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Gods and monsters … and loads of laughs – ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe is absolutely packed with heroes. You can’t throw a rock without hitting an Avenger or some Avengers-adjacent superhero. There are tiers, of course – your mainstays and your supporting players and whatnot – but there’s no disputing the sheer numbers.

Here’s the big question, though: with all of those characters, all those beloved spandex-clad derring-doers on the roster – your Iron Man, your Captain America – how is it that Thor is the first one of the bunch to get to four solo outings?

“Thor: Love and Thunder” marks the fourth film to center everyone’s favorite Norse god of thunder. Directed by Taika Waititi – who also helmed the previous Thor outing, the delightful “Thor: Ragnarok” – it’s a continuation of the irreverent tone and comedic evolution of the character, even as he continues to deal with cosmos-altering entities.

It is Waititi’s unique take on the character that has led to Thor being the first to four. While Iron Man and Captain America both came in hot, each getting to three films in short order, they were also somewhat handcuffed by the larger MCU story arcs. And then, eventually, the narrative required them to move on. Thor, on the other hand, was the perfect combination of important and irrelevant, giving an auteur type like Waititi the flexibility to steer the character in a more idiosyncratic direction.

With “Ragnarok” and now “Love and Thunder,” we get films that, while still slotting into the overall MCU house style, also have plenty of their own flavor. This new film is fun and funny, with a lot of the same goofball energy that powered its predecessor, though it should be noted that those who are looking for significant advancement of the larger Phase 4 narrative may be a little disappointed – in many ways, the story told here is self-contained, with relatively little impact on the grander arc (though if we want to talk about that as a symptom of the disconnected nature of this phase thus far, there’s a real discussion to be had).

Still, that’s OK – there’s definitely more room for fun when these films aren’t as constrained by the need for greater advancement. This one isn’t quite stand-alone – the Guardians of the Galaxy are here for a minute, for example – but for the most part, “Love and Thunder” is content to be its own thing. How you feel about that will likely play a major role in your enjoyment of the experience.

We open on a blasted desert plain. A man named Gorr (Christian Bale) wanders the wasteland alongside his daughter, praying to his god for salvation. Alas, his daughter dies, leaving Gorr utterly devastated. When he hears whispers that lead him to an oasis of sorts, he finds himself face to face with the very god who had forsaken him. Those whispers emanated from the Necrosword, a weapon of unimaginable power – enough power to slay gods. Gorr uses that power on his own deity, then swears to rid the universe of all gods.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been adrift in the aftermath of the battle with Thanos. He has been traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy, fighting against various evils, but he finds himself lost. Simply put, he doesn’t know who he is anymore. After one particular more-or-less successful fight, Thor receives a distress call from Sif. He goes to her and finds her injured; she tells him about Gorr and the fact that he has targeted New Asgard back on Earth.

Upon his return, Thor finds that Gorr and his shadow demons are already attacking. He also discovers something altogether unexpected: namely, that his former flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is there and that she is, somehow, wielding his magically-reconstituted hammer Mjolnir. That’s right – Thor’s ex is now … also a Thor. However, Gorr’s true plan quickly becomes clear – his demons kidnap and spirit away the children of New Asgard.

And so, it is up to Thor, Jane, New Asgard’s King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor’s rocky buddy Korg (Taika Waititi) and a pair of giant goats – among others – to rescue the children and stop Gorr before he can complete his mission of deicide. Oh, and Thor also has to deal with his unresolved feelings for Jane and navigate the complexities of a separate and, in the words of New Order, bizarre love triangle.

That might sound like nonsense, but trust me – there’s a ton going on here and it’s even weirder than I’ve let on.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It leaned into the comedy hard while also finding ways to insert emotional stakes – no easy feat, though Waititi has shown himself to be more than capable of walking that tightrope in the past. The tonal variance might feel unbalanced to some – and they wouldn’t be wrong – but for me, it worked. The set pieces and VFX work? It’s all solid. There are some excellent action sequences here, as well as a few delightful running gags (that I won’t spoil).

(Note: The Guns ‘n Roses needle drops were solid, if perhaps a bit much. However, we also get Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark,” which is f---ing INSPIRED.)

However, it’s the performances that make “Love and Thunder.” Hemsworth has come into his own in this role, finding the comedic joys of the character while also embracing the moments of godly gravitas. He’s excellent. Natalie Portman is phenomenal in her return to the MCU, finding ways to embrace the inherent goofiness of superherodom while grounding the character in some stark realities. And Bale is giving a top-tier MCU villain performance (even if it occasionally feels like he’s in a different movie) – he is over-the-top and gleefully terrifying, gnawing on the scenery and basically daring everyone else to try and keep up.

The rest of the cast kind of gets backseated, though everyone does pretty good work. Thompson is great, but underutilized. Waititi’s Korg is probably at his best as the framing device narrator. And there are a ton of fun cameos – I’ll let you discover most of them for yourself, but I have to make note of Russell Crowe’s delightful turn as a tipsy, horny Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” is a fun movie. It is also a tonally scattered one. There’s an underlying inconsistency to it, to be sure; personally, I found the shifts to be engaging, albeit extreme, but your mileage may vary. Balancing a plot laden with god murder and child abduction and an irreverent joke- and gag-driven spirit isn’t easy, but this film is successful far more than it isn’t at doing just that.

All in all? Pretty mighty.

[4.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 July 2022 10:43

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