If Thor: Ragnarok was a welcome attempt to infuse the God of Thunder with a disarming sense of goofiness, then Love and Thunder is an all-out surrender to it. The Shakespearean heft of Thor and The Dark World feels light years away, and in its place we get squalling goats, a chatterbox rock monster, and Axel Rose all over the soundtrack. Director Taika Waititi unspools a tightrope between being genuinely funny and shamelessly cute, and spends two hours teetering across it. As a viewer, you’ll likely fall to one side or another, and that will determine whether or not you enjoy these wacky adventures of Thor.
Four Thors and eleven years ago, our Allfather brought forth a new franchise, dedicated to a hunky blonde dude and his lightning hammer. This synopsis might divulge a few mild spoilers from those previous thunder wonders and various other MCU installments. If you haven’t caught up, as Silkk the Shocker once observed: It ain’t my fault.
Anyway, Love and Thunder takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, et al.) They spend their days smashing space villains, although Thor plays the Superman role of being way overpowered for these fights. He yawns and speechifies through battle after battle, a routine that becomes a real buzz-kill for the Guardians. Peter Quill can sense the spiritual emptiness in his new buddy. When a distress signal pops up, Quill happily sends Thor to investigate on his own.
This leads the lonely god to the wrath of Gorr (Christian Bale), a hate-fueled being bent on wiping out every god in existence. Gorr is a spindly, writhing creature, resembling a cross between Gollum and Lord Voldemort. Every breath, every step seems to cause him pain. Gorr possesses a god-killing sword, and his sights are now set on our favorite Asgardian. Once Thor is out of the way, Gorr’s machinations will grow even more apocalyptic.
To take the battle to Gorr, Thor will need allies, both likely and unlikely. This includes Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who’s grown bored with being King of New Asgard. He also gains a surprising warrior-woman in the form of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his ex-girlfriend from a few movies ago. (On a side note, the trailers did an exceptional job of spoiling this for us all.) She hears the call of Mjolnir, Thor’s enchanted hammer. When Jane wields it, she gains superpowers and takes the mantle of Mighty Thor. Unfortunately, Jane’s new persona also conceals a heavy secret.
Team Thor also includes Korg (voice of writer-director Taikia Waititi), the oblivious rock creature introduced in Ragnarok. Throughout the story, Korg acts as a wild-eyed narrator, crafting each character’s saga into cosmic folklore. There’s also Miek, who resembles something between a slug and a walrus. Finally, Thor inherits two massive, magical goats, who unleash banshee screams, as if their nethers were twisted in barbed wire. Naturally, these crazed barnyard animals are perfect to pull Thor’s enchanted boat across the galaxy. Waititi also cooks in a few surprise cameos, which I won’t reveal here.
Most of the resulting movie is a bumpy joyride of off-kilter gags, 80s nostalgia, and deep comic book nerdery. Quite a few jokes land, but many of them thunk into the Bïfrost, as well. (The goats get a few screams too many.) As with Ragnarok, Waititi supercharges his epic with blasts of head-banging arena rock, but it doesn’t feel as fresh this time. For a two-hour flick, Waititi also crams so much stuffing into the plot, you can practically hear the seams pop halfway through. After a torrent of characters and subplots, even my dorky eyes started to glaze over. (Twenty-nine movies in and we’re just now chucking in the Olympian gods? Yeeeeesh.)
With that said, Love and Thunder has plenty in the plus column. As always, Hemsworth has impeccable comic timing and lumberexual charisma to go with his finely-honed delts and glutes. (For those interested, Waititi showcases both of the latter in an extended nude scene.) It’s great to see Portman’s role grow beyond mere arm candy, and she kills it as a Thor who’s both mighty and vulnerable. Portman and Thompson have a sassy interplay, making it a shame that Jane Foster didn’t show up in Ragnarok. Newcomer Bale is a standout, as a wounded being whose deep grief hardens into hollow rage. His Gorr is one of the most compelling Marvel villains to come along in a while.
As with Ragnarok, Waititi guides Love and Thunder with a steady hand, but it’s almost too much of a good thing. The cast and crew are clearly having a ball, but the film ultimately sags from all its giddy ambition. Much like the recent Doctor Strange in the Multi-Verse of Madness, this film has too many hyucks, too many cameos, and spends too much effort trying to prove how laid-back it is. Some viewers might feel the love, while others will get worn out by the thunder.
119 min. PG-13. In theaters.