The best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have been equal parts exciting as well as funny. The character of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has always played it straight, but has had an underlying element of charm and humor laced within his Asgardian toughness. When director Taika Waititi took the reigns for the first time in the MCU with "Thor: Ragnarok," he leaned the character and the Thor film franchise into the comedy with mixed results.
Now directing the latest Thor film, "Thor: Love and Thunder," Waititi has apparently been given carte blanche by the higher-ups at Marvel to make Thor an all-out parody of itself...an absurd, campy comedy that definitely has some laughs, but does little justice to the character of Thor or to those inhabiting his universe. This is a ramshackle, choppy spoof that would work better if it existed in a vacuum, and not part of an over-arching cinematic universe.
The movie pretends to center on the character of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), last seen in the MCU in 2013's "Thor: The Dark World." Jane, you may remember, is a human scientist who also happens to be the love of Thor's life, the one who got away. We learn that back on Earth, Jane has terminal cancer, but Thor's magical hammer, Mjolnir, is calling out to her. The hammer is currently on display in New Asgard, the town that was founded by displaced Asgardians and is now governed by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a warrior who is loathing her new admin and governmental duties.
A new Voldemort doppelganger baddie known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale, under heavy prosthetics) has acquired the cursed Necrosword and has vowed to hunt down and kill all Gods throughout the universe, after a God that he had worshiped allows his young daughter to die amidst a bevy of unanswered prayers. Thor splits from his traveling companions (a glorified and underwhelming cameo from the Guardians of the Galaxy) and while trying to track down Gorr, runs in to Jane, who with the help of Mjolnir, has transformed into "The Mighty Thor," a kick-butt female version of Thor. The "new Jane" impresses Thor, and much of the film deals with how the two exes relearn to co-mingle.
In what becomes a huge missed opportunity to develop an existing character, Jane and her "Mighty Thor" persona and done a mighty disservice with a script that is thin and scattershot. Thor himself is even more poorly underwritten. We have followed him from being an arrogant, self-centered God to a selfless Avenger...through his "fat Thor" years of self-loathing and back to his heroic ways. In "Love and Thunder," Thor has no personal growth, and he's being written as a caricature of his former self. There is no mention of the hardships he has overcome, the effect his brother Loki's death might have had on him, or really any reference whatsoever to the emotional aftermath of what has come before. No, he's basically the hero of the story, and this time around, that is apparently enough.
All heroes need a villain, and another missed opportunity comes via Gorr the God Butcher. It's a travesty that they got such an amazing actor in Christian Bale to play the part, and then give him little more to do than just scowl and sneer. I sensed trouble when the movie began, and gave us a rushed backstory of his character. It reminded me of how thought-out and careful the MCU rolled out Thanos...a villain that was fleshed-out and 3-dimensional in ways that made "Infinity War" and "End Game" pay-off with massive emotional weight and purpose. Gorr could have been a great MCU villain, but after he's introduced, his character is largely forgotten until the final act, where he shows up and goes through the usual motions that a villain usually does in a generic action film such as this.
Framed around this rickety plot is a story full of one-liners, silliness, giant screaming goats, an animé-style cartoon dumpling God, and some plot developments that fly in the face - or at best, don't seem to add up - of everything else we've come to see in the MCU up to this point. There is no mention of that pesky multi-verse, you know, that thing that seems to be the driving force behind where the MCU is headed in the future. In its place we get to visit "Omnipotent City," where a council of Gods from all over the universe gather to have orgies (for real). Where Zeus (a game Russell Crowe) sports a dad-bod and talks with an unexplained Italian accent. A clan of all-powerful beings that apparently decided to sit out the whole Thanos thing years earlier.
The funniest thing is beginning to happen in the MCU (and not funny in the way that Waititi or the Marvel execs are intending). Since the very first Marvel film, 2008's "Iron Man," when during an end credit stinger scene that teased an "Avengers Project," fans were conditioned to expect more out of these films. To expect a connective tissue between films, and an over-arching story. Our patience was time-and-time again paid-off with epic Avengers-crossover movies, where the individual films would culminate in rewarding combined conclusions. The current MCU is the invert of this concept. With "Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and now "Thor: Love and Thunder," we are being asked to take these movies as they are, isolated and in a vacuum. To NOT think too hard about how they connect to the over-arching story, if there even is one.
It's not working. The concept of the MCU is unraveling before our eyes, and we desperately need one of the countless Disney+ shows or an upcoming Marvel movie to address the flailing characters like Thor who are at this point just being shoved in front of our faces without much thought. The studio seems to be banking on the fact that we already love these characters, and are not giving us any more reasons to stay in love with them.
I don't know what it looks like to watch a cinematic universe crumble and dissipate before our very eyes, but if "Thor: Love and Thunder" is any indication, it's currently happening. If only someone could just snap their fingers and bring us back to a version of the MCU where things seemed to matter, where we trusted that our time commitment to these shows and movies would be worth it, where each movie seemed to propel something - anything - forward.
Where's Thanos when you need him?
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Russell Crowe, Taika Waititi (voice).
Co-Written and Directed by Taika Waititi ("Thor: Ragnarok," "Jojo Rabbit," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," "What We Do in the Shadows," "Boy," "Eagle vs. Shark").
"Thor: Love and Thunder" is in theaters on Friday, July 8th, 2022.
Be sure to watch the Movie Show Plus Special Episode: Thor: Love and Thunder premiering Sunday at 4:30pm - Click Here to View.
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