'Thor: Love and Thunder' Understands the Assignment

·4 min read
'Thor: Love and Thunder' Understands the Assignment

Join me, friend. Let's stand, together, on the hills of Asgard⁠—pre-apocalypse!—and reminisce on the days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's past. With Thor: Love and Thunder in theaters now, the MCU has ballooned to a whopping 29 films, spanning the course of 14 years. Which makes watching the MCU, in order, now a feat on par with reading Moby Dick six times in a row, or road-tripping across the country, coast to coast. It also means that there is a solid enough sample size to really know what works and what doesn't.

Just so we're on the same playing field, check out the worst-reviewed films in our wide world of (Marvel) superheroes. There's The Eternals, which introduced us to a brooding crew whose collective superpower, more than anything, is to have a multiple-centuries-long existential crisis. You might've forced yourself to forget The Incredible Hulk, a film entirely convinced that a miserable, raging Bruce Banner can hold your attention for three acts. Don't get me started on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where the moral of the story is that Stephen Strange is more or less a raging dick in every universe.

Now look at the best-reviewed Marvel jams. Thor: Ragnarok. Black Panther. The Spider-Man trilogy. See where I'm going with this? The MCU, plain and simple, works when you actually like the heroes you're hanging out with for two hours. Mix and match genres, cast Harry Styles as a sexy romance god, do whatever you want. But at very core of this great Hollywood experiment—the once-insane thought of making dozens of films in a shared universe—is pure fun.

Thor: Love and Thunder understands the assignment.

Helmed by Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, Love and Thunder picks up with the himbofied Asgardian, once again played by Chris Hemsworth, who seems to become exponentially more chaotic in the role every time he puts on the wig. This time around, Thor is looking for love, man, and he has a backing soundtrack of '80s ballads to prove it. Thankfully, his ex, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, returning after a decade-long break from the genre) returns to the action in a surprisingly affecting way that I won't spoil here. The Big Bad of it all is a Nosferatu-looking villain by the name of Gorr the God Butcher, brought to life by Christian Bale, who seems to be having an absolute blast shedding the misery-realism of the Dark Knight films. Gorr intends to kill every last god in the universe, right down to the God of Thunder, but an ace batch of deities—including Tessa Thompson's sturdy Valkyrie—teams up to stop him.

Saying that the director shows restraint in Love and Thunder would be an oxymoron. Hyperbole, excess, and knee-slappers are his thing. But Ragnarok—as revered by the Marvel fandom as it is—occasionally takes its eye away from (pardon the pun!) Thor's loss of identity, dipping away from his story to deal with Hulk/Banner's internal beef, or set up arcs for Valkyrie or Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster for future films. Love and Thunder? Aside from a pleasant soirée with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Waititi seems to have learned in his return to the superhero sandbox that the names on the movie poster are enough. Love and Thunder explores what it means to have a nation revere you, topple a purple titan who sounds like Josh Brolin, look damn good in a muscle shirt, and have no one by your side, to love and care for at the end of it all. With the rest of the MCU lost in the multiverse, such a breezy through-line works.

In Love and Thunder, Waititi pulls off a sneaky, deeply cool move—one that'll likely go unappreciated. Sit down for this one. Thor: Love and Thunder requires remarkably little superhero know-how going into the theater for being the MCU's 29th outing. Waititi weaves in backstory via Korg, everyone's favorite rocky humanoid voiced by... Waititi. Throughout the film, Korg reads Thor's backstory to a gaggle of New Asgardian kiddos, from 2011's Thor to 2019's Avengers: Endgame. The bedtime-story device is an extremely clever way to actually include audience members (yes, they exist!) who haven't watched 50+ hours of superhero antics. As 2008's Iron Man becomes what my little cousin once called, nostalgic, future directors should take note of Waititi's ability to invite everyone to the party.

And as for the party itself? There's an absolute gem of a visual gag every other minute, one of which may or may not include screaming goats. The unbridled swinging of hammers, axes, and lightning bolts, bludgeoning foes in all amusing ways you'd want them to be bludgeoned. Hell, with Hemsworth and Portman's chemistry, Love and Thunder might just boast the most satisfying—and complete—love story ever seen in the MCU. The ending sets up a delicious fifth Thor entry. Families will want to see Love and Thunder more than once. Your buddy who avoids superhero movies like the plague will get a kick out of it. Need it be anything more?

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