It’s not that THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is unwatchable. Quite the contrary. The special effects are stupendously unrestrained. The story is adorable, leaning towards a good-natured spoof of superhero movies as practiced in the 2020s. The performances can’t be faulted, even if Christian Bale as the god-hating ex-acolyte out for revenge is far darker, and far more layered, than anyone else’s in this spectacle. It can best be summed up in the immortal words of Douglas Adams when describing how aliens viewed our home planet: mostly harmless.
We find our title character (Chris Hemsworth in all his Aussie Aryan glory) having retired from the field of love to spend his days in quiet contemplation and waiting for someone to save. The latest call comes from the Guardians of the Galaxy, which allows the God of Thunder to execute some showy moves while disposing of a flock of angry birds and taking out a holy temple. The last part was a mistake. He’s strong, but not always graceful.
Of course, that’s just the steppingstone to the real problem, which is Gorr (the ci-mentioned Bale). He was deserted by his god (a delightfully condescending cameo by director/co-writer Taika Waititi) and watched his daughter die of thirst only to be taunted by said god. For his pains, the Necrosword awarded itself to him, which may have also cursed him, but the blade does a very neat job of killing any and all deities, starting with the taunter who bleeds a very shiny gold blood. Further of course, Gorr decides it would be a very good idea to rid the universe of all gods, and it’s just a matter of time before he sets his sights on next the quaintly cheesy fishing village of New Asgard, which is just chock-a-block with deities going about their business. It’s also where King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), heir to Odin, is suffering the stultifying agonies of governing a small tourist attraction.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on Earth, Thor’s long-lost love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has become a popular writer explaining physics to the masses, and developing the stage 4 cancer that will shortly kill her. Until, that is, Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer, broken in the last film into as many bits as his heart when Jane left him, calls out to Jane. With nothing to lose, she sets out for New Asgard where the immovable pieces of the hammer pull themselves together for her and then give her a whole new sort of life.
It’s just a matter of time before Thor and Jane meet up, to the consternation not just of each other, but of their weapons, Mjölnir and Thor’s axe, Stormbreaker. Adding to the tension, Jane, is the new Thor, now that Mjölnir has chosen her, and she has the pearly eye-shadow and very long false eyelashes to prove it.
There’s no time for egregious awkwardness of old flames (and their magical sidearms) work out their feelings, though, as the gods of New Asgard embark on a mission to save their godly hides from Gorr’s nefarious, and yet oddly understandable quest. It will take our heroes to the spectacular overproduced golden glow of Omnipotent City seeking an army to back them up, only to be thwarted by Zeus (a boldly potato-shaped Russell Crowe in a deliriously camp performance); to a shadow realm where the now wraithlike Gorr will threaten children and common sense when his Necrosword fails to dispatch the gods on his trail; and thence to the center of the universe, where dwells a supreme deity who appears to be driven not so much by a code, moral or otherwise, as random mortal wishes.
This is not a film that wishes to be mistaken for a philosophical dialectic.
It is, however, a film that wants to fill the screen with lots of action, gobs of comedy, a little romance, and Hemsworth’s impressive posterior. Essentially, it is Waititi’s pean to storytelling, framing the action, after that unbearably tragic opening of child death and godly indifference, with Thor’s faithful pile-of-stones sidekick, Korg (Waititi again), recounting the tale of Thor to a group of rapt children. There is a nod to storytelling’s artistic license, too, as taken by New Asgard’s theatrical crew (yes, that’s Matt Damon back as Loki and Melissa McCarthy assaying Hela).
In that sense, Waititi has nailed the need we have as a species for tales of larger-than-life wonders and emotions. That he gives into his sense of unbridled whimsy (why else a storefront in New Asgard shilling Infinity Conez gripped in a familiar glove?) makes it fun, even if it does undercut any sense of suspense about the outcomes of any given showdown. Or the awkward reunion of ex-lovers. Credit Portman for anchoring that star-crossed love story with the proper note of gravitas amid the quips and excellent comic timing. It helps that Hemsworth has the same quipping agility, and a puppy-dog sort of devotion that no amount of feigned indifference can suppress, plus a sense of gleeful humor that is contagious even if the joke he’s selling is less than stellar. when the jealously between Mjölnir and Thor’s new weapon, the enchanted axe,
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is as silly as the oversized screaming goats that punctuate the action, but it’s a greatly elevated silly as it closes one chapter of the Thor saga while setting up the next adventure. Will it be as silly? Probably. Is that a problem? Probably, but one lives in hope.