Thor Love and Thunder review: One small step for Phase Four, one giant leap for Thor-kind
On the whole, Thor: Love and Thunder is a collection of love stories with a lot of warmth and affection that's eluded by the goofiness which amusingly was the winning formulae of the last Thor film
One of the best lines from a superhero film - "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain," from The Dark Knight, has become one of the best examples of art imitating life as its lead Christian Bale has turned villain with Thor: Love and Thunder and unsurprisingly, has become one of the best antagonists Marvel has seen. The film also sports an intriguing plot that's faithful to the comic-book storyline, brings back the crowd favourite Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), reignites the love between her and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), adds a good dose of wacky humour that's unique to director Taika Waititi, and throws in a healthy amount of cameos. Yet, interestingly, the latest Marvel product, despite being an excellent standalone film and much-welcomed addition to the comparatively underwhelming Phase Four, feels under-par when compared with the previous instalment of Thor.
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Russell Crowe
Undoubtedly, Thor has been an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for more than a decade now, but his solo films have ironically been either bullseyes or completely missing the targets. While the origins story, Thor (2011) was a decent start, Thor: The Dark World (2013) is one of the worst entries in the MCU. But fascinatingly, a top-five best MCU films list would seldom be complete without Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and this puts Love and Thunder in quite a spot. Given the fact that the new film will reunite the Ragnarok collaboration between Hemsworth and director Waititi, expectations were visibly high and we all know the story of Icarus who flew too close to the sun - even if most of us have not watched Eternals.
When Gorr (Bale), who seeks the extinction of the gods after believing in one and losing his tribe, decides on striking New Asgard to steal the Stormbreaker, Thor has to put a stop to the god butcher by teaming up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster who has now become Mighty Thor and the wielder of Mjolnir. Despite a straightforward story, unlike Marvel's other recent films, the performance of the wonderful set of cast members is the strongest card of Thor: Love and Thunder. Apart from Hemsworth acing the titular character who is going through a mid-life crisis, it's Bale and Portman who steal the show with some of the best performances one could find in a superhero film. Bale, as Gorr, is a brilliant casting choice and the actor slays the pre-title credit scene where he understands how the god he trusted has no interest in saving his people not his dead daughter. As one of the best villains in MCU after Killmonger from Black Panther, it left me wishing how Gorr could have been the next Thanos in the franchise that desperately needs good supervillains to face the heroes it has mustered over the years. He brings in a sense of eeriness to the character and lines like "all gods will die" help in establishing what the character is otherwise known as - the god butcher. On the other hand, Portman, who makes her reentry to the Marvel world after missing the last two Thor films, makes up for her absence by playing the cancer-ridden ex-girlfriend-turned-Mighty Thor when the Mjolnir chooses her. Given how Marvel seems to be keen on handing over the mantles of Hawkeye and in a few weeks, Hulk, to women characters, I initially expected the Mighty Thor to be a similar tick mark on the checklist named representation. But the film builds up a heart-touching backstory for the astrophysicist who gets to show off her sculpted biceps in a scene where the Mjolnir almost gets grabbed by its initial owner Thor before the magic hammer returns to the one who threw it.
While we are at casts, only a studio like Marvel can pull off a list of cameos that's sure to be longer than our monthly groceries list. Right from the entire Guardians of the Galaxy, we also have Matt Damon, Sam Neill, and Luke Hemsworth reprising their roles from Thor: Ragnarok as actors in a play donning the roles of Loki, Odin, and Thor respectively. Additionally, we also get to see Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone as the actor playing Hela and the director of the Asgardian play. Waititi, apart from showcasing his comical prowess in Ragnarok, proved his mettle in the genre even while dealing with a serious topic in the Oscar-winning-Jojo Rabbit and he tries to ape it here once again. We have hilarious tropes like the ones with a pair of giant goats, another involving Korg narrating the backstory of Thor as he goes from "a dad bod to a god bod", and of course, the Guardians of the Galaxy aren't going to leave empty-handed either. We get to see Thor doing leg splits while Valkyrie becomes the ambassador for Old Spice. There's also a running gag of how Thor wants back his Mjolnir but he's scared of his Stormbreaker knowing it because the weapon, all of a sudden, seems to be quite possessive of its wielder. Unfortunately for Waititi, some of these gags come at an expense of diluting the intensity of the emotions and the seriousness of an already paper-thin plot. Speaking about emotions, beneath the forgettable one-liners and jabs at fellow characters, Thor: Love and Thunder lies a lot of love ranging from that between a father and his daughter and one between two once-estranged lovers. The parallels between them make for some of the best analogies we sporadically find in a Marvel film. A sense of revelation followed by disgust when Gorr meets his god Rapu is similar to what Thor feels when he meets his hero Zeus (played by Russell Crowe). The climax showcases one of them losing their loved one while the other one's favourite gets resurrected.
What's a Marvel film without references? Thor: Love and Thunder packs a lot of MCU easter eggs as well as callbacks to several other films like Interstellar and Harry Potter. We get a shot of the dead god Falligar and the image is directly taken from the pages of comics. We see Hemsworth putting on the original Thor costumes that comic-book readers are more acclaimed to. When Thor bares it all during a tussle with Zeus, we get to see a tattoo that says 'RIP Loki' with the trickster's helmet etched on our space Viking's back. We are introduced to the evil Necrosword and given how Mjolnir and Stormbreaker too seem to have a mind of their own, it's interesting to see weapons controlling the person and that's something we have seen more recently with the ten rings in Shang Chi, the magical bangle in Ms Marvel and the Ebony Blade from the post-credits scene in Eternals. There's even a line on how "gods will use you but never empower you", which feels more relatable after their recent show Moonknight. Keeping in mind the title, apart from the lead cast's relationships, we also get to know about Valkyrie losing her beloved girlfriend in war and how Korg falls in love with another Kronan man. Talk about being on point with representation. Waititi's films always look the part and this one is no different. While the first half reminds us of the bright colour he introduced us to in Ragnarok, a good part of the second half takes place in the dark realm where everything is black and white. Even if doesn't add to the narration, action scenes in monochrome are extremely satisfying.
On the whole, Thor: Love and Thunder is a collection of love stories with a lot of warmth and affection that's eluded by the goofiness which amusingly was the winning formulae of the last Thor film. That said, more importantly, Hemsworth as Thor is here to stay and that's a relief to the fans who have seen the original Avengers either sacrifice their lives or hang their boots in the name of retirement. Despite being weighed down by the success of its predecessor and doing a not-so-great job at taking the franchise a step ahead, Thor: Love and Thunder succeed thanks to stupendous performances and a good dose of Marvel magic that has been missing in these films for a while now. After all, the answer to what's better than Thor is two Thors and it looks like thunder too can strike twice!