The original Thor was a solid introduction to the character, proving that the God of Thunder could be taken seriously in a live-action setting. The Dark World didn’t seem to know what to do with Thor, resulting in one of the lesser MCU movies. In many respects, Ragnarok felt like the first true Thor movie. While Chris Hemsworth was always perfect for the role, Taika Waititi got everything else down with 80s-inspired visuals and an epic tone that didn’t take itself too seriously. Waititi returns for Thor: Love and Thunder, doubling down on everything that made Ragnarok such a blast: atmospheric action, strong chemistry among the cast, and good old Korg. However, one essential element is hit and miss this time: the comedy.
Love and Thunder is by no means without humor, but the jokes don’t always land as they did in Ragnarok. Some are recycled, such as a bit involving Matt Damon and Luke Hemsworth. Others experiment with absurd ideas, but can come off as awkward half of the time. Watching the film in a fairly full IMAX, I heard chuckles throughout the theater, but only so many moments united the audience in uproarious laughter. With Waititi being among this generation’s most inventive comedic minds, it’s a wonder why Love and Thunder isn’t hilarious. Even if the film doesn’t always work as a comedy, it does succeed as an action spectacle and romance.
Like Bo Peep in the Toy Story films, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) sat out the third film, but she’s back with a badass attitude for the fourth. Dying from cancer, Jane is given a new lease on life when Mjolnir calls to her. Reassembling itself, the broken hammer turns Jane into the Mighty Thor. The universe could use a second Thor, as Gorr the God Butcher is on a killing spree. He also does what the Penguin couldn’t in Batman Returns, successfully kidnapping children. With another actor in the role, Gorr might’ve been another generic villain. Christian Bale has the time of his life behind that Oscar-worthy makeup, though, turning in a portrayal that’s comedic, campy, menacing, and even sympathetic. Russell Crowe also has fun as Zeus, playing him less like a god and more like a My Big Fat Greek Wedding character.
While the cast is universally entertaining, some are admittedly short-changed. The Guardians of the Galaxy exit early, although they at least have another movie and holiday special coming up. Tessa Thompson continues to shine as Valkyrie, although she needed more scenes with Portman. The film also could’ve done more to flesh out her love life, which doesn’t get much more than a brief mention. Come on, Marvel, fully embrace your LGBTQ+ characters! Oh, and for those who’ve been waiting for Jaimie Alexander to get her due as Lady Sif, fingers-crossed she’s in Loki Season 2.
Regardless, the film’s most important relationship is between Thor and Jane, which is where Love and Thunder strikes lightning. Portman gives her most energetic performance as Jane, and her dynamic with Hemsworth has never been more compelling. Their power couple relationship finds the ideal balance between cute and cool. Yet, there’s also a genuine tragedy to Jane’s cancer diagnosis, which isn’t simply resolved once she picks up the hammer. Portman and Hemsworth make the movie, although Waititi’s fingerprints are all over the film as well.
Even if it’s not Waititi’s funniest film, Love and Thunder may be his best-looking. Waititi goes even further with heavy metal imagery worthy of a Metallica album cover. The most visually-striking sequence takes place in the Shadow Realm, which possesses the artistry of Sin City. This is the brooding landscape that I wanted from The Dark World, which turned in a visual snooze fest. With the potential for more Thor movies, hopefully Waititi will return. Love and Thunder might not be Ragnarok, but it does solidify Waititi as the most fitting director for this character.