Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love & Thunder almost works as a cautionary tale for what happens when you buy into your own hype as an artist.
Waititi is the successful Kiwi comedian-filmmaker who won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars for his screen interpretation of Jojo Rabbit (2019); co-directed and co-created the popular vampire farce What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and FX series spin-off; along with crafting a few charming indie dramedies, such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016).
The writer-director’s brand of wacky humor seemed to work for his previous Marvel sequel Thor: Ragnarok (2017), based on the solid critic and audience reception. What happened to make Love & Thunder not only one of Waititi’s lowest-scored films on Rotten Tomatoes, but also one of Marvel’s?
The title, Thor: Love & Thunder, already sounds like a cheeky play on an episode of a 1980s morning cartoon. The use of classic rock music for the soundtrack, as is the case with many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, also fits. In this case, we’re given prominent use of Guns ‘n’ Roses classics like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child of Mine.”
The cast, from Thor regulars like Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder himself, Natalie Portman as his on-again/off-again flame Jane Foster, Tessa Thompson as soldier-turned-New Asgard leader Valkyrie, and Waititi as sidekick Korg, who is mostly CGI comic relief, to Christian Bale and Russell Crowe as two latest big names to appear in a MCU flick, should make for decent entertainment. Yet the underwhelming posts and tweets on social media are telling.
Well, here’s my take. Picture the familiar cliché of the hot-shot quarterback who wins the big game at the end of the school year and is going steady with the prom queen to his prom king. You know the one where said big shot peaks in high school and never fully recovers or moves on? That’s Thor in Love & Thunder.
He helped save the universe with the Avengers and is now just coasting along defeating local threats and dangers. The Guardians of the Galaxy are even dodging his contributions to the superhero team. And he’s still pinning over Jane, who is seemingly occupied with her huge success as a scientist and author.
This new portrayal of Thor is lovingly played for laughs at the hero’s expense, but I actually found it mostly cringe-worthy and missing the mark. Portman and Thompson are awesome as Jane and Val ready to kick butt, yet are sidelined often for the male lead. Crowe has an amusing cameo as Zeus, though one has to wonder what accent he was going for during that sequence, while most of Bale’s screen time is wasted as a knockoff of Harry Potter’s Voldemort.
Waititi is a naturally funny person, so I did laugh a few times throughout Love & Thunder. But it also feels like the director might have been surrounded by too many people laughing at his jokes on default. So he was possibly phoning it in as a result (which isn’t hard to believe with the wild rumors about the partying and socializing occurring during production).
The two-hour runtime is a welcome change from the 140-160 minutes that have become common with big-budget studio films. But the pacing and editing are so negligent — most likely resulted from recurring improvisation and script re-writes during filming — that the flow isn’t as tight as it should feel. And for a feature both Waititi and Portman are insisting is the “gayest Marvel movie to date,” there sure is the same bare minimum of throwaway lines and quick glances that we get with any other major release claiming inclusivity. In fact the only romance and love scenes are between, unsurprisingly, Thor and Jane.
Some parts of Love & Thunder show potential, such as a scene in “The Shadow Realm” where the film suddenly turns to black and white. But as of July 2022, I would officially rather watch completely fresh, original stories or my favorite movies again over anything new in MCU.