Isn’t Thor: Ragnarok a fantastic film? I remember leaving the theater after our press screening expecting to be disappointed because my colleagues who had already seen it told me to manage my expectations or that it was just “okay.” Needless to say, I left the theater ecstatic. Taika Waititi’s debut with Kevin Feige’s empire not only quenched my growing dissatisfaction with these endless Marvel entries, but it also represented a type of adventure film that wasn’t being made anymore.
To put it simply, Ragnarok is a literal representation of my childhood memories of movies like Masters of the Universe, Buckaroo Banzai, and Flash Gordon. I don’t think there’s a higher compliment I can pay, except one: Ragnarok is not only the best MCU film, but it’s also the only one that’s stuck with me. So, even though Marvel’s Phase 4 is still struggling to maintain interest, my anticipation for Waititi’s follow-up, Thor: Love and Thunder, was impossible to quantify.
As a result, it gives me no pleasure to report that Thor: Love and Thunder is a dismal outing for one of Feige’s once-promising directors.
What goes wrong for Waititi? To boil it down to one key factor, the filmmaker’s laser sharp focus has gone completely awry. Waititi made the material he brought to the screen (Walt Simonson’s run, Planet Hulk) serve his own interests in Ragnarok, whereas Thor: Love and Thunder is centered directly on the recent Jason Aaron/Esad Ribic/Russell Dautermann run on the character, and plays more like a Cliff’s Notes version – cramming 6 years of comics into a 2 hour long movie.
A two-hour film that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be until the final act. When the first God of Thunder comics were released in 2012, I remember debating with my friends, “Guys, this is what a Thor movie should actually be.” I suppose you should be careful what you wish for.
Outside of being a broadly comic (though not particularly funny) adaptation of the Aaron etc run, Thor: Love and Thunder struggles to serve a number of other masters throughout. Its first act finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth) spending his days in a zen-dude-like state with the Guardians of the Galaxy (you know who plays them), basically entering intergalactic conflicts as the overpowered god he is, and the Guardians are a little tired of his gloryhog ways and part ways with him the first chance they get. At least, I believe that’s what happens, because aside from a pretty cool action sequence, the writing in this segment is pretty mediocre. They separated for a reason, okay?
So Thor is off on his own, accompanied by a pair of screaming goats and his sidekick Korg (Waititi), on the trail of new villain Gorr, The God Butcher (Christian Bale), whose character name says it all. The plot brings Thor back to Earth and face to face with his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now imbued with Thor’s powers and wields his old hammer, which was previously destroyed by Hela in the previous film.
All of this sounds fine on paper, but the problem is that much of the first act of Thor: Love and Thunder is based on two major red flags: one, the entire first act has no less than four flashback sequences (!!) – one to introduce our new villain, one to show how Thor got fit again, another Asgardian play to sum up the previous movie (which, come on, does this studio not know that the fanbase obsessively watches these things over and over? ), and then To be fair, that is by far the most important, but by the time you get there, you can’t believe you’re hearing another Korg voiceover.
The other major issue is one of conception. One of the better recent set-ups and internal struggles in superhero comics was Jane being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer while also becoming a superhero, despite the fact that the latter was preventing any potential therapeutic intervention in her treatments. But there was a catch: Jane was at the center of those stories, and we were listening in on her point of view.
Instead, the story in Thor: Love and Thunder is told almost entirely from Thor’s point of view. This, combined with Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s decision to leave Thor stuck in some kind of middle-aged listlessness, renders this extremely promising angle far from compelling.
Things pick up a little in the middle, when both Thors, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, whose role feels like it was cut the most), and Korg follow Gorr’s trail to a haven for Gods, bringing this quartet into conflict with Zeus (Russell Crowe) in what is basically a truncated version of the Sakarr segment from the previous film. Unfortunately, Crowe, despite being a wonderful actor, lacks Goldblum’s comedic timing, so many of these wacky antics land with a thud. Better is a nicely shot black and white sequence that pits our heroes against Gorr on a desolate planet and allows Bale to present some sense of menace in what is otherwise just another bog-standard Marvel bad guy.
By the end, however, any momentum has been lost, as Waititi fully embraces his worst instincts, influenced by (poor) films like The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Jojo Rabbit, turning Thor: Love and Thunder into a children’s adventure film rather than the heavy metal odyssey that its opening moments seemed to promise. It’s difficult not to feel like the rug was pulled out from under you once you realize what everyone behind the scenes was up to. Basically, it’s a big-budget middle-aged dad film. A fine, if uninteresting, premise, but it takes forever to get there, becoming yet another example of a journey that is simply not worth the destination.
Even the soundtrack is a letdown; rather than aiming for some cool Power Metal deep cuts, Thor: Love and Thunder’s biggest beats are backed by four of Guns N Roses’ most basic songs. Oh well, there’s always Ragnarok.