The 29th time is not the charm for the MCU with Thor: Love and Thunder, a franchise entry meant to be bursting with joy. It somehow feels middling the majority of the time and it’s a significant downgrade from Taika Waititi’s predecessor Thor: Ragnarok from 2017.
Our Asgardian God of a title character (Chris Hemsworth) has been through a lot in the last half of a cinematic decade. He’s lost his family (including Loki more than once) in earlier Thor and Avengers tales. That even caused him to turn to the bottle and humorously pack on the pounds during Avengers: Endgame.
He found a new lease on life with the Guardians of the Galaxy during those previous Avengers epics. That’s where we find him at the outset, but it doesn’t last long. The Guardians are off on a new adventure while old acquaintances pop up for Thor. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who hasn’t been seen since 2013’s The Dark World, reappears in a cancer stricken state. She discovers that her ex’s hammer Mjolnir gives her super strengths. Her old beau needs all the help he can get with a new nemesis. Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) is on a mission to off all the Gods (hence the name) after his own leader causes his young daughter to perish. That killing spree will eventually include Thor and the newish King of Asgard Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
In what has become a common theme in Marvel’s stories, the main villain sorta has a point with his murderous schemes. We see that most of the Gods, including Russell Crowe’s Zeus, have turned into lazy do-nothings. However, when Gorr snatches a bunch of Asgardian kids, the fight is on.
Ragnarok was able to find a measured balance between dramatic elements and Waititi’s comedic sensibilities. Thunder feels downright goofy most of the time with its screaming goats and Guns n Roses greatest hits soundtrack playing over the battles. Just a little patience from the director might’ve made it more tolerable. More often than not, it falls into self parody territory. Maybe it’s on purpose. That doesn’t make it worthwhile.
What’s clear is that Waititi was given plenty of freedom to paint his canvass with this fourth official pic in the Thor series. I wish that translated to a more fruitful experience. Thor and Jane’s romance in the first two movies was never exactly a highlight so their reunion left me ambivalent. To be honest, Portman almost seems a bit bored during her transformation to the Mighty Thor. Bale doesn’t seem disinterested but his bad guy is of the one note and forgettable variety.
Thor: Love and Thunder does have a few jokes that land (I chuckled at character mispronouncing Jane’s full name). Yet I couldn’t escape this thought when the credits rolled the first and second and final time… I’d rank this 29th MCU saga 29th.
** (out of four)