Thor: Love and Thunder Takes the God of Thunder to New Heights
Thor: Love and Thunder screening provided by Disney
“…a film very much in the vein of its striking precursor that once again sacrifices routine for standalone adventure”
When Thor: Ragnarok (2017) hit cinemas some five years ago, there was a fissure that emerged in the Marvelverse, threatening to flip the whole structure of the franchise up until that point, on its head. That fissure was Taika Waititi, and he’s taken another dip in Marvel’s pool of possibility with Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), a film very much in the vein of its striking precursor that once again sacrifices routine for standalone adventure.
It might be Waititi’s knack for letting humour do the talking and his focus on jarring, isolated moments of casual banter, but Love and Thunder is a caged beast that falls neither here nor there in the current Marvel timeline. It sees Waititi adopt a similar structure to that of Ragnarok where he glosses over the set-ups for bigger and rowdier adventures in the films preceding it, before eventually tossing them out in favour of his penchant for the overzealous.
From Guns N’ Roses references, a striking rock & roll aesthetic, and kiwi-centric humour, the film is so filled to the brim with pop culture overload and cheesiness, that you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a plot at all. But with an infectious silliness, it’s easy to buy into the New Zealand director’s method for subversive madness.
Where Sam Raimi was evidently locked in a battle for creative control in the tonally messy Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), it’s clear that Disney and Waititi’s relationship is one that walks a similar path. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films were the first real instance where genre tropes could be bent in Marvel’s films and where ensemble banter could be pushed to the brink of tolerable exhaustion.
But with Waititi’s two Thor films, he sails past the point of no return as there is a constant barrage of one-liners thrown around that persist, and playful exaggerations of things that would most likely come across as banal in the hands of anyone else (two screaming extra-terrestrial goats that pull an Asgardian Norse ship in a way that mimics Santa and his reindeer, being one of many).
The movie opens with our villain, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) in the moments before his evil takes over. After losing his daughter to a lack of food and water in desert terrain, he stumbles upon a saving grace in the middle of said desert. Here he meets, forsakes and kills the god he swore allegiance to, after being consumed by a black Necrosword. He then swears to kill all gods.
Cue the events post-Endgame (2018) with everyone’s favourite Kiwi rock-man Korg (Taika Waititi) recounting the past events in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) life to a bunch of aliens, but also to the audience. Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy had set out into the vast cosmos, and following a period of rumination on Thor’s part (and substantial weight gain), he has shredded the fat and decides to help the Guardians rescue a planet from intruders. He succeeds, is rewarded for his part with the aforementioned screaming goats, and parts with the Guardians to seek out this new threat he’s heard of.
It’s a rather abrupt and crazy opening sequence, but it probably helps that the talented ensemble not only buys into this craze, but accentuates it as well. In Ragnarok, Hemsworth demonstrated a self-awareness for his big, hunky physique and used it to his advantage which was often the butt of the joke. In Love and Thunder, there’s still plenty of that physical humour, but there’s also laughs to be had in the interactions and banter he has with the rest of his troop. From the ever wise-cracking Korg to the returning Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and love-interest-turned-Mighty-Thor, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) — all of these characters keep proceedings light hearted in a way that echoes the Guardians group.
Love and Thunder is also underpinned by a level of raunchiness as exacerbated by an overly erotic Zeus (played by an ethnic-talking Russell Crowe) whose Spanish-esque accent will have you thinking he’s going to break out into a salsa at any point. His introduction comes in the wake of Thor and his peeps looking for new recruits, and it’s one of those sequences (comprised of a dumpling god called Bao among other things) that really has Waititi’s fingerprints all over it. The word “orgy” is tossed around countless times and Hemsworth is butt-naked at one point; heck, it’s probably this sequence alone (and one later point where Thor says “shitty” a few times) that earned the film its M rating. But again, Waititi is having a ball here as he rips the garments and gear off of one of Marvel’s most iconic characters and bares all for the audience — literally and figuratively.
If there is any grievance to be had for Love and Thunder, it’s that Ragnarok felt like a more complete film that found a balance between Waititi’s style of humour while never sacrificing the ethos embedded into the characters. Thor was still serious enough without it being tiresome, and he was also imbued with a funny side that gave his personality an extra layer unlike in the past Thor films. In Love and Thunder, however, that balance is gone, and the result is a Thor that feels out of character when he is trying to be the compassionate hero amongst the humour of it all.
Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher is also vastly underutilised in much the same way that Cate Blanchett’s Hela was in Ragnarok. Waititi’s films tend to reduce the impact and presence of antagonists, and it’s no different here as Bale’s Gorr is almost tacked on as a point of reference or a threat to keep in the back of your mind while our heroes gradually make their way to him. This approach is understandable in the sense that Waititi is all-in on providing a feel-good time in individual moments, but when Gorr does have his moments on screen, they’re too few and far between — ultimately reducing the stakes and leaving the ramifications of him reaching the sentient being “Eternity” feeling rather unimportant.
That said, Waititi is anything but unimportant; in fact, he’s probably the reason that Marvel films aren’t as caught up with having humour for humours sake anymore. While the punchlines can bear on excessive, and the same awe that came with seeing Ragnarok for the first time isn’t as profound this second time around, Love and Thunder does enough in its two hour runtime without overstaying its welcome.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens nationally from the 6th of July, 2022.
July 5th 2022Read more by Arnie
Category: Entertainment, Features, Film
Topics: Art, Film
Tags: 2022, chris hemsworth, christian bale, cinema, criticism, disney, film, Film Review, luke hemsworth, Marvel, matt damon, movies, natalie portman, review, russell crowe, Taika Waititi, tessa thompson, thor, thor love and thunder
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