Thor: Love and Thunder (★★★☆☆) reminds us early on that, in the MCU, the golden-haired god from Asgard has suffered. He’s lost his dear mother, Frigga, and father, Odin, whom he revered. He’s wept final goodbyes to his less dear but begrudgingly loved brother Loki more times than he can recall. He loved and left, or was left by, Jane Foster, and, in his previous solo film, Thor: Ragnarok, even saw his entire world destroyed.
Taking the director’s seat for Ragnarok, Taika Waititi injected an aggressive sense of mischief and a whole lotta Led Zeppelin into the franchise. Chris Hemsworth, at home in the role, rose to the occasion of a perkier action-comedy, which still cast Thor’s dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) off to the afterlife in a cloud of dust.
Now, five years on from Ragnarok, and three years since we last saw him in Avengers: Endgame, voyaging into the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor has returned in fighting shape with naught but adventure and glory on his mind. His hair’s down, Hemsworth’s muscled guns (and buns) are out, and Waititi’s revving Guns N’Roses on the soundtrack.
This is headbanging Thor, here to slay dragons and take names — though he might meet his match in the vicious Gorr the God Butcher, played with icy determination by Oscar-winner Christian Bale. While we’re counting Oscar-winners, Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, with more heft to her physics genius, ex-girlfriend role, as well as to Jane’s powerful figure, now that she’s carrying Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.
Another devastating loss for Thor, Mjolnir seemingly was crushed into pieces by the evil Hela in the last film. But thanks to some smooth storytelling, the hammer survives — which doesn’t prevent Thor from lamenting his and Mjolnir’s fateful separation for the entire movie. To a disturbingly Freudian degree, Thor is obsessed with that hammer. It’s treated as a running joke. But one issue with the film’s emphasis on fun is that some running jokes get run into the ground.
That, fortunately, is not the case with choice cameos like Russell Crowe’s exuberantly self-regarding Zeus, the celebrity god among gods who have gathered to party in the Golden Temple of Omnipotent City. The Golden Temple scenes are ridiculous fun, a showcase for Crowe to let loose with this bizarrely accented, totally irreverent take on a deity.
Irreverence is the film’s main currency. And what’s more irreverent than pursuing a mission to murder all the gods? Gorr’s motivation is weakly established with a rote flashback, but the potency of his weapon, the Necrosword, a blade forged to slay gods, credibly strikes fear in these supreme beings, which lends gravity and suspense to the proceedings, just not enough.
The production design, too reliant on digitally-rendered environments, doesn’t add gravity to anything. Nami Melumad’s brawny score, especially the brooding theme for Gorr, carries more weight. The adventurous sounds, and Guns N’Roses riffs are paired with adventurously colorful visuals, including a sequence set in the Shadow Realm, a land utterly devoid of color.
The black-and-white-shot battle ranks among the film’s finest of plenty. Thor definitely gets his fight on in this sequel, proudly swinging the battle-axe, Stormbreaker. Yet, the weapon is no replacement for Mjolnir, just as he’s found no replacement in his heart for Jane Foster.
The movie dances around the couple’s off-again romance playfully, without mature insight into why they do or don’t work as a couple. The storyline lacks the sophistication of, say, the script’s approach to clearly queer Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (an appealing Tessa Thompson), or the surprise discovery that another character comes from an all-male alien species who live and reproduce in a same-sex society.
Also, the gods gather for orgies, apparently, so there’s just no telling what fun awaits Thor and friends, and the audience, on the hero’s next classic adventure.
Thor: Love and Thunder is Rated PG-13 and is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
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