Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are Thor times two in LOVE AND THUNDER, another gaudy, goofy entry from RAGNAROK director Taika Waititi.

** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity)
Released: July 8, 2022
Runtime: 119 minutes
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Kieron L. Dyer, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel

The first two minutes of this latest Marvel spectacle suggest a movie that I’d love to see. Unfortunately, Thor: Love and Thunder is not that movie.

On the contrary, that introductory sequence can’t even complete its own setup before writer / director Taika Waititi begins to undercut the prologue’s compelling tone and, with it, the movie’s potential. 

Instead, Thor: Love and Thunder quickly becomes a mishmash of the dark-and-serious mixed with the garish-and-goofy. That discordant vibe continues to clash for the two-hour runtime, though the goofy outweighs the serious by a wide margin.

None of this should come as a surprise, given the strong left turn into wisecracks and slapstick that Waititi took with Thor: Ragnarok, the third episode in the Thor standalone series. That shift salvaged Marvel’s weakest franchise, hijacking James Gunn’s successful formula from Guardians of the Galaxy to do it (including a soundtrack mixtape of 80s rock-and-pop). Marvel was lucky that star Chris Hemsworth had such an affable knack for comedy – and it certainly proved popular with audiences – but the Thor of the comics canon it was not.

In Love and Thunder, Waititi doubles down on the Looney Tunes glam-rock approach, cracking jokes and playing the hits even during action set pieces where a lot is (allegedly) at stake. It’s all light and easy to digest but little of it lands; the primed preview audience I saw it with rarely chuckled, and only a handful of moments earned actual laughs.

To the extent this blockbuster is a notable event, Love and Thunder sees the return of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Thor’s long-lost love from the series’ first two films. Rather than simply reigniting their romance, Jane becomes The Mighty Thor, joining the ranks of Asgardians after Thor’s shattered hammer Mjölnir reassembles itself and empowers her with god-like abilities. 

It’s an admirable idea (even an intriguing one) but it’s all pretty by-the-numbers here, from Jane’s perfunctory weakness (she’s battling cancer) to a recurring gag of workshopping catchphrases.

The crux of the conflict is that Gorr (Christian Bale) — a.k.a. The God Butcher — has kidnapped a bunch of Asgardian kids, using them as bait in a trap for the gods. This leads to a centerpiece where Thor, Jane, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi) travel to Omnipotent City where they seek the help of their fellow deities. Aside from a reminder at how versatile Russell Crowe can be (he’s having fun as a Caligu-esque Zeus), it’s an indulgent sequence emblematic of the whole: a bunch of camp, signifying nothing.

Love and Thunder’s lone inspiration is its most underused asset: Christian Bale as Gorr. Fueled by a vendetta against the gods, Gorr is a fascinating creation that feels lifted from a far more provocative, substantial, and legitimately mythic legend. But instead of telling that tale, Gorr is periodically shoehorned into this fluff.

It’s to Bale’s credit (and, yes, Waititi’s too) that the bookends of his arc resonate as powerfully as they do, but nearly everything else in-between is a mess. That includes the climactic showdown where Thor facilitates a solution that leaves you thinking, “Well…why didn’t you just do that like way earlier?”

Yes, there are two end-credit teases (the second one coming at the very end, so stick around if you’re already there), and both follow an unfortunate Phase 4 trend: the bonus scenes are of more consequence to the interconnected Cinematic Universe than anything else that occurs in the actual movie.

Plus, for at least the third time in Phase 4, a new character is introduced in one of those bonuses; Eternals and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness pulled the same stunt. Sure, the MCU faithful may geek out over these scraps and morsels, but one wishes Marvel had invested the same level of intrigue in the movie itself.

In short, Thor: Love and Thunder (like most of Phase Four, save Spider-Man: No Way Home) is just another cash-grab, spinning its wheels while Marvel figures out what the heck to do with itself in this post-Avengers multiverse.

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