By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Taika Waititi
- Starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Natalie Portman
The first major sequence after the required Marvel Studios intro of Thor: Love and Thunder will immediately clue you in on whether or not this movie will be your cup of tea. Korg, still played by the ever talented if somewhat overplayed by this point Taika Waititi, narrates the life story of Thor, going through his prior adventures as well as tapping into elements of his backstory left unchecked from prior installments. There is a tongue in cheek attitude about prior events, especially regarding the first two installments, and while the emotion is sincere, said emotions range from pure apathy towards what came before to delight at being able to skewer said events.
Love and Thunder is pretty much like this for most of it’s runtime, key word here though is most, as ultimately Love and Thunder‘s undoing compared to something like Ragnarok is it’s inability to balance it’s own tone. Waititi appears at first glance to have a greater control over his tone and ideas here, and having a writing credit this time you can feel his influence seep more and more into his vision of the character. And yet somehow it still feels like Ragnarok redux – a repeat of what came before and without any of the flare or originality that came with that film. It’s looking clearer and clearer that Ragnarok was lightning in a bottle – impossible to be replicated no matter how hard somebody tries, and yet Waititi is desperately trying to grasp it here.
In fact, where Love and Thunder ultimately shines the most is when it eschews trying to another Ragnarok and does it’s own thing. This is mostly relegated to it’s third act, which is a wickedly cool series of setpieces involving shadows, superpowered children, emotionally charged love confessions, and cancer metaphors that give the impression Waititi wrote backwards instead of forwards. The final 20 minutes of Love and Thunder genuinely do hit a cord, and it’s strong enough that it saves the film from being simply another product in the MCU pipeline.
It’s a shame then, that despite committed performances from the rest of the cast, it’s mostly same old, same old here. It’s enjoyably same old, but as the rapid fire pacing in the first act clearly shows the film is far more interested in other things, and it spends little time trying to let something sit before moving onto the next setpiece. Sure, those setpieces are inventive and fun, but when they lack cohesion, does it matter in the end?
This lack of cohesion even extends to Waititi’s overall direction, which ranges from downright inspired and excellent to rote and on autopilot. Some sequences are creative marvels, like the Shadow Realm itself which is a delightfully comic booky segment. Other, like much of the New Asgard scenes, are as dull as you can get, clearly shot on a soundstage as a way to save production costs. It’s a bizarre film from a lot of metrics, and while Marvel has definitely been struggling with VFX for a while (and the recent reports about overworking and bad management don’t help either), it’s at it’s most notable in a while here.
It’s ultimately up to one’s personal preferences if they end up vibing with the material. Waititi’s presence is admittedly still here, and while it takes a while to get there it does get to a strong point and stays that way for the rest of it’s runtime. By the end of the film I was moved and as a fan of these characters, it takes them in interesting directions that I’m hoping they expand on in future material. Nevertheless, for a franchise where even it’s weaker installments still have some kind of cohesion to them, this is strangely messy and unfinished, if entertaining.