I need to figure out exactly who I am.
What identity crisis? From Norse mythology to comic book superhero to unlikely blockbuster movie star, “Thor” has long been a game of hot potato between creative hands, carelessly tossing away the baggage of any previous iteration for yet one more chance to reinvent the God of Thunder. After helming Thor: Ragnarok — one of Marvel’s most rewatchable detour sequels — Taika Waititi earned enough blessings from the suited gods to bestow a second rock-themed action comedy featuring the character, with Chris Hemsworth returning as the first Avenger to get a fourth solo film.
After touring the cosmic expanse for an extended time with the Guardians of the Galaxy (whose third volume practically screams “to be continued”), Thor has gotten back in shape since his lax days on Earth during the “blip” of Avengers: Endgame. Not sure what that means? Don’t worry, Thor: Love and Thunder is more about the vibes than coherence. It’ll toss plenty of lore at the audience but never demand much in the way of thinking through it. We all get to be Thor for about two hours, essentially.
A “God Butcher” is on the loose, vowing to eliminate all gods — which in the Marvel universe has a pretty loose definition — and to make matters worse, he’s played by an absolutely terrifying Christian Bale, who indeed has lived long enough to become the villain. It’s a chewy, gnarly role deserving of the Satanic panic iconography it deliriously rips off, one of many mood pieces cribbed from 80s pop culture to satisfying effect. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has the more accomplished horror bent in its Scarlet Witch sequences, but at least Love and Thunder drunkenly dabbles.
One more time with feeling.
The film boasts a carousel of cameos and surprise faces, often unloading enough meta jokes and self-deprecation to preemptively ward off anything a critic might take issue with. So when the self-serious tone kicks in after seven straight jokes, Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson are quick to point it out with a cheeky grin before you can even shake your head in confusion. Don’t pay attention to the contrived automatons making shadow puppets on this roller coaster, just lean into the loops.
If nothing else, Love and Thunder tries quite hard to be a romantic comedy. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) returns as Thor’s ex-girlfriend, getting swept along after eight years since they last saw one another. Why? How? Who cares! It’s Thor: Love and Thunder. Here’s a joke about Thor treating his axe like a scorned love interest. At least the film has the audacity to be consistently funny. And when the action kicks in, and Marvel’s recently lackluster special effects take center stage, at least everything has some color, vibrancy, and presence to speak of.
The bottom line.
Thor has always been an enigma of a protagonist. Inherently and unavoidably boring on his own, but effectively charming when surrounded by against-types like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Waititi’s Korg. No Loki, no Hulk, no Avengers, this is a Thor movie trying at least in spurts to establish a more self-contained corner for cosmic gods based on European mythologies. The problem is that none of this new territory is all that interesting, really, with this film’s version of Zeus (Russell Crowe) being a somewhat underwhelming sideshow. At least he fits in.
Waititi has a deft hand when it comes to translating Thor into a character with verve and urgency, certainly, but his antics can only go so far. Ragnarok did much to revitalize the character into an essential mainstay of this cinematic universe, but Love and Thunder seems far more content to rest on those laurels. Sure, that means it’s far more entertaining and memorable than many of the other recent Marvel efforts post-Endgame, but a fresh coat of paint on a ship you already sailed is exactly that.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in theaters starting July 8. Watch the trailer here.