In my review of Thor: Ragnarok back in 2017, I suggested that turning Thor into a goofball after four movies in which he’d been vaguely Shakespearean with moments of comic bravado was a weird, and ultimately bad, choice. Rejecting gravitas in favor of turning the God of Thunder into a squealing, meme-creating himbo undoubtedly has its appeal—Chris Hemsworth has shockingly great comic timing—but the overall effect was vaguely annoying.
This was very much a minority opinion, one of only a handful of negative notices for writer/director Taika Waititi’s 93 percent fresh “masterpiece.” All of which is to say that I’m a little surprised by the lukewarm reaction to Thor: Love and Thunder. Y’all asked for this slop; why aren’t you eating it up?
Love and Thunder picks up sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame; the Asgardian princeling has gotten back into shape—gone from dad bod to god bod, as the Waititi-voiced Korg intones—and is traveling around the universe aiding Starlord (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy in their efforts to do some good. Thor misses Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), whom he hasn’t seen for eight-plus years, and the two reconnect after a reassembled Mjolnir (which was destroyed during the first act of Ragnarok) grants her the powers of Thor.
Lady Thor and Lord Thor team up with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to stop Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who has decided all gods must die after his local deity was kind of a dick to him and his dead daughter. Gorr has the power to make his dreams reality via a magical sword that creates monsters out of shadows and also lets him travel through shadows to wherever shadows are. Or something like that; it’s never really very well explained. The Thors and Valkyrie hope to convince Zeus (Russell Crowe) and some other gods to join in the fight, but, well, they have orgies to plan. (This is an actual joke in the movie.)
On the performance side of things, Crowe’s one-note Greek stereotype is funnier than it has any right to be and when Bale cuts loose as Gorr he’s fairly magnetic, all big eyes and furrowed brows and terrifying grins. Alas, he’s not given many opportunities to do that. Hemsworth still has solid timing. Thompson still feels like she’s sleepwalking through these movies. Portman is still … fine.
There are some funny ideas in this movie, the most amusing of which is Thor being covetous not of Jane but of the fact that Mjolnir decided to pull itself together so it could hang out with her. This in turn leads Thor’s current lightning-attracting weapon, Stormbreaker, to become jealous that a Weapon Ex has shown up for the first time in ages. It’s a clever bit, one that riffs on the idea of these weapons deciding who is worthy of wielding them, taking it to an illogical extreme.
Sadly, such moments are few and far between, as Waititi once again prefers to wallow in silliness. Whether they’re recycling a joke about Matt Damon playing Loki in an off-Asgard production of the trickster God’s life and times or having Thor make eyes at Starlord or introducing a pair of screaming goats, it all feels a little try-hard.
Love and Thunder is also surprising ugly: just flat, bad, obvious CGI backgrounds and greenscreen work that makes the whole thing feel especially weightless. It’s also just borderline visually incomprehensible in places, as during a climactic set piece that would have made much better use of Guns N’ Roses’s “November Rain” if I could have actually seen the battle taking place onscreen.
Again, if you liked Ragnarok, and most people liked Ragnarok, I see no reason to believe you won’t like Love and Thunder. But maybe folks are tiring of this particular brand of godly goofiness.