• Jared Huizenga

Love and Thunder: An Entertaining, but Seemingly Estranged, Entry to the MCU

The thing that I’ve always loved and respected about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the way they’ve tied all of those movies and all of those characters together; those plots and subplots intertwined into one cohesive saga that took over a decade to tell.


That’s why it gives me no pleasure to ask, “what the hell is going on with Phase Four?”

 

Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios' ‘Thor: Love and Thunder.’ (Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)

 

Don’t get me wrong, individually the films of Phase Four have been OK at worst and nearly spectacular at best. (The same can be said about the Phase Four TV series.) ‘Black Widow,’ ‘Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ and ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ were all incredible in their own ways; ‘Eternals’ was unremarkable, but not offensively bad; and ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ was a good Sam Raimi movie, but just a *meh* MCU offering.


Unfortunately, the latest MCU installment, the Taika Waititi-helmed ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ falls decidedly into the same *meh* category as the latest ‘Strange.’


Trying to find his way in a post-reversed snap universe, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has joined forces with his buddies The Guardians of the Galaxy to fight galactic baddies across the cosmos. That, however, ends abruptly when Thor receives a distress call from an old friend.


Thor arrives to discover massacre and receive a message – Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) has acquired the fabled Necrosword and has made it his mission to kill every god in the name of peace.

 

Christian Bale as Gorr in Marvel Studios' ‘Thor: Love and Thunder.’ (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)

 

Sensing he’ll need more backup than just his trusty right hand, Korg (Waititi), Thor returns to New Asgard to recruit King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Asgardian warriors. He discovers Gorr has already attacked. But that’s not all he finds. Team Asgard is holding its own thanks in large part to the one who got away, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now wielding Mjolnir and, quite frankly, kicking a bunch of ass.


But when the tides turn, Asgard experiences a significant loss and it’s up to Thor, Korg, Valkyrie and Jane/Mighty Thor to follow Gorr into his realm to set things right.

 

Tessa Thompson as King Valkyrie in Marvel Studios' ‘Thor: Love and Thunder.’ (Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)

 

You can say the same things about ‘Love and Thunder’ as you can about most MCU movies – fun, likeable cast that doesn’t wow but doesn’t offend; impeccable action sequences; incredible CGI; and a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Bale is underutilized, it’s good to see Portman back in the mix, and I really want to drink a beer with Hemsworth because he just seems like a good dude.


But it also lacks that “wow” moment that make for the most memorable MCU films. It’s also quite shallow movie in the sense of not having much subtext or some deeper meaning at play – what you see is very much what you get, so don’t waste your time digging deeper.


That’s not to say ‘Love and Thunder’ is a bad movie. It’s not. It’s not great, but it’s enjoyable. It would be even more enjoyable if it wasn’t part of a larger universe that it feels largely estranged from. It is very much a Taika Waititi comedy (a good thing), adeptly mixing obvious belly laughs with more subtle punchlines that hit more often than they don’t. The problem is that humor is so far disconnected from the rest of the plot (god butchering, brutal vengeance, and Gorr’s rather depressing motives for choosing his path) that jumping back and forth feels clunky and forced – the bleakness pulls down the jokes and the jokes adds too much levity to the bleakness.


As was the case with ‘Multiverse of Madness’ and Raimi, ‘Love and Thunder’ feels more like a Taika movie that happens to take place in the MCU, rather than an MCU movie that happens to be directed by Taika.

 

Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios' ‘Thor: Love and Thunder.’ (Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)

 

That leads directly to my earlier question about the direction of Phase Four.


So far, the films in this phase (minus Spidey and Strange) seemingly have no connection to one another; at least not one that can be seen right now. It feels like they’re throwing stories and characters against a wall to see what sticks with fans and going from there. That means new stories, new characters, and new storytellers. The problem with allowing very adept filmmakers with very different styles like Waititi, Rami and Chloe Zhao (‘Eternals’) to have more creative control, is it makes the overall universe feel very disjointed.


If ‘Love and Thunder’ were a standalone movie, I’d have liked it a lot more. But since it’s part of a larger narrative, this sense of disconnect takes it from very good to decent in my book. If, however, it turns out to be the surprising centerpiece that pulls the other movies and shows of the phase together, I’ll revisit the score.


★★★ of ★★★★★