Director: Taika Waititi. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Natalie Portman. 12A, 119 minutes.
I can’t remember the last time the A-list stars of a Marvel movie seemed genuinely happy to be there. But in Thor: Love and Thunder, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe beam like they’re kids who’ve fallen headfirst into a vat of Tango Ice Blast. Portman, whose Jane Foster here wields the power of Mighty Thor, flexes her biceps and taunts one silly joke after another—two things so seldom granted to the actresses Hollywood demands are perpetually dainty and polite. Bale crawls on all fours as the villain Gorr the God Butcher, howling and hissing, with amber snake pupils and a profile distinctly reminiscent of Skeletor. Crowe as Zeus has a miniskirt and the wildest Greek accent you’ve ever heard in your life.
These three are in actor heaven, romping around on a sound stage like it’s their very own playground. That probably has a lot to do with who’s behind the camera here — a Taika Waititi, who has been since 2017 Thor: RagnarokShe’s become a shining example of how to navigate the mainstream without losing your soul in the process. He’s one of the few people who could ever convince Bale to return to the post-Batman superhero genre and Portman to forgive the franchise that burned her so badly with her lackluster roles Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013).
Waititi may be a front-runner for the title of “Hollywood’s Busiest Man,” but it’s impressive how little his output has been diluted by his almost frightening volume. A Waititi production is still clearly a Waititi production – a patchwork quilt of primary colors in which misfit characters and disappointing fathers joke their way through trauma. love and thundera sequel born entirely out of the lavish reception for RagnarokIt’s arguably getting as close to autopilot as it’s ever been – and yet it’s still such a treat, fueled by goofy confidence and childish imagination. It’s also the rare piece of Marvel Edition that actually remembers that the primary audience for these movies should be kids, not adults with YouTube channels.
It’s certainly not as thematically narrow as Ragnarok, which crept in a rather harsh critique of colonialist narratives. And both of Waititi’s Marvel films struggle with the same problem — that he’s been lumped in with so much franchise baggage that it takes about 20 minutes to clean up the mess before the fun can actually begin. The Guardians of the Galaxy perform here, but in a contracted manner. And the film has absolutely no idea what to do with Thor’s clumsily managed weight gain subplot Avengers: Endgame.
But once Waititi and his co-author Jennifer Kaytin Robinson get all of that out of the way, you can almost feel the shifter shift love and thunder. His plot sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) venturing out of his self-imposed emotional cocoon to save the children of New Asgard. They were kidnapped by Gorr, a grieving father determined to exact revenge on the gods who rewarded his faith with scorn. Perhaps a standard mission, complicated by the sudden appearance of Thor’s ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster, who now wields his ex-hammer Mjolnir.
How did she get such a weapon? I won’t spoil the answer (although comic book fans might already have a clue), but Portman has finally been given an MCU storyline worthy of her talent – a simple yet powerful way of waking herself from a state of self-denial . love and thunder has less of the usual Waititi stuff we’ve come to expect, namely themes like insecure masculinity and exclusion addressed with a light touch. But it exudes that eponymous love. It’s a real family affair, with the real-life children of Waititi, Hemsworth and Portman all making cameo appearances. Meanwhile, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is given an expanded role as King of New Asgard, her dead nonchalance masking lingering grief at the loss of the woman she loved in battle (her bisexuality was only hinted at). Ragnarok, but it is confirmed here). The way the actor delivered the words “ding dong” so coolly with a crystal clear British accent had me wondering when – oh, when – we’re finally going to get a Valkyrie solo film.
Waititi continues to paint in bold and colorful strokes. A planet inhabited by a truly global population of mythical figures, the home of Zeus is so rich in detail that it could take a hundred clocks to absorb everything that has been placed on screen. And some of the technology used here has a real sense of adventure – the use of massive LED backdrops (first popularized on the set of Disney+ The Mandalorian) instead of the traditional green screen gives everything a little more object permanence, while a black-and-white sequence shot with shattered lighting effects is one of the most imaginative and straight-forwardly good-looking Marvel action scenes we’ve seen in ages.
sure, Ragnarok‘s distinctive humor carries over, and there’s a delightfully silly running joke about a pair of giant, heavy metal-screaming goats. But what really counts here is the heart. love and thunder‘s characters all converge towards the same conclusion: that no matter how long or short our time on earth (or any planet), we all inevitably live for the benefit of others. We love. Then we love each other again. It’s nice for Marvel, always caught up in its own chaos, to remind us of something so simple.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in UK cinemas on Thursday 7th July
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/thor-love-and-thunder-review-release-b2116119.html Thor: Love and Thunder Review – A rare Marvel film that remembers that its main audience is children