Thor: Love and Thunder

What if all Gods are jerks who couldn’t care less about the suffering of the faithful?  For Gorr (Christian Bale), the sole surviving member of an extinct race whose daughter just died, the answer is simple: kill ‘em all!  If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse Thor: Love and Thunder (or Thor4) of appropriating Nietzsche’s most famous quote (God is dead) for a plot device.  Not to worry, this is the only deep thought the movie has to offer over its two hour run time.

If you’re familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), you know that not all Gods are created equal.  Some, like Thor (Chris Hemsworth), are benevolent and interventionist.  Unfortunately, Gorr has his mind set on killing all of the Gods, a plan that puts him on a collision course with the God of Thunder.  Thor is always ready to rumble, but does he have what it takes to defeat the God Killer himself?  Fortunately, Thor has newly-minted “Thor” Jane Foster, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi) along for the ride.

Given the subject matter of Thor4, you probably assumed that this movie would be a particularly grimdark affair.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  While the movie has serious themes, it shrugs them off in favor of a continual stream of jokes, slapstick and overall silliness.  Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) dying from cancer?  Eh.  Gorr abducted the children of New Asgard and threatened to kill them?  Hmm, that’s a toughie.  Here are some huge, shrieking goats inspired by Taylor Swift.  Hey, how about Russell Crowe as a doughy Zeus?  As you can tell, Thor4 takes nothing seriously.  The credits state that it was co-written and directed by Taika Waititi, who made the best entry in the series: Ragnarok.  He must have thought Ragnarok was way too serious, because Thor4 is how a Marvel movie would turn out if it were directed by Bugs Bunny.  Waititi’s approach to the task at hand is so ridiculous it borders on being subversive.

Thor4 presents itself as a romantic-comedy, but only the latter works.  The romance comes in the form of yet another pairing of Thor and Jane, which elicits no sparks at all, just like in the previous Thor movies.  The comedy aspect succeeds more often than not, a mixture of slapstick and Wai’s signature dry wit.  That the movie works at all is because Hemsworth is so darn likable and is such a good sport.  Few actors would allow their signature character to be turned into such a clueless buffoon as Waititi has done with Thor.  Maybe, someday, he’ll get a director that will see Thor as something more than the butt of jokes.  Then again, you get to see that in this movie.

If you’re fine with your superhero movies careening into absurd territory, you’ll love Thor4.  If you take your superhero movies seriously, this movie will piss you off to no end.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  The movie has several very funny moments.  I wish it had amounted to more than that, though.  Mildly Recommended.

Deep Dive

I suppose congratulations are in order.  Marvel has released their first comedy!  They’ve toyed with the concept for years, only to pull themselves back from nonstop hilarity every time.  In movie after movie, they’ve constantly struggled to maintain a balance between the funny bits and the earnest bits.  Thor: Love and Thunder, the first Marvel movie that smashes that equilibrium, is filled with jokes and silliness from beginning to end.  This surprised me to no end, given that the movie contains the following serious plot elements:

  • a villain who turns into a villain when his daughter dies of exposure on a dying planet
  • a hero who is battling stage 4 cancer
  • a minor character who loses an arm in a battle with the villain (off screen)
  • a group of abducted children who witness the villain rip off the head of an animal in front of them

When I call Thor: Love and Thunder (or Thor4) a comedy, I’m being generous.  I could easily peg it as a sit-com for how quickly it shrugs off every iota of seriousness in the plot.  Just to be clear, Thor4 isn’t campy in the way that sword-and-sorcery movies were in the early Eighties, like The Beastmaster, Deathstalker, Red Sonja, etc.  Those movies, which ranged from good to horrible, at least had the self-awareness to have fun with the genre without being entirely dismissive of it.  (They were also unabashedly sex-addled, something that Marvel will never be.)  Thor4, on the other hand, has no respect for the genre, its hero, his compatriots, their quest or the outcome of their actions.  The movie openly mocks itself and the audience to such a degree that makes the shared experience completely absurd, but still somewhat enjoyable.  Thor4 is a middle-finger pointed directly at the Marvel superhero experience, a take that is both audacious and infuriating.  The more seriously you take your superhero movies the less you will like this movie, and vice versa.

Thor4 begins with a cold opening that is practically subarctic.  Gorr (Christian Bale) and his daughter trek across a barren landscape in search of Rapu, the deity of their people.  Gorr is convinced that if he finds Rapu in time, he will save them (the last of followers) from oblivion.  Unfortunately, Rapu doesn’t intervene and Gorr’s daughter dies from exposure.  While Gorr lies next to his daughter’s corpse, Rapu’s beautiful garden-like realm suddenly appears.  When Gorr  tells Rapu that all of his worshipers have died, he laughs.  Rapu explains that the sole purpose of worshipers is to worship their God, and his only responsibility is to accept their love.  Wrong answer.  Gorr is drawn to the Necrosword, a weapon that can kill Gods.  (Why Rapu leaves that weapon lying around his house is…curious.)  Gorr kills Rapu and decides to kill all of the Gods, since they are all universally worthless.  (If the god had been named Nietzsche that would have been priceless.)

Cut to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s managed to get himself back into shape since his bloated period.  His exercise routine (set to a needle-drop of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child ‘o Mine”) reminded me of Mr. Incredible.  Alas, Thor doesn’t know what to do with himself in a post-Thanos universe.  After the universe’s population was brought back to life and Thanos was defeated, there’s little for him to do other than wonder what he should be doing with himself.

The only role Thor plays now is that of a ringer.  (Whenever the Guardians of the Galaxy have a mission they can’t handle, they call him off of the bench to win the game.)  Their current mercenary task involves fighting on behalf of a race of peaceful blue people.  (They reminded me of the Blue Man Group.)  Evidently, their god no longer protects them and a race of hamster-pigeons has kicked them out of their glass city.  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) regretfully asks Thor to fight alongside them.  After a period of blank contemplation, Thor pulls Stormbreaker from the ground and heads for the battle.

The Guardians put up a good fight until Thor arrives to save the day.  Queue the second G ‘n’ R needle-drop: “Welcome to the Jungle”.  Being a God, Thor quickly defeats the bad guys while giving Quill several “in your face” looks.  The Quill/Thor rivalry is funny, but I have yet to figure out what is behind it.  Thor, being oblivious and careless, completely destroys the glass city.  As a gesture of “thanks”, the blue people give him two huge goats who shriek like the goat in the Taylor Swift “Trouble” mashup video.  I admit that I laughed at this.  (I stopped laughing around the fifth time this joke was used.)  

Thor isn’t with the Guardians for long, however.  The ship gets a distress call from Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Thor leaves the Guardians to rescue her.  Yes, all of the hijinks involving the Guardians and Thor that Endgame alluded to amounted to nothing more than them having a glorified cameo in this movie.  I know that part of this is due to Disney firing and then rehiring James Gunn, but still.  Additionally, nobody bothers to explain why Gamora (Zoe Saldana) wasn’t around.  The Guardians are in and out of this movie so quickly I may have blinked and missed her.

Thor finds Sif mortally wounded but not dead.  She was nearly killed by Gorr, who killed the god she was trying to protect.  There’s a bit of jokey stuff when Thor explains that in order for Sif to enter Valhalla, she must actually die in battle, which she hasn’t.  (Rules are rules.)  Sif warns Thor that Gorr is heading for New Asgard, which if you’ve forgotten is located in Norway back on Earth.  Speaking of Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s ex-girlfriend, is getting treatment for stage 4 cancer.  There’s a brief cameo from Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Erik (Stellan Skarsgård).  Since human medicine won’t save her, Jane decides to give Asgardian magic a try.  Her justification for her actions boils down to, “I’m dying and science won’t me, so why not?”  Once she arrives in New Asgard, she’s drawn the remnants of Mjolnir, which reassembles itself and transforms her into…Thor!  Yes, there are two Thors in this movie.  Fortunately, they are easy enough to tell apart.

Thor arrives in New Amsterdam just as Gorr and his Shadow Realm monsters are wreaking havoc on the city’s denizens.  Thor, Jane and Valkyrie drive Gorr away, but not before he abducts all of the children in the city.  (Am I the only one who thought of the Penguin’s evil plan in Batman Returns?)  Thor is amazed not only at Jane’s transformation, but how Mjolnir has pulled itself together just for her.  (There’s a poignant reason for this, by the way.)  There’s a running bit about how much Thor loves his old hammer, which makes Stormbreaker jealous.

Another newsflash:  Heimdall had a son and named him Axl.  I guess that’s the reason for all of the Guns ‘n’ Roses music on the soundtrack.  (Whether Axl’s middle name is Rose is unclear.)  Asgardian Axl appears to Thor in the form of a disembodied head to tell him that Gorr will kill him and the rest of the abducted children.  Thor, Jane, Valkyrie and Korg head to Omnipotent City to recruit Gods to help rescue the children and defeat Gorr.  Queue the screaming goats.   In a movie filled with decidedly weird imagery, the goats pull the ship along a Bifrost rainbow  summoned by Stormbreaker.  Thor and Jane kiss and make up on the journey, which was to be expected but felt completely unnecessary.  Hemsworth and Portman have never had any chemistry in these movies, and the romantic aspect of their relationship feels just as forced now as it did then.  (Am I crazy for thinking that Darcy was the perfect match for Thor all along?)

At OC, Thor begs Zeus (Russell Crowe) for help, but Zeus is more concerned about keeping the location of OC a secret.  If Gorr can’t find OC, he can’t kill any of the Gods there.  (It’s a smart yet cowardly plan.)  Zeus shackles and disrobes Thor in front of everyone, which finally answers the question of Thor’s ardent female admirers: what does his butt look like?  Jane, Valkyrie and Korg come to Thor’s rescue.  He gets his clothes back (sorry, ladies) and absconds with Zeus’ thunderbolt.  Together, they head to the Shadow Realm for a showdown with Gorr.

Of course Gorr’s kidnapping of the children was a trap for Thor & company.  Gorr is after Stormbreaker, which would give him the ability to Bifrost his way to Eternity (a being and a place).  Eternity gives each visitor one wish, and for Gorr it would be the location of Omnipotence City.  Once there, he can kill every last remaining God.  For a silly movie, Gorr’s plan has a lot of moving parts.

Since the Necrosword makes Gorr all-powerful, Thor, Jane and Valkyrie are no match for him.  Since the script doesn’t know what to do with Valkyrie, it settles for having Gorr mortally wound her and relegating her to the sidelines.  (She lost a kidney.  Oh well.)  After the battle, Thor learns that whenever Jane uses Mjolnir, it weakens her human body to the point where she can’t fight off the cancer.  With Jane seeming out of commission, Thor heads off to Eternity’s altar to rescue the children by himself.  He temporarily gives them the power of Thor, and with yet another G ‘n’ R needle drop (this time the coda of “November Rain”), Thor and Gorr battle while the children take on the Shadow Realm creatures.  Jane makes one last transformation into Thor to utter her new catchphrase, “Eat my hammer!” and destroy the Necrosword.

Gorr still manages to get to Eternity, but before wishes for the location of OC, he witnesses Jane dying.  Her sacrifice moves him to bring his daughter back to life.  Her name is “Love”, by the way.  Thor finds his calling teaching his young charge how to be a proper hero.  Queue a Ronnie James Dio song!  (What is it with Marvel and all of this classic rock, by the way?)

Analysis

That Thor4 is so dismissive of itself surprised me, because I really enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok.  Both were directed by Taika Waititi and feature his wry sense of humor.  He co-wrote the script for Thor4, so maybe that’s where the problem lies.  The movie comes off as Waititi’s response to being forced to (or acquiescing to) making another Thor movie.  Based on the overall tone of Thor4, I suspect he took all of his frustrations out on this one, possibly in the hope that he’d never be asked to do another again.

I admire Waititi’s work.  I’ve enjoyed his previous films, including What We Do in the Shadows, JoJo Rabbit and Ragnarok.  His wit reminds me of Monty Python in its fearlessness.  He’s never concerned about who he may offend, or any outrage that may be directed his way.  He’s undeniably a clever man who usually has empathy for his characters.  Maybe doing two superhero movies has crimped his empathy.  Ragnarok had its share of silliness and slapstick, but Cate Blanchett’s sexiness and rage kept the movie from turning into a cartoon.  Thor4 has none of that and the result is a comedy or a sit-com, take your pick.

Aside from Thor, all of the other characters in the movie are treated awkwardly.  The movie’s aversion to taking anything seriously is telegraphed from the opening scene, where Gorr’s tearful revelation of the death of his daughter is met with complete mockery by a turd-like god.  Things don’t get any better from there.  The Guardians of the Galaxy appear in roughly one scene and depart, and I missed them when they were gone.

Portman’s Jane Foster is dying from cancer, which garners a bit of sympathy from Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Stellan Skarsgård’s Erik, both in cameo performances that last only seconds.  Why have Dennings appear at all if her only purpose is to look mildly concerned and give Foster a bag of Doritos?  The reaction from Thompson’s Valkyrie over learning about Foster’s condition is quickly dropped in favor of some head-swiveling between the ladies over music on a bluetooth speaker.  Portman looked incredibly uncomfortable throughout the movie.  Her lack of chemistry with Hemsworth is still obvious, and has not improved one iota the third time around.

I’m probably imagining it, but Portman occasionally has what I can only describe as a guilty look on her face.  She did accept what I’d consider to be easy money for a belated curtain call for her character.  (She hasn’t appeared in a MCU movie in nine years.)  Given who her costars are in this movie (Crowe, Bale, Thompson), she shouldn’t feel ashamed at all.  That Marvel funny money can help greenlight a lot of passion projects.  I didn’t see Thor shed a single tear when she died, by the way.  (If he did, may the Stormbreaker strike me down.)

Russell Crowe’s Zeus was just ridiculous.  I love that he was given the opportunity to do something funny as a change of pace, but I couldn’t help but see his performance in Thor4 as something other than a new low for his career.  (No, I have not seen Unhinged.)  I couldn’t figure out if his accent was Greek, Italian or if Crowe stopped trying and just winged it.  I also didn’t understand why Crowe portrays him as a prancing, showboating creep.  Even more shocking was how Crowe has apparently gone full-blotto, looking puffy and overweight.  All I can guess is that Crowe has entered the late-Brando period of his career.  May the Gods save us all.

Tessa Thompson appears completely at a loss with what her character’s purpose is in this movie.  She’s no longer the fall-down drunk she was in Ragnarok, but she really is nothing more than a third or forth banana here.  Infinity War suggested that Valkyrie would have a significant role going forward, but that has only resulted in her looking very bored during town meetings.  As one of the few LBGTQ characters in the MCU, Thomposon’s Valkyrie has to settle for a very chaste same-sex kiss with one of Zeus’s maidens.  Based on how quickly Marvel movies with any non-straight behavior are banned in foreign countries, I suspect this is as far as these movies will ever go.

Jaimie Alexander’s Sif returns minus an arm, but her extended cameo only serves as fodder for jokes about how arcane rules are for getting into Valhalla.  The only supporting character from the Thor troupe that inexplicably comes off well is Korg.

In Waititi’s hands, Korg is no longer a minor character who provides comic relief.  He’s the narrator of the movie and plays a significant part in the action throughout.  At one point he appears to die, but his face lives on to give us more witty asides.  In the end he’s born again to proceed with a same-sex union with fellow Kronan Dwayne.  

Christian Bale’s Gorr is a strange villain.  Initially, he comes off as a college student who has read Nietzsche for the first time.  Then, after their indifference to his suffering, he sets out to kill all Gods since they only exist to be worshiped.  (This is a bit unfair because Asgardians have been very interventionist, for better or worse.)  Along the way, he somehow becomes Uncle Fester and becomes a comic foil instead of someone to be feared.  Nevertheless, I really wanted Gorr’s heart to stay curdled and watch him lay waste to Omnipotence City and all of its pampered denizens.  Unfortunately, Foster’s death moves him and he spends his only wish to bring his daughter, “Love” back from the dead.  I really miss the days when supervillains had conviction and just wanted to be evil.  Instead, Thor4 falls back on the increasingly tired trend where every villain is evil due to circumstance, being brainwashed, or in Gorr’s case, both.

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the movie at all.  I found it amusing at times.  Some of the special effects are very good.  (Some look shockingly cheap.)  The movie is very funny at times.  I liked the bit about the goats that screamed like the ones in the Taylor Swift “Trouble” mashup video.  (I liked it less the fifth time the movie trotted it out.)  I laughed at how exasperated Zeus’ handmaidens were when a nude Thor was given his clothing back.  Zeus’s prancing was cringe but was still funny.  Waititi is a funny guy, but he overdoes it here.

I like Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  I admire his willingness to become a punching bag for jokes.  He’s such a good sport in Thor4, I hope he gets to stay in the role for as long as he wants it.  I actually want him to match, if not break Hugh Jackman’s “record” for appearing as Wolverine in nine X-Men movies (although a few of those were just cameos).  I haven’t put any thought about who would play the part if Hemsworth weren’t in the role.  All I know is, without him, I don’t know if Thor4 would be watchable.

One thought on “Thor: Love and Thunder

  1. I think Marvel and Waititi both failed to realize just how one-off and unique Thor: Ragnarok was…and it was an epic fail to not only try to recreate that special magic, but lean even more into the crazy. That movie worked because it was the anti-serious superhero movie. That didn’t mean we needed another Ragnarok on steroids. And then they threw in cancer. I think this film is a mess. Like you, I found a few bits humorous, but this is so bad I’m not sure we need any more Thor films.

    Like

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