Thor: Love and Thunder is expectedly peculiar and pretentious, but unexpectedly sweet and moving. Taika Waititi has made a significant improvement, for his previous attempt, as seen in the lacklustre Thor: Ragnarok, was mostly just peculiar and pretentious. What’s more, a string of actors not seen since the Kenneth Branagh days make an appearance. Aside from Jane Foster, aka, Mighty Thor (Natalie Portman), these appearances are brief, but hey, anything that brings to mind the glory days of Thor is a welcome sight.
The film starts off in the desert, providing us with a short yet powerful sequence that explains how the film’s big bad, Gorr (Christian Bale), comes to devote himself to the necrosword, a corrupting agent of destruction that seeks to end the existence of all “gods”. I am no expert in comic lore, but as I understand it, the title “god” doesn’t really signify much, besides being a moniker for “powerful being”. Loki’s insistence on being revered for such a title was the butt of a joke in The Avengers, not to mention that Star Lord also held the moniker for a time. But there is a certain type of “god” that this film effectively criticises – those who expect reverence without earning it. When Gorr’s daughter is on the brink of death, he prays to his god to save her, but the prayers go unanswered. Shortly afterwards, he confronts this god, who is revealed to be a gargantuan sluggard relaxing in an oasis, a fitting representation of the inequity of good fortune. It is here that Gorr acquires the sword, and henceforth becomes known as Gorr the God Butcher.
While the necrosword is explained as something that corrupts its wielder, Gorr’s plight is easy to sympathise with. Hence, from a storytelling point of view, I wonder if the decision to attribute Gorr’s subsequent actions to the sword’s influence, as opposed to his disillusionment with the gods, was the right one. Nevertheless, the theme of the gods not living up to their reputation is apparent throughout the film, and alluded to in other ways.
As word gets out of Gorr’s plans, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) heads to Earth to protect the re-located Asgard, but to his surprise, Jane has beaten him to it.
Rather than dragging out Jane’s transformation into the Mighty Thor, Waititi immediately puts her to action, and she gloriously takes out foe after foe with a more deadly (and perhaps more conscious) Mjolnir. Jane Foster was always intriguing, exemplifying how a character with brains as opposed to brawn could be just as vital to the safety of Earth as any Avenger. In this film, Jane faces her greatest enemy, an enemy that science yet has a complete answer to. And no, it is not Gorr. Nor is it the creatures of darkness that he sends out to wreak havoc on New Asgard. Without mentioning it directly, Waititi has managed to touch upon a very real adversity that has affected millions of people around the globe. I find it immensely gratifying to see a film – whose source material is usually concerned with cosmic cataclysms – pay equal respect to the battles fought by everyday people, who are no less of a fighter than any marvel hero.
The situation Jane finds herself in also adds to the development of her character. Upon coming to terms with the fact that she cannot science her way out of it, so to speak, Jane focuses on what she can do, devoting her remaining energy to fighting alongside Thor, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi). However, the choice to wield Mjolnir comes at the cost of exposing her to her greatest enemy. She must choose between fighting her own battles, or fighting for the sake of others.
Waititi attempts to balance the drama of Jane’s predicament with some light-hearted humour. Thor’s reactions to Jane’s newfound abilities are frequently funny, and even leads to Thor and his respective weapon experiencing jealousy. Yes, you read that right. There are moments in the film that suggest that Mjolnir and Stormbreaker are sentient, and when Thor starts eyeing Mjolnir, who is content being with Jane, Stormbreaker vies for Thor’s attention.
The dynamic between Jane and Thor is also well executed, be it when they are working together to defeat Gorr or re-building their relationship. But not all of what we see between the two characters is convincing. In a flashback sequence, Waititi attempts to paint a picture of how their relationship fell apart, and we are made to accept the fact that they simply drifted away due to their personal responsibilities. This feels like a cop out. If work commitments truly were enough to spoil a romance between a brilliant astrophysicist and a hammer-wielding space alien, then there was no real relationship to begin with. We also see snippets of some of the happy times they shared, yet these scenes feel campy and far removed from what we have seen of the two characters. Thor dressed as a hotdog is one such example, which I take to be Waititi’s way of humorously reminding us of the character’s tendency to stick out like a sore thumb. What Waititi seems to misunderstand, is that the humour to be found in Thor’s oddness lies with the disconnect between his Asgardian identity and Earthly customs. The first two Thor films do the same joke but better, and I have no doubt many remember the scene when Thor enters a house and hangs Mjolnir on a coat rack.
There are other parts of the film negatively affected by the Waititi touch. Korg, a jokey, happy-go-lucky alien warrior made out of pebbles, provides a voice-over at the start of the film that looks back at key events from Thor’s past, bringing viewers up to speed with the current chapter in Thor’s life. This narrative re-tread is backed by Enya’s Only Time, a great musical accompaniment for sure, but not when a fictional character talks straight over the lyrics. I gaped in horror as I watched Waititi commit musical sacrilege, an auditory butchering of the sort that seriously made me wonder whether he actually appreciated what he had on his hands.
Thankfully, and perhaps unexpectedly, this moment is an outlier, as the film contains many excellent sequences that use music with great care and feeling. Of note is a scene that occurs at a pivotal moment when Jane makes the decision to get back in the fight, knowing full well that this could also mean the end of her.
This review would not be complete without at least mentioning Russell Crowe’s character, and what he does for the overall narrative. Crowe plays Zeus as a self-centred, stubborn showman, who is more concerned with maintaining an image as opposed to proving himself worthy of the attention. Thor and his band of fighters reach him in Omnipotence City, a magnificent floating district for the gods. This setting is nothing short of pure, unadulterated eye candy; it is lush and brightly lit, with intricately detailed structures laden with gold. Aside from being a pleasure to look at, the sheer exuberance of the city reinforces the theme of the gods not living up to their reputation. When Thor interrupts Zeus’ address, pleading with him to help put a stop to Gorr, Zeus takes offence to the interruption and dismisses any cause for concern. Zeus’ callousness was not something I was expecting, but it works in the context of the narrative. The way Crowe delivers his performance, doesn’t. It seems guided by the idea that Zeus is nothing more than a caricature, an object of ridicule. The reason why this is a bad thing is because it cheapens the moment; when people see an actor as talented as Russell Crowe, they hope for a performance like the one he gave in Gladiator, not a Monty Python-style sketch. Zeus can be bad, Zeus can be deceitful, but he cannot be a walking joke; it is just not appropriate to this sort of film. I place the blame squarely on Waititi, as the film’s director.
Thor: Love and Thunder really tries to give us something memorable, and for the most part, it succeeds. When it comes to Waititi’s directorial style, however, those frequently turned off by his films will likely react the same way this time around. If only Waititi focused on his storytelling abilities, and refrained from pretentiously making a mockery out of his own creations. One can dream.
Viewed at Cinemax, Europa SC, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia Written by Ashley Roohizadegan.