I'm not sure I ever expected to say this, but returning director Taika Waititi was entirely the wrong person to helm Thor: Love and Thunder. This is a film practically begging for a darker and more poignant vision, yet here's Waititi, who's fully capable of making a film with emotional resonance, catering to his most juvenile instincts and seemingly more interested in pop culture than pathos.
I certainly never expected to say this about a Taika Waititi film, but the truth is I hated every minute of Thor: Love and Thunder.
This doesn't mean that Thor: Love and Thunder is a failure. I do believe that Waititi is incapable of a cinematic failure and I also believe that Marvel is incapable of allowing a cinematic failure to happen if for no other reason than there's simply too much money invested in all of this.
However, even for someone like myself who's far from immersed in the MCU I simply can't deny that I found Thor: Love and Thunder a remarkable disappointment.
Thor: Love and Thunder has all the necessary ingredients for a stellar film including the return of Waititi, whose helming of Thor: Ragnarok breathed life into a character who has been one of my least favorite of the MCU cinematic creations. Natalie Portman makes her well publicized return as Jane Foster and, of course, as Mighty Thor. Christian Bale is here adding gravitas and truly frightening menace to the character Gorr, though I'm more than a little grateful that he's a little more fully clothed than the comics would suggest. There are moments here when the humor genuinely resonates, however, there are also so many other moments when I found myself feeling like Waititi had ruined the moment by not living into the darkness and letting go of the humor.
Of course, Waititi made no secret of his desire to make Thor: Love and Thunder something resembling a 1980's romantic swashbuckler of sorts. He leans into the 80's here so heavily that I'm half surprised the VIllage People didn't make a cameo. Elements from Jason Aaron's Mighty Thor comics are present and, I will openly confess, this is the first time I've actually enjoyed Natalie Portman, an actress I adore, in the Thor films. While I wish she'd been given a tad more to do, given a little more depth to her role she finds her element and makes the most of it.
The storyline is relatively simple, perhaps one of the reasons the film comes in at just under two hours, as we find Thor seeking a more peaceful path before being called back into action and recruiting Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi), and Jane Foster (Portman) - who has become the Mighty Thor at least partly motivated by a desire to beat the cancer that threatens to take her life - in an effort to stop an embittered and grieving Gorr the God Butcher (Bale) from eliminating all gods.
From the opening credits, literally the credits, I found myself irritated by Thor: Love and Thunder. Utilizing a cheesy font and graphics, Thor: Love and Thunder starts out looking like a cross between Rock of Ages and This is Spinal Tap. We're introduced to the music of Guns n' Roses early on and often. Most of the time, it's criminally over-utilized and even inappropriately utilized. While I've never been a fan of Axel Rose's relentlessly screeching vocals, an ongoing Axel joke lands with a thud the first time it's used and never improves.
The film's two major pluses are Natalie Portman, who has unquestionably found her MCU voice here (if not necessarily her tag line!), and the remarkable Christian Bale. Bale nails the tone I longed for in this film, bringing Gorr to life in a way that is truly frightening yet also strangely sympathetic. Bale is one of those actors who can find the nuances that aren't written on the page and that's what he does here.
I've never been sold on the chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth and while it's better here that's largely because Portman does the heavy lifting. Hemsworth is perfectly fine within his limited range, however, for Thor: Love and Thunder to really soar he needs to step outside his comfort zone and he seems incapable of doing so. He'll always be more charismatic and convincing than Jason Momoa, but there's also no denying that he wasn't cast as Thor because of his acting.
Beyond the relentless and pounding 80's music, there are other things in Thor: Love and Thunder that simply don't work. Russell Crowe as Zeus comes off more like a swashbuckling Ron Jeremy. There are so many children here with weapons that I couldn't decide if I was watching a Young Republicans convention or a junior high production of Lord of the Flies. There's a solitary scene, fortunately, involving an amateur Asgard theatrical production that is so awkwardly awful and filled with distracting cameos that I thought perhaps we'd stumbled into a Seltzer-Friedberg MCU spoof film.
In case you're wondering, that's not a compliment.
The CGI here ranges from awe-inspiring to "Awww, this really sucks!"
When it comes down to it, Thor: Love and Thunder is simply a disappointment because Waititi approached the film based upon what he wanted to do rather than what the story itself needed him to do. Waititi's cinematic footprint is all over this production and it practically stomps the life out of it. Thor: Love and Thunder had all the ingredients to be the best Thor film yet. Instead, Thor: Love and Thunder elicits the same response we all get when we step onto an elevator and here the Muzak version of Paradise City in the background.
Maybe this should have been Tarantino's last film?
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic