Review by Paul Gibbs
I’ve always hand a particular fondness for the MCU Thor franchise. For me the 2011 original was an unexpected pleasure, a comeback for director Kenneth Branagh (a favorite of this 1990s theatre nerd) that mixed elements of his Shakespearan theatricality with superhero comics and late ’70s and early ’80s pulp sci-fi that still ranks among my favorite Marvel movies. After the bland and disjointed follow up of Thor: The Dark World, the reins were handed to director Taika Waititi, who brought his unique vision and tone to the delightfully bizarre Thor: Ragnarok, which for my money still features Chris Hemsworth’s best film performance. Now, Waititi follows up that triumph with the even more off the wall Thor: Love and Thunder.
As the film begins, Thor is still where we last saw him at the end of Avengers: Endgame, on a space road trip with the Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to find his place in the universe. But soon he is needed again by the people of New Asgaard as a new villain soon emerges, and what a villain: Christian Bale’s Gor the God-Butcher ranks among the best, most compelling villains in the superhero genre, and joins the ranks of Loki, Thanos and Killmonger as the best the MCU has offered us. In some ways Gor is similar to Bale’s last comic books character, as a tragic and traumatic backstory causes him to dedicate himself to crusade of vengeance and justice. Except instead of protecting Gotham City, this time he wants to kill every god in the MCU. Bale is excellent, managing to be sometimes sympathetic, sometimes creepy, sometimes frightening and always interesting .
As for the heroes, Hemsworth continues to have a great time in the role, and Natalie Portman steals much of the film in a very different version of Dr. Jane Foster than we’ve seen before, but one that still feels true to the character. Jane’s story is is exciting and surprisingly emotional, and Portman and Hemsworth bring their considerable talents and chemistry to it. Waititi indulges in as much visionary weirdness here as he did in Ragnarok, and some elements work better than others, but for me it hit a lot more often than it missed. There are some action sequences that are eye-popping for Waititi’s stylistic choices, and as cliched as it is to say so, I laughed and I cried at this film. Thor: Love and Thunder can feel a little bit like a tug of war behind Waititi’s style and personality and the Marvel formula, but I found myself feeling it worked. Of Marvel’s two summer blockbusters, I found this one to be the more satisfying overall, but not all audiences will agree. But what’s certain is that Marvel has taken some interesting risks to make a summer franchise blockbuster with a personality all its own.