Electricity in the Air – Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

I had a busier weekend than anticipated but still made time to see the new Thor movie. I started writing it up but wanted to sit with it a little more before posting anything. Love and Thunder’s grandiose production design, robust color palette, electrifying VFX, and elaborate costumes make for an appealing visual feast but the rest is stretched thin and struggles to live up to its lofty potential. 

*I don’t want to get into spoilers but I can’t say what I want otherwise, so that may be unavoidable. Just be warned there are probably at least a couple.*

The Guardians’ scene is short but it’s fun

Fresh off his short (mostly off-screen) stint as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor must rush home to protect New Asgard from Gorr the God Butcher. However, upon his arrival, he’s also re-introduced to his old flame who now wields his former weapon and the power of Thor. 

Jane Foster’s first appearance as The Mighty Thor

If it sounds like there is a lot going on, that’s because there is. The film jumps all over the cosmos from the unnamed home of Gorr to the planet of the Indigarrians to the homeworld of Falligar the Behemoth to New Asgard on Earth to Omnipotence City to the Shadow Realm and, eventually, all the way to the center of the universe…to Eternity. 

Omnipotence City is something to see but isn’t used to its potential

While it’s cool to get a look at all those places to see them brought to life on the big screen, it’s mostly superficial and lacks any impactful meaning. Just as a point of comparison, Ragnorok is essentially divided between Asgard and Sakaar but each of those places gets enough breathing room to each have unique identities that contribute to the story in a meaningful way. Love and Thunder moves through all the locations too fast for any of them to have the kind of significance that they should. Setting notwithstanding, the movie struggles to find its identity as it’s stretched thin between the kind of flippant comedic tone Thor has with the Guardians, his supposedly meaningful romance, expanding the cosmic reach of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and making its imposing villain a threat worth fearing. 

How’s that for comic book accuracy?

With the film coming in at under two hours, which is uncommon for these kinds of films lately, there’s no room to explore all the things brought to the table with any depth. After the success of Taika Waititi’s first contribution to the Thor franchise (Ragnarok), I’m sure there was immense pressure to not only deliver again but to conform and stay within the confines of the MCU box. Unfortunately, that wastes an incredible villain like Gorr and the talents of the fantastic actor brought in to portray him. It also relegates most of the love story at the center of the film to flashbacks with limited substance between the characters. There are moments where it works, but most of what is there is one-sided so it doesn’t have the kind of impact that it could and should have when it matters most in the end. While the two stories are near each other in the comics, and I see the parallel narrative that Waititi was going for, there just wasn’t enough time for both of them as the film was already trying to do too many other things. 

Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher

Christian Bale is, in moments, excellent as the demonic Gorr the God Butcher. There is a lot of literal and figurative darkness that comes with the character and there are instances that could have made for effective horror and pushed him into the upper echelon of MCU villains, but the script quickly retreats to the comfort of its established comedy. Unfortunately, that undermines the seriousness of the character so it’s difficult to view him as a legitimate threat. Even Zeus and the other gods in Omnipotence City laugh at the notion of Thor’s exaggerated concern. That is meant to show their hubris and that would have worked splendidly had Gorr punished them for that, but most of what should be his most impressive exploits take place off-screen. Now that I have had time to sit back and really think about it, by the time the credits roll, we don’t see Gorr kill any gods except for his own, Rapu, during his character introduction in the film’s opening moments. He gets the Necrosword and the next time we see him, his path of destruction has already happened off camera so, the audience doesn’t get a chance to see what the pantheon of gods should actually be afraid of or why it matters. 

Silver Surfer much?

Gorr’s disillusionment with his own deity, Rapu, opens the door to many narratives about theology and its evils, but also just as a metaphor for those who we entrust with power. Sadly, that narrative is replaced by a more simplistic revenge arc. The God Butcher should be much more sympathetic than he is, but the script doesn’t get deep enough to flesh that out. Even the line from the trailer that was drilled into my brain, “You’re not like the other gods I’ve killed. You have something that’s worth fighting for”, isn’t in the film to the best of my recollection. That line has significance because it implies that Gorr’s “humanity” is central to his struggle and his contest with Thor is supposed to reveal that. Instead, he’s reduced to basically a one-note villain no matter how well Bale plays that note. After seeing this, I think Bale would have been a phenomenal Silver Surfer but that’s off the table now.

Side note: the Necrosword wasn’t done justice. At all. The history of that blade is much bigger than this story and being unable to dive into that likely has to do with some licensing rights. Comic accuracy aside, with all the money spent on the visual style of this movie, it was a disappointingly generic sword design. 

Bringing Natalie Portman back to a franchise she’s been absent from for “eight years, seven months, and six days”, as Thor puts it, in order to do this story was ambitious and came with its own character struggles. While Jane is dying of nonspecific stage-4 cancer, it leads her to “connect” with Thor’s previously shattered hammer, Mjolnir. However, that connection has zero to do with her worthiness as “Thor” and everything to do with some kind of incantation Odinson bestowed on it. That just undermines Jane as a character and put her firmly back into the “damsel-in-distress” category that received much criticism after her first two appearances as Dr. Foster. Sure, she gets to have some big, badass moments but it’s more placated than it is genuine. This is another part of what I meant when I mentioned there wasn’t enough time to go around. The two most important characters to the actual story that’s taking place are mostly just there as props to Chris Hemsworth and that’s really unfortunate. 

Hemsworth plays the lovelorn, space-pirate with ease

The hunky Australian gives you exactly what you expect from him at this point but the comedy schtick gets old, to be honest, and it detracts from what could have made this film work at its highest level. There are certainly moments where the humor works, mostly when it’s more subtle. That’s also because most of the best comedic material was used for the trailers so, it might as well have gone for a little heavier substance. One thing Hemsworth does exceedingly well in the film is he establishes relationships with his weapons, Mjolnir and Stormbreaker. They are imbued with unspoken personalities to mirror the rocky relationship between Thor and Jane and that allows Hemsworth to really lean into his performance in an endearing way that felt more personal than much of the rest. It is one of the bests parts of the film, but it also says a lot when some of the best on-screen chemistry is between the lead and his Hammer & Axe.

Tessa Thompson’s (newly King) Valkyrie continues to be one of the more interesting characters the franchise has produced and she is able to get quite a lot out of the portrayal, despite being fourth in the hierarchy. That tells me a few things. First, Thompson is a skilled performer that can convey a lot of emotion with just a look or the tone in her delivery. Second, it lets me know that Valkyrie is a character that is much better understood by the writers and needs to be a larger part of the stories moving forward. She is more interesting than Thor at this stage. Lastly, the character doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting and that puts Thompson in a great position to over-deliver, which she consistently does. 

The production elements are all stellar, especially the integration of the monochromatic Shadow Realm. It’s got a fun soundtrack and the original score by Michael Giacchino and Nami Melamud is strong. It looks the part thanks to Nigel Phelps’ production design, Katie Sharrock’s set decoration, and the costuming by Mayes C. Rubeo is great. There is some fun action and the visual effects team should be very proud. 

It was an enjoyable enough theatrical experience, but there were no surprises. Maybe I set the bar too high with my expectations and that’s on me. With that in mind, this one ultimately felt like filler for an MCU that doesn’t know exactly where it’s headed but is still obligated to make and release films to feed the beast.

Recommendation: If you have made it this far with the MCU, see it for the colorful adventure aspects and for any potential Easter eggs that will connect the dots on future installments. If you aren’t interested in the superhero stuff, you can skip this one.

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