Something’s glaringly missing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest installment, and closer inspection of the film’s shoddy wiring reveals a complex tangle of shortcomings.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” suffers from more than just clarity issues, tonal and stylistic inconsistencies and a poorly developed villain (and therefore, weak central conflict) — the signature Marvel spark has fizzled. What our axe-wielding hero should fear more than the underwhelming “God Butcher” is the looming threat that his lifegiving studio no longer holds quality as a priority, a painful, boring blight which would take much longer than two hours to resolve.
Taika Waititi returns as director, but can’t preserve the successes of “Thor: Ragnarok.” The fourth Thor film maintains much of the signature style Waititi introduced five years ago in its predecessor, but the similarities are surface level. The comedy isn’t as funny, and the flashy, colorful action isn’t as awe-inspiring, though the film seems to be trying harder than ever. “Love and Thunder” seems to care more about looking like a sequel to “Ragnarok” than being one, checking a series of boxes in lieu of thoughtful character and plot development.
“Love and Thunder” is one of the most confused movies in the MCU, progressing with a fraction of the purpose and precision of “Ragnarok” and Marvel’s other Phase Three films. The story seems to blindly fall and catch itself each step of the way, slowly making its way to the end with only a vague outline to follow.
The film has to retroactively patch many gaps in the history of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and ex-lover Jane’s (Natalie Portman) relationship, filling in blanks when it could be delving deeper into the nuances of their reunion. The villain, Gorr (Christian Bale), kidnaps the children of New Asgard to lure Thor to him, a move almost comically shallow in its villainy.
Oh, and Heimdall has had a son this whole time! The movie will introduce him, but don’t expect a meaningful role for this enigmatic character; he’s just here as the film’s last-ditch attempt to garner sympathy for the kidnapped New Asgardian children viewers have never seen and will never see again.
Viewers could historically appreciate Marvel films for presenting a fast-paced series of high-stakes consequences and following distinct, likable characters, even if they weren’t established fans of the title character or MCU. For “Love and Thunder,” franchise investment feels necessary for audience engagement; if not to keep up to date on the quickly-expanding MCU, there aren’t compelling reasons to see it.
The most blatant flaw in “Love and Thunder” is the misuse and underuse of Gorr, who painfully epitomizes missed potential.
“This is my vow,” he says. “All gods will die.” Sadly, Gorr is not half as terrifying as that chilling promise. He’s doomed from the very beginning — Gorr’s quest to kill all gods is not one driven by a pursuit for power or a sadistic desire for violence. Instead, Gorr hates all gods because he was wronged by the god of his faith, and he grows increasingly evil as he is continually corrupted by the Necrosword he wields. Gorr is far from pure evil, and the film never spends enough time exploring the extent of his corruption.
Thus, his horrifying worldview and extent of his evil powers are both severely undermined. He exists as the shell of a “bad guy” who never feels like a formidable threat, and his poor development is made all the more apparent when inevitably compared to Hela, whose presence dominated “Ragnarok.”
Bale’s performance saves the character from being a total loss. Even with such one-dimensional motives, Bale’s striking acting makes his character sympathetic and — on occasion — frighteningly demented. Still, Gorr lacks the screen time he needs, and Bale’s victories are reminders of what Gorr could have been rather than indicators of present success.
Overproduced and uninspired, “Thor: Love and Thunder” isn’t unseating anyone’s favorite Marvel movie any time soon.