THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER: 4 STARS. “hammers home a story of love.”
Despite featuring the most Guns & Roses music this side of a headbanger’s ball, thematically, “Thor: Love and Thunder” owes more to the frilly pop of 10cc’s “The Things We Do for Love.” Love, not thunder, is at the very heart of this Taika Waititi directed take on the Marvel Space Viking.
The film opens with Gorr (Christian Bale), a simple man praying for the survival of his beloved daughter. His planet is barren. Life is unsustainable, but his blind faith in the gods and an “eternal reward” keeps him going. When things take a turn for the worse, his god rejects him, offering ridicule instead of help.
“Suffering for the gods is your only purpose.”
In that moment Gorr obtains the Necrosword, the legendary god slaying weapon, and vows to kill all gods, starting there and then. Now called Gorr the God Butcher, he travels through the shadows, seeking vengeance.
Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in isolation. He has lost everyone he’s ever loved, including Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist and ex-girlfriend. He has had some adventures and gone from “Dad Bod to God Bod, but underneath all that he was still Sad Bod.”
His midlife crisis has hit hard, and since Jane dumped him, he has kept everyone at arm’s length. He now lives a life of lonely, quiet contemplation, emerging only when needed for battle. “After thousands of years of living,” “Guardian of the Galaxy’s” Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) says to him, “you don’t seem to know who you are.”
Elsewhere, Jane is being treated for stage four cancer. Chemo treatments aren’t working so she takes matters into her own hands. “If science doesn’t work,” she says, “maybe Viking space magic will.” The result is a transformation into Mighty Thor, a warrior who wields a reconstructed version of Thor’s magic Asgardian hammer Mjolnir. “Excuse me,” Thor says to her. “That’s my hammer you have there. And my look.”
When Gorr the God Butcher and his creepy crawlers come to New Asgard, the Norwegian tourist town and refuge for the surviving Asgardians, and kidnap all the town’s children, it sets off a battle that will see Thor and sidekick Korg (Waititi) alongside Mighty Thor and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), travel to the Shadow Realm on a rescue mission.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” has all the usual Marvel moves. There are action set pieces writ large, loads of characters with complicated backstories and enough CGI to keep a rendering farm in business from now until eternity.
What it also has, and the thing that makes it feel fresh, is Taika Waititi. As director, writer and co-star, he infuses the proceedings with a certain kind of silliness, and panache that sets it apart from other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
The action scenes deliver in carnage but also provide some eye candy. An early fight has overtones of 1970s air bushed van art, while the choreography includes little jokes, like an homage to flexible kickboxer Jean-Claude Van Damme. Later, in the Shadow Realm, Waititi evokes German expressionism in his use of stark black-and-white to create a world of horror, while still maintaining a Marvel feel to the action.
With these large franchises, the action scenes are where the money is, I suppose, but above all else, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a story about the power of love to hurt and heal. In the face of unimaginable losses—his daughter and his devotion to the gods—Gorr abandons love and embraces vengeance. Thor, still smarting from being dumped by Jane, learns the power of deep feelings when she suddenly shows up again.
Thor’s new weapon, Stormbreaker, might have the heft to do battle with Gorr the God Butcher, but it is love that wields the true power in this story.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” isn’t an all-out action-comedy like “Ragnarok.” It juggles several life-and-death scenarios, and much of the plot is rooted in heartache and pain, but Waititi’s singular style, Hemsworth’s charm and a heartfelt examination of the pain and pleasure of love is a winning combo.