Like many people, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) was my first exposure to Taika Waititi, who directed it and provided the voice for the rock creature known as Korg. I guess there were some who knew him from What We Do in the Shadows (2014), but it was only after the former came out that I saw the latter. Whenever someone comes along and provides a fresh perspective on a franchise, it is welcome . . . usually. The ellipsis is only to allow for other possibilities because, this side of God’s Kingdom, there are few absolutes. Still, I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, certainly more so than What We Do in the Shadows, and have liked other titles the director has done since, like Jojo Rabbit (2019). It is safe to call Waititi an artist, even if you might look at his films in this light with a healthy dose of incredulity. If “artist” is too sacrosanct for you, then I will settle for creative. When somebody who is as creative as Waititi is pigeon-holed into a major motion picture franchise where there are certain controls on output, the result is Thor: Love and Thunder. Do not take that as a criticism, or at least as an indication that I found the film bad. It is just that, well, it has a pair of abnormally large screaming goats in it. I am sure there is a metaphor in there somewhere. . . .
Our title character (Chris Hemsworth) in Thor: Love and Thunder is not who we first meet. Instead, that is our villain, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). If the last part of his name did not give it away, his initial introduction would tell you that is a good man. He is not from Earth, but the planet he lives on has been turned into a desert wasteland. He wanders it with his daughter, Love (India Hemsworth), who soon succumbs to the travails with which they are faced and dies. A broken Gorr wanders distraught into an oasis and there finds his planet’s god Rapu (Jonny Brugh) reclining and unconcerned about Gorr or his daughter’s fate, despite their faithfulness. In confronting Rapu, Gorr summons a mystical blade called the Necrosword (of course), which is the only weapon capable of truly killing a god. From there, he vows to go on and kill every god he can find. Now, what other gods do we know? Oh yes, there is our hero, Thor. Since the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), he has been knocking about with the Guardians of the Galaxy and, er, guardianing. We are caught up to speed in Thor: Love and Thunder thanks to a narration by Thor’s buddy Korg, who is not shy to admit that while Thor is getting back into god of thunder shape, he has also been getting on the Guardians’ nerves. Hence, when they receive a distress call from one of Thor’s former Asgardian comrades’ Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the Guardians leave Thor (who had just wrecked a temple during their most recent mission) to follow it while they go in a different direction. They are also all too happy to leave Thor with the two screaming goats they had received as reward for their services. Thor and Korg get to Sif only to find her wounded. However, she is able to tell them that it is Gorr who is responsible for the destruction they find. They bring her back to Earth and New Asgard . . . which has become a tourist attraction, apparently. This is the doing of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), another old ally, who has become the ruler of the settlement. It does not take long for Gorr to find them there, attacking later that same night. In the struggle, Gorr summons a number of creatures from the shadows for the locals to fight. Stepping in to help is Thor. No, not that Thor, the other Thor. Earlier we had been treated to scenes of Thor’s ex-girlfriend, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) dealing with stage four cancer. Seeking answers, she reads about how Thor’s (now broken) hammer Mjolnir could restore vitality. Traveling to New Asgard, she hears the weapon calling to her, and by wielding it she claims Thor’s powers as well. They have an awkward reunion which is cut short by the need to go after the children of the village that have been kidnapped by Gorr. It is all part of Gorr’s plan to lure Thor and his new weapon, Stormbreaker, into a trap. Sensing that they need an army to stop Gorr, Thor and company travel to Omnipotence City where all the gods in the universe hang out, entertained by their chief Zeus (Russell Crowe). When Zeus refuses to help, they take his lightning bolt weapon, which they believe can defeat Gorr, head to the shadow realm, and right into Gorr’s trap. In the ensuing battle, Gorr is able to separate Thor from Stormbreaker, Valkyrie is seriously wounded, and Jane’s cancer begins to catch up with her. They retreat for a moment to tend their wounds, and during this brief respite it is determined that wielding Mjolnir is actually killing Jane more quickly. As such, Thor decides to go back to confront Gorr alone. He is able to free the children, giving them some of his power to help to with the shadow monsters, while Thor goes on to take on Gorr. Even so, it takes Jane’s intervention to save him and destroy the Necrosword. Unfortunately, this happens only after Gorr has opened a portal to Eternity, where a being resides that can grant any wish. With Jane dying in his arms, Thor convinces Gorr to relent in his pursuit of killing all gods. The villain then remembers his daughter, and instead asks for her to be returned to life in exchange for his, pressing Thor to take care of Love. Everyone then basically goes their separate ways, with Love and Thunder becoming a father-daughter team of do-gooders.
I laughed considerably while watching Thor: Love and Thunder. I chuckled heartiest during the montage describing Jane and Thor’s relationship, particularly when you see them on roller blades being pulled by Mjolnir. I hope I did not embarrass my godson with whom I saw the movie with my loud guffaws. Moments like that, though, are also the problem. My one criticism is that it has problems with its tone. It is not a comedy, and yet there are comedic elements throughout. At times, the humor undercuts what is meant to be a serious scene. Next time you are trying to have an important discussion with someone, toss in a screaming goat noise and see how that helps. Towards the end, with an emaciated Jane lying on a hospital bed, you hear Thor outside breaking a vending machine. He then walks in with a number of snacks, cracking a joke about a locked refrigerator. Keep in mind, too, that this is coming directly after their first defeat at the hands of Gorr. Yet, there is our hero carefreely doing meat headed shenanigans while the woman he loves can barely keep her eyes open. I am not calling some kind of maudlin concern here, but an awareness of the gravity of the situation would be welcome. And this is all in light of Thor’s perceived need to “find himself,” whatever that means in this context. That musing is because I have no idea if he actually finds it in the end. The movie is funny, it is entertaining, but it cannot seem to make up its mind as to what it is, ultimately.
Another aspect of Thor: Love and Thunder that is not taken seriously is faith. Again, that is the point of the film, it would seem. In the process, it has some interesting things to say on the matter that caught this Catholic reviewer’s eye. I will be largely ignoring the obvious route to take here in discussing the polytheistic nature that is apparently the Marvel version of the universe. Yet, talk about Earth-ism, huh? Making our Zeus the lord over all the other gods in the universe? Sheesh. What is weightier, though, is that which transpires between Gorr and Rapa. Gorr is understandably upset with the loss of Love (and again, hitting things squarely on the nose with these names). Gorr appeals to Rapa about this, and the emotional wound is made all the more devastating by Rapa’s nonchalance, saying that there are always more followers. Call me crazy, but I can see most of our society in Gorr. People get angry with God because they see bad things happen and a supposedly indifferent God letting them take place. Why did you take my child, spouse, friend, etc.? Why am I still struggling? Why am I so lonely? Actually, these questions are good. It is when the search for answers ends that faith also tends to die with it. The questions mean you care. Gorr lost Love and stopped caring. This pretty much sums up American society since the 1960s. Ever since, we have been trying to kill God. Fortunately, such things are impossible, and He loves us all the same. After all, Jesus loved beyond measure those who nailed Him to the Cross.
Hopefully, when people watch Thor: Love and Thunder, they will remember that this is all nonsense. It is entertaining nonsense, but nonsense all the same. More pointedly, it is nonsense to suppose that Vikings can have their version of heaven in Valhalla, but our Christian one for which there has been centuries of anecdotal proof is not acceptable. But, again, it is all pretty, fun, mostly acceptable nonsense.