Monday November 21, 2022
Movie Review: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
In “Thor: Ragnarok,” which came out in the before times (for the MCU and us), Thor loses a lot—father, Asgard, hammer, long hair—but director Taika Waititi somehow manages to keep the film loose and funny. You get a tragic moment followed by a winking in-joke and somehow it all works. There’s no disconnect.
Did “Thor: Love and Thunder” ever connect? It felt wrong from the beginning. Its glibness was cartoonish, its tragic moments bone-deep but irrelevant.
It doesn’t help that the tragedy happens to others while the glibness is all Thor’s. He’s clowning while the world suffers. He’s always been the joke superhero in the MCU, and here Waititi turns that up to 11. And it’s not funny.
Implore Gorr, Thor
In the cold open, we follow an emaciated, white-skinned alien, Gorr (Christian Bale), and his daughter Love (India Rose Hemsworth, Chris’ real-life daughter), through a barren desert. I guess they’re the last of their race? That’s what Wiki says but I don’t recall hearing that. Either way, they’re dying. They pray to their god, Rapu, but Love dies, and … Yeah, I know. That name. Underline it a few more times, Taika. Get out that highlighter.
Anyway, Love dies, and as Gorr suffers the loss, he hears a voice whispering to him and drawing him to an oasis in the desert where, whoa, Rapu (Jonny Brugh) lives. He’s not exactly benevolent, this god. First he mocks Gorr and his pain, and when Gorr renounces him he picks him up by the throat and slowly strangles him. But that’s when the whispery voice returns. Seems it belongs to the god-killing Necrosword, which suddenly arises out of the earth, right into Gorr’s hand, and he kills Rapu with it and then vows to kill all gods.
Cut to the god we know, Thor, hanging out and doing battle with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Remember that? At the end of “Endgame,” Thor joined, or invited himself along with, the GGs and headed into space. It was an intriguing idea—combining the two tongue-in-cheek Chrises (Hemsworth, Pratt) on outer space adventures—but I guess Taika thought better of it since they’re not here long. GG work, they imply, is hardly worthy of Thor’s attention. I like the body language of Drax (Dave Bautista, underutilized in the MCU), who stands there watching Thor take care of the bad guys like, “Well, what’s the point of me then?” I think this is around the time it gets super-cartoonish: Thor stopping two alien air-roadsters with Jean-Claude Van Damme-ish midair splits. It just looks stupid. Thor also tends to destroy the thing he’s trying to save without realizing it’s a big deal. And he’s needy. Starlord talks about his own past love, and that’s the thing that matters most, but Thor remains intentionally obtuse on the topic.
Hey, what about Thor’s long-lost love—whom I guess we last saw in 2013’s “Thor: Darkworld”?
Turns out Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has stage-four cancer. And when science is no help, she hears Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, whose pieces are under glass case in New Asgard, Scandihoovia, calling to her. I guess once upon a time Thor told Mjolnir to care for Jane, so it reconstitutes itself and turns her into a female Thor to save her. And when everyone convenes at New Asgard because Gorr is trying to kill the gods there, or something, hey, there she is. His long-lost love. As him.
That’s gotta be weird. There’s a great song by Joe Henry, “She Always Goes,” about the aftermath of a breakup, and it includes the line, “I see her wearing my old clothes,” and this is that but again turned up to 11. She’s not just wearing his old clothes, she’s him. Except the movie never digs into that, it just treats the whole thing as a joke. Thor and Jane act uncomfortably around each other, like seventh graders, and Thor chastises Mjolnir but then has to deal with the jealousies of his own Stormbreaker; and yes, I’m talking about their weapons here, but, like the Necrosword, they can communicate. And admist all these gags, Gorr uses shadow monsters to kidnap most of the children of New Asgard and imprison them in a cage in the Shadow Realm. That's the disconnect again: a bad '80s sitcom mixed with Old European fairy tale.
Taking on Gorr and rescuing the children is apparently too much for two Thors and a Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), so they travel, via space ark pulled by giant goats, to Omnipotence City to request the aid of Thor’s longtime hero Zeus (Russell Crowe). He turns them down. Why? He’s old and fat and would rather not. I think that’s it, basically. He’s not a hero, he’s a poser. So Thor winds up defeating him and stealing his thunderbolt and off they go to the Shadow Realm.
On the way, Thor learns of Jane’s cancer, and that Mjolnir isn’t healing her but preventing her from being healed. (Although … stage four? What healing?) Oh, and if Gorr gets Stormbreaker he can use it to access the realm of Eternity, where he’ll be granted one wish. Everyone assumes that wish will be: kill all gods.
Has the MCU told us what is a god, by the way? I mean, I always thought Thor was just a super-powered being from another realm that Scandinavians worshipped as a god back in the day because they didn’t know better—like in that “Star Trek” episode with Apollo. Who knows, maybe Gorr killing all the gods wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Zeus is certainly not much, Odin never anything, Loki nothing but trouble. I guess I’d need to know who all the gods are before developing a rooting interest in the battle.
The battle in the Shadow Realm goes fast: Gorr strangles the women forcing Thor to call Stormbreaker, which Gorr wrests from him. But knowing what he’ll do with it, Thor follows him to the ends of the universe.
Kidding. Jane collapses, reverts, and the next thing we know Thor is on earth quietly conferring with Jane’s oncologist. (Me: Dude? Gorr has Stormbreaker; that’s the whole ballgame. Might want to speed things up.) When he’s ready to take leave of a bedridden Jane, she objects. “You’re going without me?” (Me: Weren’t you just using the remote a second ago? Where was your urgency then?)
But off he goes, Gates of Eternity, final battle. Thor uses the power of Thor, or Zeus, to give all the kids powers so they can take on the shadow monsters (nice 11th-hour trick), then he takes on Gorr. An 11th-hour symbiotic thing develops between Thor and bedridden Jane, and, sensing Thor losing, she shows up as she-Thor to lend a hand. And in the end, as he-Thor and Gorr clash, thunderbolt vs. Necrosword, she-Thor throws Mjolnir, which shatters the Necrosword. And before Gorr can summon its parts again, she clangs Mjolnir on the ground and the pieces of the Necrosword turn to dust. Because sure.
By now, though, the Gates of Eternity have opened and Gorr has slipped through. What does Eternity look like? An endless shallow pool surrounded by puffy clouds, of course. And there, Thor implores Gorr to seek, not revenge, not hate, but the one thing we all really want: love. And Gorr’s one wish becomes the resurrection of his daughter, who, after Gorr and Jane die, is raised on a beach by Thor.
That final scene, urging love, is kind of touching. Bale helps. It saves Gorr, not to mention Thor, but it can't save the movie.
Thor no more?
Who would’ve guessed Thor would win? I don’t mean here, I mean in the number of MCU movies. This is his fourth. He’s now surpassed Iron Man (3), Captain America (2.5), Ant-Man (2 going on 3) and Doctor Strange (2), as the most-depicted of the original Avengers. Thor.
I chalk it up to Hemsworth’s sex appeal since the movies have hardly been box-office or critical wonders. There have been 30 MCU movies, and, with the exception of “Ragnarok” (93%, tied for fourth-best), his Rotten Tomatoes scores are near the bottom: 77% for the first, 66% for “Dark World,” “64% for this. Save “Eternals” (47%), it’s the worst-reviewed in the MCU. And while each iteration has made more money at the domestic box office ($181, $206, $315, $343), none are top 10. This one is 13th. Adjusted, it's obviously lower.
You’d think all of that would preclude a fifth film, but we get a mid-credits scene of Zeus sending Hercules (Brett Goldstein of “Ted Lasso”) to battle Thor.
Does anyone get what M is doing with its CU? The original movies built toward “Avengers,” and the sequels built toward “Infinity War,” but, between this and the multiverse crap, and Eternals and Shang-Chi, I’m not seeing anything being built.