Without putting too fine a point on it, because Odin knows Taika Waititi (who can normally do no wrong – see Our Flag Means Death, Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit) certainly hasn’t, Thor: Love and Thunder is unholy, unruly, near unwatchable mess.
That’s not to say there aren’t some fine elements scrambling to get out from under the narrative and comedic chaos that engulfs nearly every frame in the film – the actors are clearly having fun and deliver up some fine performances despite the lacklustre material and there are some thoughtfully imaginative ideas about grief and loss, religion and devotion – but by and large, Thor: Love and Thunder is a film that sets out to have some fun and fails miserably (much like the subpar Guardians of the Galaxy 2).
The trailer suggested a far more cohesive film, one that like Ragnarok five years before it, neatly balancing high, epic blockbuster drama and wink-and-a-nod humour that calls out Marvel for its sometime holier-than-thou intensity and proceeds to subvert at every turn.
It worked a treat in Ragnarok, the idea that a searingly intense storyline call happily sit, or not happily as the case maybe since the destruction of your homeworld is no laughing matter no matter how you slice it, but in Thor: Love and Thunder the balance is all out of whack, the scales tipping too far toward silly, pointless humour that draws some laughs but which never sustains a comedic joie de vivre in the way films like Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy did, their cleverly funny approach to superhero storytelling injecting some playful brio into films that took themselves very seriously indeed.
Dancing like a court jester high on some sort of giddy party drug and convinced that if it was funny once was, it could be doubly or triply so again, Thor: Love and Thunder doubles down on the oneliners, witty aside, and clowning characters, intending no doubt to say “Hey look here; the fate of the gods is at stake but we can still kid around while we save them, a bunch of kids and the established order!”
Oh, if only they could.
For while the film proposes some fairly weighty ideas about the way in which grief can consume, corrupt and destroy us if we let it such is its understandably destructive power of our life as it once was, and indeed begins with a confrontingly intense clash between a mere mortal (Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale, who becomes the film’s resident, somewhat nuanced villain) and a god who treats the pain of his worshipper’s recent desperately sad loss as a joke, it trashes much of the emotional capital it builds up by presenting much of the resultant grief-inspired narrative, messy as it is, as some sort of colossal, galactic joke.
In fact, so merry does it make with the storyline, pausing for Thor (Chris Hemsworth in finely muscled mode) and Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to try to dissect why their relationship fell apart eight years, seven months and six days earlier – yes, Thor’s been keeping count, his admission a genuinely giggly moment in a film where too many laughs feel forced – in the midst of an intense battle scene, that it feels as if much of the serious intent of the film is there to buffer the jokes, and not to stand as an arresting counterpoint to it.
While it’s fun to see Thor clutching at romantic straws or, in an act of cringing lack of self awareness failing to understanding that in trying to save a planet from attackers that he has in fact destroyed everything they value, the ascendancy of bouncy, silly good fun in the film rendering the hero of the superhero hour as a himbo buffoon as less as a saviour and more an irritatingly silly fool who fails to manifestly understand how foolish and hurtful he is.
The pity here is that Thor has always been one of the few superheroes as apt to quip as to fight, and it was the primacy of his skill, daring and consummate ease with his god-like powers, that earned him the sort of respect as a leading character that we enjoyed his ability to shoot oneliners almost as readily as he wielded his precious weapon Mjölnir, happy for him to play the witty observer because it came from a place of real talent and respect.
While much of that lost character capital is recovered in the slightly less muddled back half of the film, Thor is diminished as a hero and a protagonist, which is a pity because at his best, he is one of the best things to come out of the MCU.
It’s willful misuse and misrepresentation of its characters means that when things do get serious, and for Jane, who emerges as Mighty Thor wielding the legendary hammer Mjölnir, they get gravely serious indeed, there’s little reason to care terribly much.
Kids in danger? Shrug. Life and death hanging in the balance? Ho-hum. Redemption for a villain and humanity reclaimed? Nice but who really cares?
The thing is you want to care – for all its pacing issues (it stops and starts what becomes it main story so many times you feel like you have narrative whiplash) and lack of clear focus, Thor: Love and Thunder does want to say some fairly important things about humanity and its ability, or not, to grieve, deal with diminished circumstance and to do what’s right in the face of implacable odds.
The intention is there, as evidenced by a somewhat gripping final act and an opening scene which cuts you to the emotional core before blowing a confetti gun and squandering much of it, is to make some moving points about mortality, life and loss but in the end, it’s mostly lost in the witticism tsunami that descends upon you, with son many jokes and knowingly funny conversations flying around you, that any of the big serious stuff gets lost entirely in the shuffle.
Thor: Love and Thunder does try to make a big, bold emotional statement at the end, but so focused is it on being the class clown of the MCU that it doesn’t earn a single frame of its affecting final act which, if the film had been more disciplined and focused, might have really packed an emotional punch.
It even fails to make much of an impact as a piece of light, fluffy fun; gods knows that we need some lightness and brightness as the pandemic grinds fatally and life-disruptingly one, but when it’s as knowingly silly as Thor: Love and Thunder is, racing back and forth between humour and drama to the point where you don’t what is emotionally up or down, even the laugh track craziness of it all ceases to have much impact.
It’s especially annoying when it undercuts the prime narrative driver of the film that someone evil, who deals in shadows and murderous things – GASP! – is killing the gods, something that’s meant to be BAD but feels significantly less, sapping the story of much of its power, when the gods turn out to be ridiculous, out-of-touch idiots hanging in a wondrous city, their supposed leader but really their class clown, Zeus played with shaky vaudevillian slapstick by Russell Crowe, caring not that the world around them is falling apart, and that they are in danger themselves.
It’s another misstep in a film that could’ve been so very good and so very clever with more narrative discipline, tighter attention to characterisation and more balance between the funny and the not; instead, its messy execution leaves Thor: Love and Thunder as a chaotically unclever endurance test that is neither comedy nor drama but a barely held together, slovenly slop of a film that fails to satisfy, leaving you wondering what else you might’ve done with the time you have just squandered.