The MCU has been a bit hit and miss lately, the company’s self-proclaimed Phase 4 vacillating between back-tracking in history with established characters (‘Black Widow’), introducing new characters and mythos (‘Shang-Chi’), ambitious misfiring swings (‘Eternals’) and multi-dimensional sequel high jinks (‘Spider-Man’ & ‘Doctor Strange’). Now Taika Waititi presents a sequel of his own to ‘Thor’, itself a fourth solo outing for the character, subtitled with the appropriate ‘Love and Thunder.’ If his first entry into the MCU, ‘Ragnarok’, was a colorful adventure romp owing much of its aesthetic to comics legend Jack Kirby, ‘LaT’ is his mainly bright and airy ode to all things hair metal (well, specifically Guns ‘N Roses, whose hits practically score the film), with Jason Aaron’s storied recent comics run on the character as its basis, plus a sprinkling of 80s excess.
‘Love and Thunder’s plot borrows elements of Aaron’s storylines (along with artists Esad Ribic and Russell Dauterman) featuring Gorr the God-Butcher and a cancer-stricken Jane Foster as The Mighty Thor. At first, these mainly serious arcs wouldn’t seem to be a good match for Waititi’s touch, although upon further consideration, there has always been an interesting balance (sometimes precariously so) of the deadly serious and the profane in his work (see ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ for a successful example). Even ‘Ragnarok’ provided some of the greatest laughs in the MCU while also featuring the annihilation of Asgard.
This new entry opens with a status quo update of what will be the main characters of the movie. First is the representation of the tragic backstory for Gorr, played with the confidence expected by Christian Bale. He’s really going for it here as the last worshipper of a flippant pantheon of gods on his world, who gets imbued with a cosmic power that aids him in his quest for revenge on all the gods of the universe. Next is an extended montage of what our hero Thor has been up to since he joined the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ This section is hilariously narrated by Waititi’s rock man Korg character, along with another sequence later in the film, a fun way to deliver the exposition needed to remind the audience of the events to this point in Marvel time. Unfortunately it’s also a reminder of how convoluted some of this stuff has gotten with a character that has been subjected to so much tragedy while also whiplashing in tone from arrogance to sorrow to sometimes outright doltishness. It all works though, by balancing the talents of Chris Hemsworth’s comedic timing and ability to convey gravitas, as guided by his director, whose reinvention of Thor has also successfully reinvigorated him. Also part of these updates are check-ins with Tessa Thomson’s King Valkyrie, bored by the process of governing Asgard, which has now been cleverly turned into a glorified amusement park to generate profits for its denizens. Finally, there’s a reintroduction to Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, a character not seen in full for almost ten years real-time. Staying away from spoiler territory, it suffices to say that she came back to the franchise to finally sink her teeth into some interesting developments with Jane that are more tangentially related to Thor as opposed to solely serving as his bland love interest. All this stew threatens to overflow the plot during its relatively lean runtime, but the players and their coach in Waititi make it all work pretty well.
‘Love and Thunder’ is much more than just the gags and the heavy metal posturing. While delivering fully on some truly choice recurring motifs (the screaming goats, the chosen weapon love-triangle), the film also dazzles with some of the most unique visuals in the MCU to date. There’s an extended scene shot in black and white, yet enhanced by an inventive full-lighting process, which is literally one of the most breathtaking and risky things the MCU has done. Going into this one, prepared to have a good time, then to also get walloped by an earned emotional through line is quite frankly what going to the movies is all about . . .
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Written By: Taika Waititi & Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Running Time: 118 min
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) – OR – B+