Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder shows off his naked derriere, as well as lets his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) wield his mighty hammer, in Thor: Love and Thunder. Given Marvel’s trademark sexlessness, however, those risqué touches don’t change the fundamental PG-13 nature of director Taika Waititi’s second Marvel go-round, which follows in the goofy footsteps of his prior Thor: Ragnarok, albeit to lesser rewards. A rambunctious action-comedy cast in brilliant Day-Glo colors and set to the anthemic rock of Guns N’ Roses, Waititi's latest MCU effort works overtime to muster up hard-hitting humor and romantic pathos. Yet the strain shows, resulting in a wannabe-rollicking adventure that overdoses on one title element at the expense of the other.
There’s plenty of extravagant CGI action and ridiculous humor in Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8), whose story—per the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame—picks up with Thor (Hemsworth) in the company of the Guardians of the Galaxy, gallivanting around the universe protecting the innocent from nefarious villains. Thor no longer has the dad bod he boasted in the wake of Thanos’ genocidal snap, yet while his physique is in peak shape, his soul is a wreck. As he proves during a siege on an alien world that ends with him single-handedly saving the day with his usual arrogant-ignorant bravado—this time in a vest that looks like proper attire for an ’80s hair-metal concert—he can capably go through the heroic motions. Deep down, though, he’s empty inside. What he needs to fill that inner hole becomes clear thanks to a typically ridiculous speech from Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and then a visit to New Asgard, where his battle against evil shadow monsters pairs him with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) as well as a surprising ally: Jane, who’s now blonde, buff, and brandishes his Mjölnir hammer as The Mighty Thor.
Jane, it turns out, is dying of Stage IV cancer, and has become a veritable “space Viking” simply by seeking out the shattered remnants of Mjölnir, which reformed in her presence and granted her Thor’s power (and armor and red cape). Thor eventually winds up in a quasi-love triangle with his old weapon Mjölnir and his new, jealous one, Stormbreaker. Still, the hammer’s decision to transform Jane into a superhero is mostly good news for Thor, since after encountering the majestically enhanced Jane, he’s immediately attacked by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a wraith-like specter with an imposing blade called the Necrosword. Thor: Love and Thunder’s prologue explains that, having been sneered at by his god in the wake of his beloved daughter’s death, Gorr was chosen by the Necrosword to be its owner and use it to slay all gods for their callous selfishness. Thor is the newest of Gorr’s targets, not only because of his divine status but also because, as we later learn, his axe Stormbreaker is the key to unlocking a magical realm that Gorr aims to reach.
Bale’s pale, teeth-rotted, vampiric Gorr is easily the most captivating facet of Thor: Love and Thunder, exuding creepy derangement born from irreparable loss. The film comes alive whenever he appears, whether he’s menacing a group of children that he kidnaps from New Asgard—an abduction that motivates Thor, Jane, and Valkyrie to embark upon their quest—or persuasively arguing to his adversaries that they’re all victims of cruelly indifferent deities. The Oscar-winning actor makes one feel Gorr’s heartbreak and anguished fury, which Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s script parallels with the grief felt by Thor over Jane’s fatal condition—a malady that’s seemingly destined to separate them forever, just as they’re rekindling their amour.
Thor: Love and Thunder is engaging whenever it focuses on its protagonists’ tormented love, since it renders them close to three-dimensional. For the majority of these proceedings, however, thunderous cacophony and pushy comedy takes precedence, much to the material’s detriment. Whereas Thor: Ragnarok had fun recasting its mythical Avenger as a sweetly and excitedly arrogant dim-bulb (think a long-haired He-Man with the personality of a golden retriever), this film pushes in that direction to an unrelenting degree. He's a clownish cartoon, who can’t go a single minute without heedlessly destroying property, talking over his compatriots, or coming up with a nonsensically me-first comment. Hemsworth still expertly balances Thor’s clueless narcissism and formidable battlefield flair, but everything is pitched at such a frantically insistent pace that the intended laughs die on the vine.
Portman and Thompson are similarly swallowed up by Thor: Love and Thunder’s unremitting clamor. They're barely allowed a genuine moment amidst running gags involving Thor’s giant screaming pet goats and a showy trip to the council of the gods, where Thor attempts to enlist the aid of Zeus (Russell Crowe, hamming it up with an exaggerated accent) and—following the aforementioned nudity—battles the Greek legend for his sparkly thunderbolt. The jokes fly so incessantly that they have no time to breathe, and exhaustion swiftly sets in. MCU fans will likely delight in the handful of cameos from past Thor participants, yet even those play as obligatory aspects of the never-ending world-building that is the franchise’s prime directive. They do little to surprise or propel the plot toward its inevitable showdown between Gorr and his Asgardian opponents.
Waititi indulges in a storybook-fable framing device and doubles down on the Heavy Metal-style visuals of Thor: Ragnarok, although two of his slam-bang set pieces are shot in murky darkness that neuters the slow-motion-italicized grandeur for which he strives. For much of its two-hour runtime, Thor: Love and Thunder is a case study in more-is-less, piling on fantasticalities with uninhibited gusto and, consequently, burying the more moving human tale it supposedly wants to tell. Waititi tries so hard to make everything cool that he forgets to pause long enough to elicit amazement, excitement or amusement. Be it Thor’s tender interactions with Jane or the film’s nods to same-sex relationships—courtesy of both Valkyrie and Thor’s rocky mate Korg (Waititi), who explains that his race procreates via male-on-male hand-holding—Thor: Love and Thunder operates as if it were in a mad race to the finish line, in the process speeding past the very things at which it’s best.