After bemoaning my frustrating inability to connect with massively popular properties like The Sandman, here comes Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) to shoot holes in my argument. If there’s a genre franchise that proves I’m reachable, it’s the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at this point – after two dozen films and several television seasons – really should have exhausted my interest by now, considering its market saturation and flashy, bludgeoning sameness. But here I am, still watching it. I suppose I simply get the MCU; it gets me, anyway.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: Thor 4 is not a very good film, even if I sort of enjoyed it. The baddie du jour is Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Gorr, disgusted by the callous god he worshipped during his daughter’s tragic death, finds himself empowered by the mystical Necrosword, and turns his wrathful vengeance on…well, as his name might imply, murdering deities. News of Gorr’s homicidal rampage reaches Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he’s gallavanting across the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy, when a remote missive from Sif (Jaimie Alexander) convinces him the people of New Asgard may be next on the chopping block. Accompanied by his rocky companion Korg (Taika Waititi), Thor journeys back to Earth just in time to thwart Gorr’s attack. But the assault turns out to be just the first move in Gorr’s master plan to kill all the gods. This engages Thor and Korg on a new intergalactic mission, which also enlists the king of New Asgard, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Thor’s old flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has mysteriously been empowered by Thor’s old hammer Mjolnir.
Taika Waititi brought much-needed whimsy and flair to Thor: Ragnarok, but in Thor: Love and Thunder, he doubles down on twee, silly farce, and maybe overdoes it. The playful tone occasionally works, but also clashes against the super-seriousness of Gorr’s evil plots and the usual MCU ambience of menace. The plot is slapdash: Jane’s Thorification isn’t particularly well developed, the early Guardians integration feels like inorganic cross-marketing, and the narrative beats make sense only when viewed as contrived connective tissue for action set-pieces and comic sight gags. And oh, spare me the hair metal soundtrack! Despite all this, it’s still kind of fun, with Hemsworth being his usual charismatic self and the romance between Thor and Jane delivering nice moments. Tessa Thompson gets a welcome bump in screen time, and the villainy from Bale is rock solid. There’s even a thematic undercurrent involving the negligent, dismissive way the powerful and privileged treat their subjects, and while it doesn’t go far enough to become smart commentary and generates zero self-reflection in Thor, it does give Russell Crowe a delightful turn as the uber-god Zeus, from whom Thor and his retinue seek assistance.
In other words, Thor: Love and Thunder is a scrambled bag, as these affairs go. The film is a mess, but ultimately I guess it’s my kind of mess; perhaps I’m not as immune to the popular zeitgeist as I like to think.