a good superhero movie should do: it entertains us.
Observer reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.