“Smell like a King, because you are worthy!”
Thor: Love and Thunder is a 2022 Marvel Studios production released by Disney. Directed by Taika Waititi, and written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the story is heavily based on Jason Aaron’s run in Thor: God of Thunder that began at the end of 2012. Chris Hemsworth returns to star with Natalie Portman, Jaime Alexander, Waititi, and Tessa Thompson alongside Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Their presence is buttressed by an appearance by the cast of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn, and Bradley Cooper. Tom Hiddleston, Matt Damon, Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill, Melissa MCcarthy, Kat Dennings, India Hemsworth, and Idris Elba have brief cameos.
Far from all the worlds we know, Gorr (Bale) is a father desperately struggling to save his daughter (Hemsworth) who is dying of exposure as they make their way across a fell and relentless desert. He’s trying to find them respite from the sweltering heat, shelter from the merciless sun, and any sustenance that can support them. He fails. She dies in his arms as Gorr pleas frantically for his gods to intervene. They don’t.
Her death shatters Gorr’s faith, and he collapses, waiting for the sands to consume him. The desert isn’t done with him yet. Screaming winds prod him to wake and in the distance, he can see an oasis that wasn’t there before. Stumbling forward in search of shelter and nourishment in the vibrant, verdant patch, he learns a truth that fills his empty heart with seething hate and discovers a weapon: All–Black, the Necrosword, a blade capable of cracking planets. The loss of his child spawns a seething rage that has him yearning for revenge and the cursed claymore gives him agency to act. He sets off on a turbulent path that will have the universe trembling.
On the other side of everything, Thor (Hemsworth) has regained his Asgardian heart and warrior spirit in the cataclysmic final conflict with the formidable time-displaced Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. The Odinson and Korg (Waititi) have joined with the Guardians of the Galaxy as Thor quests to find his true role in the universe now that All-Father Odin and Asgard are gone. Swiftly returning to fighting form, Thor strives for enlightenment. He wants to fill his days with meditating and contemplating but petty skirmishes call him back to the battlefield time and time again, leading to the Thunderer’s legend spreading across the stars.
A mystery falls in his lap when the Guardians receive a distress call from Sif (Alexander), who alerts the Odinson to the existence of a being known as the terrifying God-Butcher. Thor finds divine corpse after corpse, but no leads on this enigmatic enemy of the gods. His investigation hits a brick wall and he returns to New Asgard in Norway with Korg and his space goats, Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder.
There they find the town under siege by an army of ink-dark shadow-demons led by the grotesque God-Butcher, revealed to be Gorr. Leaping into the fray to assist King Valkyrie (Thompson), the Odinson discovers to his momentary dismay that they are joined by a lady Thor, wielding a restored Mjolnir. During the scrim, he learns that the new wielder of the mighty, mystical mallet is Dr. Jane Foster (Portman), his ex-girlfriend. They fight off the fiends, but it proves to be pyrrhic as Gorr and his shadow-goons exact a heavy price for victory.
Deducing Gorr’s plan, they realize that they’re outnumbered and in big trouble. They need to raise an army to take the battle to the God-Butcher. They don’t have an army. Their desperation leads Thors and Company to Omnipotence City, a gleaming citadel built by the first gods in a heaven lost in time. There the Odinson strives to convince an incredible gathering of immortals led by Zeus (Crowe) that there is an emergency threat to their existences that must be responded to immediately.
Can the God of Thunder convince his fellow divinities to put aside their selfish urges and unite to face a common foe? Can he work through his feelings of love, loss, and regret for Jane? Can he choose between his yearnings for Mjolnir, his hammer of old, and his newly forged weapon of Kings, that Bifrost-endowed battle ax Stormbreaker? Can the Odinson, Valkyrie, Korg, and Jane make an effective team against Gorr’s horrible horde of shadow demons? Can Thors and Company stop the God-Butcher before he completes his plan and fulfills the promise of his name by butchering every god, everywhere, all at once?
This is a VERY dark movie. The second film in the series, Thor: The Dark World can’t hold a candle to the stygian darkness of Love and Thunder. Granted, this is a Disney film, and granted it’s a Waititi film to boot, so it’s full of all sorts of weird, wild, and wacky stuff, but still. There is Waititi’s trademark off-kilter comedy and a dizzying kaleidoscope of multiple, dazzling visual sequences with Omnipotence City among the highlights, but it is ultimately a woefully dark movie. It opens with a child dying of exposure. There is god-slaughter almost from the get-go, with the carcasses of dead deities strewn about. Old friends of Thor are discriminatingly slaughtered and left for him to discover in sorrow. The spine of the movie is forged on the kidnapping of dozens of horrified, helpless children.
The bulk of the plot is lifted bodily from Jason Aaron’s run on the comic but is compressed and considerably simplified. There is no God-Bomb or God of Bombs at the end of time. There are no temporally-displaced Thors. Instead of brash Thor from the past, Avenger Thor from the now, and King Thor from the far-flung future, the Odinson is joined in the film by Dr. Jane Thor and King Valkyrie wielding the thunderbolt of Zeus. There are no Starsharks nor do the granddaughters of Thor appear. This stripped-down version of the story works until the final reel, where the means of Gorr’s revenge on the heavens changes the nature and structure of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unable to match the numbers Gorr is able to bring to bear, our heroes need an army. Why don’t they already have an army? Where is the Asgardian army from Endgame? Why are there no other Avengers in this film? It’s not in Thor’s nature to ask for help, but you would think someone with a more practical bent like Valkyrie would suggest that call.
The fact that in multiple films and shows, myriad main characters in danger never call for help is definitely one of the serious continuity problems with the interconnected MCU. There are also a few things in this movie that directly contradict what has been shown in other films of the franchise, notably The Eternals. Most of the problems there can be elided by the fact that Arishem the Celestial has already been proven to be an unreliable narrator. The Celestial’s version of universal creation, the story he told to Sersi about planetary nurseries and cosmic beings that held stars in the palms of their hands’ conflicts with what is shown on screen more than once and is highly suspect.
Speaking of continuity errors, Waititi undoes a lot of what Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame did to the Odinson. Stan Lee had been known to say that Thor was the Superman of the Marvel Universe. As is often the case, many writers struggle with what to do with the Last Son of Krypton due to his vast power, so he is usually shuffled off the main board allowing other, lesser characters can shine. That’s exactly what the Russo brothers did with the Thunderer in their movies.
It’s like the Russo brothers didn’t even watch Thor: Ragnarok in the run-up to crafting Infinity War. A big thrust of Ragnarok, a vital part of the Odinson’s arc was his growth, his realization that he wasn’t the “God of Hammers”, that Mjolnir was a CRUTCH and that the indomitable, impossible power of the storm was inside him all along.
So naturally, ignoring all of that, the Russo brothers had a humbled Thor never using his just discovered inherent godly powers, running off to make another prop, build another hammer, feeling impotent without one.
Then, with his new toy, an even BIGGER smashy-smashy, he and the Avengers fail to stop Thanos. Half the universe dies. He blames himself and collapses into a sad, stereotypical dude-bro. He becomes a beer-swilling, poorly-coping corpulent pile of PTSD, more Falstaffian than even Volstagg the Voluminous. He only begins to come out of his trauma during the cosmic time-travel caper when he learns that despite his failure, he is still worthy to wield Mjolnir. Then, in the grand final battle against the forces of Thanos, an Asgardian army comes to play, despite Hela destroying the entire army during the events shown in Ragnarok. Watititi wants nothing to do with this.
The story of Love and Thunder is largely narrated by Korg, who is a literal expression of Watititi’s voice. He leans into the tragedy of the Odinson and how dangerous it is to be one close to him, noting that his father, his mother, and all of his best friends are dead. His brother Loki (Hiddleston) is dead. Loki dies and comes back from the dead repeatedly. Each of Loki’s demises are shown, one after another after another (after another). Asgard, Thor’s home is destroyed. The remnants of his people are regrouping on Midgard, in the Norwegian town of Tønsberg. By the end of Love and Thunder, it’s clear that proximity to the Odinson is highly hazardous, but also that the God of Thunder is raising his game. He’s taking a paternal approach to those he must protect. The Odinson comes to grips with the loss of his All-Father Odin and becomes the Thor-Father.
Chris Hemsworth knows his character implicitly after portraying the Thunderer for eight movies and seems to be having fun letting Thor stretch. The Odinson grows from dude-bro Space-Viking to the tremendous Thor-Father as his the legends of his deeds stretch the lengths of the spaceways. He’s a VERY handsome man and his physique is incredible; in a, shall we say, cheeky scene in Omnipotence City, the audience gets to see his full moons in heaven. He’s SO charming. His timing is on point and his comedy chops continue to be a delight to watch.
Natalie Portman handles her role as the empowered Dr. Jane Foster with an interesting dichotomy. While her Lady Thor is brash, arrogant, inexperienced, and eager, there is another side of her in the film that is almost the exact opposite. The scenes where she explores her mortality are riveting, with the lengths she goes to get just one more day. It’s not that her bargaining phase is unexpected. It’s just that when she ends up bargaining with Mjolnir, what comes next is surprising. Unfortunately, she (and we) knows it’s only a respite. She wants to grab hold of every second she has left with both hands. Portman is able to portray this anguish behind layers of excitement, glee, amateur fumbling, and a pining sadness for love lost.
Tessa Thompson is SO much fun to watch. Though she is drop-dead gorgeous, there is an approachability to her character. She’s not one to let her crown go to her head. King Valkyrie is a veteran of thousands of campaigns. She’s faced the Goddess of Death herself. Yet, as King, she has tedious responsibilities to the people of New Asgard and is often forced by those responsibilities into a world of mundanities like tourist regulations, construction permits, and town halls advertising with product placement that she wants nothing to do with. She chafes at her new role though it’s firmly within her bailiwick. The product placement is QUITE remarkable, quite meta, and exactly what would happen if a real New Asgard appeared in a world like ours.
Christian Bale is a chameleon. A true actor’s actor, he vanishes into his role. His Gorr is both terrifying and sad. Inside of him is longing and remorse but it’s all twisted by his hate and he comes off as a cruel and sarcastic space muppet, Uncle Deadly wielding a cursed, cosmic cleaver. Gorr isn’t much of a fighter; he’s an ambush predator, but the fearsome power of his cursed weapon and its ability to create an endless army of shadow demons makes him a force to be reckoned with as he methodically slaughters his way across multiple heavens.
Russell Crowe may be the perfect actor to play Zeus. He exudes an unctuous arrogance. His greasy, lazy hedonism and his brusque insouciance fit the bill like a glove as he expansively fills the role. Clad in a golden, classical muscle cuirass that struggles mightily to contain his girth, his myopic focus on his own pleasures is a welcome comedic break after a particularly dour beat in the film. God- Butcher be damned, Zeus is going to have his orgy. This reviewer’s partner snickered through his scenes, heavily amused by his thick, coached Greek accent.
This is a fun, albeit dark film that brings a new perspective to the Odinson, a perspective of a god coming into his own and recognizing the responsibilities he has not just to himself but to the universe at large. Thor matures in this film. Whereas in the first film in his sequence, you wouldn’t trust him with a coffee cup, now he is entrusted with children. It’s nice to see an arc. It’s nice to see character growth across the board. Waititi seems to have a firm grasp of whom the Thunderer is and where he wants to take him. This is a very good movie and a fun watch, but oh, man is it dark.
Keep an eye out for Bao, Lord of Dumplings. The lil guy is not to be missed. Neither are the mid-and-post credit scenes. Both have incredible significance for what is to come.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in theatres nationwide on July 8th.
Thor and Jane Foster were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
King Valkyrie was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema.
Gorr the God-Butcher was created by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic