Back in 2011, Marvel was still in its infancy, rolling out “Phase One” of what would come to be known as The Infinity Saga. Following two Iron Man films and an Incredible Hulk film, we would come to meet the next Avenger-in-the-making, mighty Norse God of Thunder, Thor Odinson.
Directed by the brilliant Kenneth Branagh, we were introduced to a God-like actor complete with sculpted pecs and flowing blonde hair – Chris Hemsworth. He was joined by an amazing supporting cast of thespians including Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Renee Russo and Tom Hiddleston who would almost steal the show as Thor’s mischievous brother, Loki.
While the Earth scenes between Portman and Kat Dennings verged on eye-rolling silly, Branagh managed to give us a kind of Shakesperean tragedy complete with gold kingdoms, 9 realms, betrayals, Frost Giants, and thrones.
Once Phase One ended with the release of the blockbuster Marvel’s Avengers, it was time to return to solo event films. Phase Two presented us with Thor: The Dark World in 2013. Before she helmed Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins was attached to direct Thor’s next adventure, a Marvel favor to Portman, who reportedly pushed for her.
After Jenkins left due to creative differences, Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor stepped into the director’s chair. While there was hope and enormous anticipation for the film due to Taylor’s success on the HBO drama, the result was fairly dismal. At 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, Thor: The Dark World is still considered one of the lesser MCU films.
After the success of Marvel’s Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Thor took off to investigate the nightmares he was experiencing about Ragnarok. It would be four years before we saw Thor again. That brought us to 2017 and the release of the imaginative and daring Thor: Ragnarok.
Thor was paired up with Loki, Bruce Banner’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Anthony Hopkins and Dr. Strange himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. Together in Taika Waititi’s wacky opus, they would help Thor take on demonic sister Hela (Cate Blanchett).
Waititi took the Norse God to a new level in a film that was bright, funny, cheery, action-packed, and loaded with music by Led Zeppelin. Thor became this kind of goofy rocker with an entourage. When he said he was putting together “The Revengers,” you got the sense he was building a band. The film’s success reinvented Thor for audiences who had trepidation about a new solo outing.
Now with Iron Man/Tony Stark dead and Captain America/Steve Rogers living out his final years, the only one left of the big three is Thor. During Phase Four, we have seen Spider-Man (Men), Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, Black Widow, The Scarlett Witch and Falcon and The Winter Soldier in action. We have met new heroes in film and on TV like Ms. Marvel, Kate Bishop, The Eternals, Moon Knight and America Chavez.
But we haven’t seen one of the original three for a minute.
Anticipation is high for Thor: Love and Thunder since it reunites Hemsworth with Waititi as well as Natalie Portman as Jane Forster and introduces her as Mighty Thor.
So, does lightning strike twice for the group?
Short answer – Sometimes.
While the film doubles down on everything that made Ragnarok special (Guns ‘n Roses instead of Zeppelin), Waititi doesn’t exactly stick the landing with Thor: Ragnarok making it a lesser sequel in the endlessly expanding MCU. The film fails to live up to its predecessor and is no Captain America: Winter Soldier or Avengers: Endgame.
The film starts off dramatically enough as we are introduced to Christian Bale’s Gorr. Thematically, the film is about the afterlife and the faith that we put into religion and invisible gods and asks the question what are the Gods really thinking?
After Gorr’s young daughter dies in the beginning, he is left in the desert to do the same. How many times have we prayed to God to save a loved one and that didn’t happen? This is what happens to Gorr and when he is able to face his God, the deity mocks him. This enrages Gorr to the point where a magic sword chooses him and Gorr becomes The God Butcher.
We then catch up with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster who has Stage 4 Breast Cancer. While on the surface, Jane seems to accept her condition, but underneath she is desperately searching for a scientific answer – one that she eventually finds with a shattered Moljnir.
Very serious and interesting subjects. So where does that leave Thor? Thor too is pondering his place in the universe after the events of Endgame. If you remember Thor boarded Peter Quill’s ship and we were teased that we were getting Asgardians of the Galaxy. That’s not the case, as after one introductory and silly fight, Thor and the Guardians part ways.
After Thor receives a distress call from Lady Sif (a criminally underused Jaimie Alexander) he and, Korg (Taika Waititi) and two large, screaming goats (you read that correctly) are off to rescue her. Injured in battle, she tells Thor that she is the victim of Gorr.
When they take her back to New Asgard, we finally see what has been going on with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thomspon) the tourist destination (there really is an Infinity Ice cream shoppe with cones made to look like Infinity gloves) is attached by Gorr and his shadow creatures. The film never delves into the rough time she is having governing or doing Old Spice commercials.
Thor and Valkyrie are ready to fight and to Thor’s surprise, are joined by Jane’s Mighty Thor. After Jane and Thor comically reunite, it’s clear the distance has not helped their on-screen chemistry. The God of Lightning has more chemistry with Loki or even the bleating goats.
Once New Asgard’s children are kidnapped, the quartet set out to Omnipotence City to get help from a god – Zeus, played by Russell Crowe. While Crowe seems like he is having a great time hamming it up as the Greek God/King of Lightning of Thunder. It’s a silly trek akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Marvel and Taika, everything does not have to be a joke.
While Bale does bring a certain gravitas to Gorr, he is surrounded by too many cringey jokes to take the film to the next level. As The Mighty Thor, Portman is clearly having a good time and her portrayal should satisfy diehards. Watching her wield Mjolnir is a spectacle and joy to watch. But her chemistry with Hemsworth is forced and we don’t shed a tear during the All is Lost Moment.
Chris Hemsworth is to Thor what Robert Downey Jr. was to Iron Man and Chris Evans was to Captain America. Hemsworth is Thor. Watching his journey of self-discovery is a pleasure and where he ends up is satisfying.
There was so much to explore with Thompson’s Valkyrie but in the just under two-hour running time, she isn’t given a lot to do. And Korg, once beloved, is quickly becoming the Jar Jar Binks of the MCU. And while it is commendable that Marvel is embracing LGBTQ+ characters, Korg’s story feels like a force. Like a check off the box. And it’s a side story, a piece of exposition that goes nowhere.
The tonal shifts are just too much for a movie with a running time of 119 minutes. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Waititi delivers a piece that looks like Waititi took pages from different drafts and Frankensteined them altogether.
They take us from a Cancer treatment center to a Thor dressed as a hot dog to the Gorr’s Shadow Realm. There is very little connection between scenes, leaving the audience emotionally empty.
One has to begin to wonder with the expansion of the MCU into Disney+ and even more coming, are we beginning to get Marveled Out? There are still two more series – She-Hulk and most likely Ironheart or Echo near the end of the year and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to watch.
The list of not-so-great films is growing – Black Widow, The Eternals, Dr. Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness (a far better film than Thor). And now we can add Thor: Love and Thunder to the list.
Yes, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a lot of fun and Spider-Man: No way Home was amazing and WandaVision and Falcon and The Winter Soldier struck emotional chords.
But overall, Phase Four is becoming more and more confused. Marvel. which was clearly building toward something big over the last 10 years, and has yet to really unveil where all of these films are going. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent through-line which we had with the previous films.
Or are we just getting tired of the Marvel Machine?
Thor: Love and Thunder is by no means a terrible film. But it’s not a great one either. If Marvel is beginning to pivot toward quantity over quality is this what we will be left with? A feeling of emptiness leaving the theater?
Maybe it’s time to slow down, Kevin.
Bottom Line: Thor: Love and Thunder is a REEL SEE if you are desiring mindless fun for two hours.
Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him