Thor: Love and Thunder Spoilers Ahead
Taika Waititi‘s second film in the franchise and the fourth overall is the most emotional installment yet as it boisterously and carefully looks into uncovering what matters to push forward. It’s not groundbreaking by any means or perfect, but it hits hardest where it matters most and leaves us questioning our own mundane experiences. It’s strange to say I loved the film, but it’s not one I want to rewatch over and over again the same way I did with Ragnarok.
Thor: Love and Thunder is gorgeously shot, chaotically executed, tonally inconsistent at times, and yet a joy ride even when it pushes deeper into the cruelties of life.
The film closely follows The Mighty Thor comic, where Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) arc is concerned, and that’s precisely why the film isn’t easy to stomach. We all have different thresholds for what we want to see in the media we’re consuming based on personal reasons, and I, for one, can seldom handle a person passing from any illness. In a magical world full of possibilities, I wanted to see Jane Foster survive and continue fighting alongside the man she loves. Still, Waititi’s approach here isn’t callous, and at no point does it feel like the female character is killed to thrust the hero towards whatever journey he needs to embark on next.
Jane Foster is not only more established and nuanced in Thor: Love and Thunder, but she’s utterly whole on her own, pushing towards strengthening herself. In every way where it matters, she has complete agency in her life even while a disease is taking over her body. And the truth is, Jane fights until her final breath, prompting us even to argue that perhaps she chooses to save Gorr’s (Christian Bale) unnamed daughter (Idina Rose Hemsworth), whom we later know as Love. We could also argue that despite the film changing comic lore slightly, she chooses one last fight over her life. If we look at it that way, then Jane’s death is a lot less heartbreaking because, in a world where people come back from gruesome deaths, a mortal passing from the vilest illness in this world is too sad to even think about. But a godly end to Valhalla? Now, that’s something that works.
In every way where it matters, Thor: Love and Thunder is about the various love stories that shape people. While the trailers tease it as though it’s a romance, the death of a main character immediately abolishes it from the genre. However, if Thor eventually revives her, leading to remission and a second chance, we could still hope that other films would go down that route too. Jane Foster is a character who’s always deserved far more screen time, and Waititi is the only director who’s done right by honoring her character. Portman brings her all to screen in the same way that she does with Padmé Amidala, but sometimes, the writing doesn’t allow the best to come forward. And despite the flaws in this film, it does right by the character’s journey.
Thor: Love and Thunder also does right by its primary villain, making Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher the most compelling character since Loki in the first Avengers. Contrasting the amount of agency Jane has, much of it is stripped from Gorr by the blade, giving himself to absolution in the hands of gods that don’t care about him. Still, Bale is deeply compelling in the role as he gives us rage and sheer heartbreak in a constant battle with one another while also playing into the importance of blind worship. The theological breakdown of Gorr’s arc can lead to immense discussions about idol worship, but that’s a topic for another time. Where the film falters in its final act with almost every storyline it sets up in the beginning, Gorr’s remains excellent.
And that’s ultimately the issue that makes the film pale in comparison to Ragnarok. It goes from Waititi’s brilliantly chaotic brand of humor to a lukewarm Disney film meant strictly for kids. And if that was the approach they wanted to take in the end, it should have been more tonally consistent. I, for one, will never complain about this new trend of giving sad men kids to look after (cough, Obi-Wan Kenobi, cough), but there’s no denying that the ending doesn’t match the beginning. The film goes from dark and dreary to light and fuzzy in a way that could’ve led to extreme whiplash in the hands of another director. It works with Waititi’s narrative, but it feels off.
It’s intriguing to see where this story could lead, but it’s also imperative to look at the limited screen time we have with characters like Valkryie (Tessa Thompson), who’s been one of the most layered characters since Ragnarok. She’s a significant presence throughout the film, and it’s great to see how far she’s come, but we could’ve certainly used more from her and more of the love story that she also deserves to be a part of. Korg gets his happy ending (mating?), and she should too. Period.
And then, of course, there’s Thor, a character that Chris Hemsworth clearly enjoys playing because nothing is more transparent throughout the entire run. Hemsworth, much like Storm Breaker and Mjölnir chose Thor, and the Norse God chose him. And with Waititi’s unique brand of intermingling heartbreak and humor, Hemsworth continues to shine brilliantly. While his past is one of the more heartbreaking ones throughout the MCU, the melancholy dismay in Thor: Love and Thunder beats to a different drum. He has a clear path he’s following by the end, consistently learning how to become a better version of himself because of the people beside him. It’s essentially why the emotions in the film are even more harrowing than in Ragnarok because though he loses more there, he gains Loki in return. (I will get over many things in life, but I will never, ever shut up about Thor’s new tattoos featuring Loki.)
Despite the film’s faults, it’s no less an incredible ride and one of the better contributions in Phase 4 so far. Taika Waititi knows too well how to marry eccentric humor with gut-wrenching curtain calls, and we need to look no further than films like Jojo Rabbit to understand this. While it’s still too disjointed to tell where we’re going in the post-Endgame era, Thor: Love and Thunder is a worthy standalone. And as we now add Ted Lasso‘s Brett Goldstein into the mix as Hercules, the world won’t know what hit them. There’s ample potential here for an expansive universe with more extensive and bolder stories to excavate, and I can’t wait to dive in.
Thor: Love and Thunder is now in theaters.