Injokes, backslappery and smugness abound in this terrible Thor adventure
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Dr Jane Foster/Mighty Thor), Christian Bale (Gorr the God Butcher), Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Taika Waititi (Korg), Russell Crowe (Zeus), Kat Dennings (Dr Darcy Lewis)
Okay. Part way through this desperately unfunny tonal mess I wondered: if I had to choose would I watch this again, or Thor: The Dark World? I can’t quite believe it, but I’d rather watch that functional, forgettable, mundane film. At least it doesn’t make me angry as it drifts past my eyes. And I say that as someone who loved Thor: Ragnarok. Thor: Love and Thunder is terrible. So, unlike Star Trek, it looks like even numbered Thor films are awful – so at least Thor Five should be a doozy.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in a state of ennui – although that doesn’t stop him restoring his buff form after we last saw him as a coach potato in Avengers: Endgame. He doesn’t know what to do with his life: he has (and I can’t believe the film doesn’t make this obvious joke considering its jukebox score) “lost that lovin’ feelin’”. Will the arrival of bereaved father Gorr (Christian Bale), and his mission to butcher all Gods because they don’t answer your prayers, give him meaning? Or will it be the chance to finally rekindle his love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) when she unexpectantly lands back in his life? However, it’s not the Jane he remembers: unknown to him, she’s dying from cancer, but his old hammer Mjolnir is keeping her alive, transforming her into a female version of Thor.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a bit like attending a victorious Thor: Ragnorak after-show party. Everyone there thinks everything they say is like the funniest thing ever and the air rings to the sound of backs being slapped. It takes everything that it believes worked best in that film and dials it up to eleventy thousand. Waititi doubles down on his quirky, off-the-cuff, shoulder shrugging humour at every turn and you get the feeling that no one once tapped him on the shoulder and said “you know that’s funny to us on set, but are we sure that will be funny in the audience?”
Because, based on the audience I saw it with, it wasn’t. I think I chuckled about three times in the film. Which considering it takes every single bloody opportunity to tell a joke, is damning. Perhaps it fails to land because, unlike in Ragnarok or other Waititi films, its like he’s surgically removed anything emotional or gives a weight to the gags. He’s also sacrificed much of his trademark sweetness. Instead, this is full of incredibly knowing, tip-the-wink gags at the audience, as if trying to say “hey it’s okay, we can’t take this seriously, comic books are all silly, silly shit”.
And you know, that’s fine many people take these things too seriously. But what worked about Thor: Ragnarok was it balanced a quirky sense of humour with genuine stakes and real emotional quandaries. This however is just a tonal mess. We have an opening scene dealing with child death, that shifts swiftly into knock-about farce. A leading character dying of cancer sitting alongside a pair of screaming goats. It is revealed Jane is effectively draining her life source using the hammer (that it is keeping her alive and killing her at the same time). Here’s a chance to explore the cost of heroism and finding a purpose in life (after all isn’t Thor supposed to be depressed? Wouldn’t Jane make a good contrast here?). instead, the film constantly retreats to playing the humour card (worst of all unfunny humour!), as if Waititi perhaps thinks this genre stuff is silly and slightly below him.
Ragnarok allowed moments of impact: this film shits all over any moment of potential emotional reality. Hemsworth’s Thor used to be a guy with a strong moral purpose and seriousness, but allowed to stretch his wings with comedic sharpness. Now he’s a buffoon who interrupts a speech to distraught parents with gags. Any attempt to build an arc of a hero who is internally lonely and searching for purpose is constantly smashed by self-consciously irreverent humour. It says a lot that Thor’s axe Stormbreaker feels as much a character as anyone else – although the film is overly pleased with the gag of the axe being jealous of Thor’s doe-eyes at his old hammer.
The entire film feels like it’s been plotted out in about four minutes. Presumably Waititi was confident “hilarious” off-the-cuff inspiration would solve any problems. Christian Bale struggles manfully with his villain – but it’s like no one gave him the memo that the film was a piss-take. Tedious detours fill the plot – like an un-funny Guardians of the Galaxy cameo at the start, a tiresome trip to an orgy-tastic God planet and the screeching giant goats which feels like a joke whose punchline has been cut. A major plot point about a wish granting Eternity God is suddenly introduced to establish a secret plan for the villain. It’s like no one gave a damn.
Waititi doubles down on funny stuff that worked in small doses in Ragnarok by stretching it past any point of humour here. Liked Neill, Damon and Lesser Hemsworth playing bad actors in that film? Well, you get bucket loads of it here with Melissa McCarthy as a Fat Hela (that’s the joke: she’s fat). Liked Korg’s overly literal asides? Well, he’s in seemingly every second of the bloody film here, including narrating it. Russell Crowe pops up for a cameo that everyone clearly feels was hilarious but really looks like a big-name actor amusing himself with a borderline racist Greek accent. The film is crammed with this crap.
Hemsworth does okay I suppose, but in many ways the film feels as much of an ego-trip for him as it does Waititi. Natalie Portman gets to do some some fun things, but comedy isn’t her natural forte and she struggles with getting the zing in the dialogue that Tessa Thompson manages. It builds towards a big ending where Thor weaponises children and then the film lands on an utterly unearned emotional ending at a secret place – as if Waititi suddenly remembered his films work best when they have a heart – at the centre of the universe that is so easy to reach you wonder why people didn’t go there much earlier in this franchise. Even the final explanation of the title feels thrown in at the last minute and I’ve no idea what we are supposed to make of Thor’s character arc in this film.
The lack of heart is what is missing here. There is nothing heartfelt or emotionally true really in this. Nothing to give you warm feelings or to make you say “ahh”. Instead there are just endless, endless smug insiderish-gags. This is a piece of shit and the silent reaction it got from the full audience I saw it with says it all. A smug, tonal mess by a director who is over-indulged and unrestrained and forgets that humour works best when grounded with some sense of drama. I’d definitely rather watch Thor: The Dark World again.