July 8, 2022

Travel the Galaxy with Space Vikings in Refreshingly Unique “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Spoiler-Free Review)

2022 is the year of divisive Marvel Cinematic Universe projects. Doctor Strange split audiences down the middle, with some praising its campiness while others reject it. Moon Knight dazzled audiences when it premiered, but the internet fan presence quickly turned on the series as soon as it was over. Ms. Marvel is perhaps the best MCU entry this year so far, but nobody seems to be watching it or preventing its review bombing.

Image courtesy of Disney

And now
Thor: Love and Thunder has arrived on the scene, proving that the Marvel universe is heading in an inescapable new direction that some will hate, and some will adore. With no new multi-film saga to anchor it (for now), the MCU has settled into depicting self-contained adventures, tangentially connected to the rest of the universe but mostly concerned with telling their own stories. Characters will occasionally cross over — for example, the Guardians of the Galaxy are front and center in the beginning of Thor, only to depart very quickly for their solo adventures — and the rest of the film is very focused on the characters established in the mini-franchise’s previous three installments.

Above all, Thor: Love and Thunder is a rom-com…as you might be able to guess from the title. Plus, writer/director Taika is back from 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, promising certain comedic sensibilities largely absent from Thor’s first two solo outings. Waititi’s humor is a style that really works for me, but it almost seems to be laying on too thick at times — like it’s overcompensating for the lack of levity in Thor’s past. That’s not an apology that this movie needs to make, and yet it sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard.

Narrated by Waititi’s character, Korg, Love and Thunder begins in the wake of Avengers: Endgame. Having gotten in shape again, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is traveling with the Guardians until he hears that the universe’s gods are being slaughtered. He reunites with Valkyrie (Westworld’s Tessa Thompson) and his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (V for Vendetta’s Natalie Portman), who has inexplicably assumed his powers and wields his old hammer Mjolnir, to defeat the psychotic Gorr the God Butcher (American Psycho’s Christian Bale).

Image courtesy of Disney

Not a lot makes logistical sense in
Love and Thunder when given too much thought, but that’s exactly why: this is not a film that requires overthinking. After all, it’s a movie about a group of space Vikings trying to stop a madman from obliterating deities around the cosmos. However, more often than not, those inconsistencies extend to the storytelling, and there’s a lot that is either never explained or is glossed over without a second thought. Part of that is almost certainly its brisk two-hour runtime, which is a relief after a slew of overlong superhero flicks — but the amount that Love and Thunder is trying to fit into its narrative means that sense and logic is sometimes sacrificed. I will reiterate: it’s a Marvel superhero movie made for all ages. It doesn’t need to explain itself at every turn.

I have my quibbles that are useful to think about in the grand scheme of film criticism, but the fanboy in me loved the hell out of Thor: Love and Thunder. It made me laugh, it almost made me cry, and it blew me away with its visual effects and set pieces — many of which happen to be created with visual effects. Bale and Hemsworth are delightful, acting circles around each other whenever they’re on-screen together, and I can’t remember the last time an MCU project was so succinct from beginning to end. Love and Thunder is different, and that’s what I appreciate about it — especially in a cinematic universe that’s over half my age. Things have to stay fresh, and Thor is a step in the right direction.

Image courtesy of Disney

Thor: Love and Thunder is in theaters now.

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