Taika Waititi has certainly cracked the code on how to make a good Thor movie. (For the record, I still kind of like the first Thor, and there are traces in there of what would, eventually, flourish in Waititi’s two cracks at him. But, watching now, the first Thor kind of feels like watching the pilot of Friends, “Hey, why does Joey Tribiani look and act so different?”) Yes, crack the code he has – a lot of that coming from Chris Hemsworth’s gift for comedy, being able to play a lovable lunkhead who can still kick some ass – but in Thor: Love and Thunder, Waititi’s followup to 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok (which seems like it came out last year and 10 years ago at the same time), the code still works, but we are starting to see some wear and tear on the relevant buttons on the keypad used for that code.
Okay, I’ll cut the suspense and the elaborate metaphors about hypothetical keypads. I do like Thor: Love and Thunder, but not quite as much as Ragnarok. And the more I think about it, the more I think Waititi’s irreverent style works best when a good chunk of the movie is self-contained at the Grandmaster’s palace. The tone of Ragnarok remains, the actual plot of Love and Thunder doesn’t feel as structured. There’s a lot of fun, zipping around the galaxy, but at times I had to remind myself, wait, what’s going on here again? And then I had to ask, does it matter? Then I decided, yes, it does matter at least somewhat.
The movie starts with the origin of Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale. I just get the sense Gorr wasn’t at the top of the list of things Waititi cares about. When Love and Thunder is at its best, it’s in scenes like a flashback montage of Thor and Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman, returning after missing out on Ragnarock) dating life, which involves a lot of scenes of, like, Thor and Jane rollerskating. This is what Waititi is good at doing and, pretty obviously, likes to do. Bale, for his part, seems to be having the time of his life, but the character itself? Look, it’s a lot to ask of Bale to basically replace Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Cate Blanchett’s Hela, and Jeff Goldblume’s Grandmaster. Three characters who are colorful and fun. And, frankly, Gorr isn’t really a treat to look at. He’s kind of gross. And without Bale throwing everything he’s got at this character, I’m not sure it would rise that much above the Dark Elves from Thor: The Dark World. But you can kind of tell Waititi just gets us through this setup as quickly as possible because there’s no real way to make this weirdo’s origin story interesting and it’s best to just get it over as quickly as possible. The TL:DR is: “Gorr is mad!”
Anyway, Gorr is mad because he worshiped a god who wound up being a jerk and lost his daughter in the process. He then takes it upon himself, with the help of a magic sword that gives him powers, to kill all the gods in the galaxy, which would include our friend Thor. Speaking of Thor, I don’t think I’ve related more with a superhero for the first third of this movie. Thor is trying to find himself after experiencing trauma. Asking himself, what is it he likes doing anyway? Does he even want to be a superhero? He gained weight, then got back in shape and now finds himself just kind of wandering the galaxy with the Guardians of the Galaxy, fighting to help people, but kind of only if he’s feeling it at the moment. It’s all kind of zen. And I really liked this Thor. (Also, for anyone thinking the Guardians of the Galaxy are in this movie a lot, they are not. They go their own way pretty quickly.)
I don’t want to say too much about Jane Foster’s role in this movie to avoid spoilers (if you’ve read the comic, then you know why) other than to say, yes, it’s substantial and that Thor’s old weapon of choice, Mjolnir, calls out to Jane for reasons I won’t get into, turning her into Mighty Thor. Which then leads Thor, Jane, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi) on a galaxy-wide adventure to stop Gorr, who, by this point, has captured all the children of New Asgard in an attempt to bait Thor into fighting him because Gorr needs Thor’s axe, Stormbreaker, to achieve his ultimate goal. (Which also sets up a love triangle… well, honestly, more of a love square, between Thor, Jane, Mjolnir and Stormbreaker. Yes, Stormbreaker is a very jealous ex.)
I’ll give Love and Thunder credit because what I just wrote sure sounds like a lot. And, like I said, Love and Thunder doesn’t feel as tight as Ragnarok, but it’s still so much fun it doesn’t feel like a lot. Between Bale and Russell Crow as Zeus, this is a movie featuring two of the best actors of the last 25 years just absolutely going for it and having a ball.
But, in the end, the key element to Love and Thunder is the love part. And this is where the movie is great: the smaller moments between Thor and Jane (and Thor and Stormbreaker). The rest all just kind of feels like an excuse to put them in different settings. I mean, I’m sure that’s true. As much as Waititi would probably love to make a two-hour Thor movie just about the interpersonal relationships of those Thor cares about, yeah he’s probably never going to get to do quite that. But no one else knows how to do Thor-like Waititi does and pretty much my only complaints above are just comparisons of Waititi against himself. To the point, if Waititi doesn’t want to do any more Thor movies, there probably shouldn’t be any more Thor movies. But I’d like to see Waititi finish off his own personal Thor trilogy.
‘Thor: Love And Thunder‘ opens on July 8th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.