Marvel Cinematic Universe films have reached a complicated junction 14 years into the franchise’s history. With the Infinity Saga having come to a close with the release of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Endgame in 2019, the “big picture” goals of the canon are no longer immediately apparent – meaning that all of the individual titles have to really stand on their own in a way we haven’t really seen since Jon Favreau’s Iron Man back in 2008. The raison d'etre for each new blockbuster has changed, as there is less pressure for each movie to add to the larger narrative and instead they can just tell a compelling and interesting story that happens to take place within the continuity.
This has hurt the exciting momentum of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a certain level, as fans know that some kind of larger arc is in the works, and at present it feels like the franchise on the whole is treading water (a feeling that is exacerbated by the fact that we are now not only getting new films on the regular, but also seeing the release of a wide variety of miniseries on Disney+). The positive spin is that it is an ideal time for filmmakers to tell the stories that they are most excited to tell with the canon’s characters, minus the burden of needing to contribute to Marvel Studios’ more macro thinking. This is a circumstance that benefits Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love And Thunder, which represents one of the most pure artistic visions we’ve seen from Marvel since the release of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2014.
On the whole, the blockbuster isn’t quite as strong as what Waititi was able to do with Thor: Ragnarok in 2018, the narrative being thinner than the one of its predecessor and pacing issues developing in the middle, but it succeeds as a fun and thrilling adventure. The movie features terrific performances from a brilliant ensemble cast and a surprising and excellent blend of tones that see it shift seamlessly from hilarious to freaky to heartfelt. Its principal goal throughout is properly advancing the story of the titular God of Thunder, and it succeeds with doses of cosmic chaos and the development of the best romantic storyline we’ve seen from the franchise yet.
When we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Avengers: Endgame, he made the call to seek a new path in life – trusting Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to take over as the king of New Asgard while he got on a ship with the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementeiff, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) to see what adventures the universe would provide. Catching up with him in Thor: Love And Thunder, he has settled into an uneasy peace, operating as a flamboyant hero for hire by alien cultures facing terrible threats.
This life is upended, however, when Thor learns of the rampage being executed by Gorr The God Butcher (Christian Bale) – a once pious man who is betrayed by the deity he worships and has been cursed by the powerful weapon known as the Necrosword. It is Gorr’s intention to kill every god in the universe, and Thor knowing he is on that list inspires him to take action.
Upon his return to New Asgard, however, the Avenger discovers that he is no longer the exclusive hero bearing the Thor name. The woman whom he has never stopped loving, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has been deemed worthy to carry the magical hammer Mjolnir, and she has been transformed into Mighty Thor… though she is also in possession of a devastating secret. Along with Valkyrie and the lovable Korg (Taika Waititi), the Thors journey into space hoping to find a way to stop Gorr before it’s too late.
The greatest strength of Thor: Love And Thunder is the development of its characters.
Thor: Love And Thunder’s plot clearly isn’t all that complicated (it boils down to a group of heroes trying to stop a villain’s plot to irreparably damage the universe), but the material is elevated by fantastic character work. The adventure itself isn’t all that original or complex, but it’s properly utilized to further the development of the principal characters in exciting and meaningful ways (which is not a particularly easy task when it comes to a third sequel in a series). This is particular effective when it comes to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, who is trying to rediscover love after losing everything and everyone he cares about, but powerfully executed for supporting characters – with Valkyrie desperate to be in action again after being buried in bureaucracy as king, and Jane Foster redefining strength for herself through her arc.
Straightforward as the narrative may be, it also doesn’t stop the blockbuster from making some terrific new additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. Gorr The God Butcher may have a simple arc and motivation, but there is a very good reason why the production hired one of the greatest talents of his generation to play the role, and it pays off in the very first scene of the blockbuster as the antagonist is introduced. The phenomenal power of Christian Bale’s performance shapes the way we feel about Gorr, and while he looks like a horror movie villain, it’s surprising just how empathetic he still is.
The movie is also able to make brilliant moves like hiring Russell Crowe to play the almighty, thunderbolt-twirling Zeus. The runtime of the role is far from substantial… but that just makes it all the more shocking that he’s nearly able to steal the whole show away from the established Marvel heroes.
Taika Waititi lets Thor: Love And Thunder be funny and dramatic in equal measure, and its impressive to see.
Without trying to do too much, the dynamic of Thor & Co. vs. Gorr also allows Taika Waititi to do what he does best, which is orchestrating a delicate balance of tones. Like with Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s goofy and rad sensibilities are all over this one, but he never lets a good laugh undercut sincere moments of drama or vice versa. There’s a litany of consistently hilarious running gags (including screaming goats and jealousy between signature weapons), the soundtrack plays like a “Guns n Roses Greatest Hits” album, and there’s a lot about the film that make’s one smile and laugh in reflection long after you’ve left the theater. At the same time, though, this is also a blockbuster with great passion and heart-wrenching (though I can’t spoil the specific sources pre-release).
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor continues his reign as one of the MCU’s most compelling characters.
The thin plotting does cause the blockbuster to drag a bit in its second act, and it falls into the unfortunate sequel trap of trying to reuse old gags that worked in the previous story, but Thor: Love And Thunder is mostly the bold, colorful, and weird Marvel blockbuster that fans hoped for when Taika Waititi was handed the reigns for a second time in the canon. Even after three previous solo movies and four Avengers films, the adventures of Thor still feel as fresh as ever, and if/when Thor 5 is announced, it will be news welcomed with open arms.
Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.