For the first time since Phase 2, the MCU accomplished something with Thor: Love & Thunder.
It disappointed me.
Which is not to say that I’m going to blast the newest MCU offering or even that I think it’s a “bad” movie. It’s just been THAT LONG since an MCU movie was not at least as good as I expected it to be. To recap:
Let’s face it… pretty much the entirety of Phase 3 was just banger after banger.
As for Phase 4, Shang-Chi FAR exceeded what I thought it would be. I was hoping for a decently fun MCU romp, and got a legitimate five star film.
Black Widow was fine and had some good humor when I was anticipating possibly the worst movie in the franchise.
Eternals wasn’t a movie I had much hope for. I just wanted it to look stunning and be “OK”, and I felt it matched that.
No Way Home… well, I expected greatness, and that movie overdelivered and gave me so much more than I thought it could.
And with Multiverse of Madness, I was expecting a silly little stab at MCU horror, and that’s what I got.
But with Thor Love & Thunder?
I’ll be honest: this one could be on me. My expectations here were unfairly through the roof. What I’d been saying for months is that Love & Thunder was 2022’s best chance (since Across The Spider-verse got bumped back and I found out Suzume no Tojimari isn’t releasing outside of Japan until 2023) to see something besides Everything Everywhere All At Once be my Movie Of The Year. Now that Thor failed to deliver, I don’t see anything left on the slate passing it.
So what happened? Well…
The first half of Love & Thunder is… bad. Genuinely not a particularly good movie. For the first time since the Kevin Feige era started, I got the feeling that the MCU did not know what it was doing.
Avengers Endgame left us with Thor journeying into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, with promises of some Thor/GotG storytelling to come. Love & Thunder wastes no time whatsoever in splitting Thor from the cosmic heroes. It feels as though Waititi had no idea what to do with the Guardians and just wanted them out of his movie as quickly as possible. So we get a bit of an action sequence against some evil aliens, then they split up to deal with different threats brought about by Gorr The God-Butcher.
We move on to New Asgard, and hey… did you like the quick Matt Damon cameo in Thor Ragnarok here he plays an Asgardian actor portraying Loki? Yeah? Well what if L&T gave you another scene of the same thing AND it goes on way, way too long! And it includes a groan-inducing cameo from Melissa McCarthy, too?! Because that’s what we get; a quick bit of humor from Ragnarok is stretched out well past its usefulness here.
The same thing happens with Korg, too. A high point from Ragnarok where he was used more sparingly, he is all over L&T and, while he is still quite funny, he begins to grate on you after a while. A death fake-out that just leads to more jokes does the character no favors; I was completely shocked and saddened by his death, but the movie immediately undoes it, and I couldn’t help but get mad at being toyed with.
Across the front end of this flick, we get weirdly unfocused scenes and some astonishingly poor acting. Chris Pratt woefully delivers his monologue to Thor about being hurt by love or whatever. Tessa Thompson seems bored (though that might be on purpose given her character’s role, so… fair play). Suddenly Heimdall has a kid who is a prominent character. The flick feels like it’s just kicking rocks down the road because it just wants its own third act to come.
But when it finally gets into gear, Love & Thunder does deliver in typical MCU spades. The action sequences here–many of them set to a Guns N Roses heavy soundtrack–are tremendous. When the movie finally finds its plot, it moves in a much more determined fashion to the finish line. The story of Thor and Jane Foster has real heart to it.
Speaking of Jane Foster, Natalie Portman is her normal marvelous self here. Her portrayal go Jane Foster / Mighty Thor is so layered. Even in her superhero alter ego, Portman plays a Thor who is happy-go-lucky and powerful, but there is always this undertone of fear and weakness just below her surface. She’s constantly distracting herself by trying to find a catchphrase so she doesn’t have to deal with what is going on within.
She also gets what is weirdly the best moment in the movie. The very final end credits scene sees her welcomed by Heimdall into Valhalla after sacrificing her own life to stop Gorr. It was exactly the ending I wanted for her, and it left me feeling content as I left the theater.
Speaking of performances, Christian Bale owns every single second of screen time he is given here. This is why I give so little credence to folks online who kvetch about appearances of characters from trailers or stills; Bale’s Gorr is downright terrifying. He is sympathetic but monstrous. His final conclusion is a bit of a fairy tale trope ending–he “chooses love” or something over the vengeance that had consumed him–but I can’t say it doesn’t work in the context of the story the movie told (he is no longer possessed by the Necrosword).
(And not for nothing, but I liked his story here more than the original God Butcher / God Bomb story in the comics that just got silly when it became about him making a bomb that Thor then absorbed because… that’s how bombs work?)
Oh, and then there is Russell Crowe, who… you are either going to like or hate what the movie does with Zeus, basically turning him into a hedonistic moron. Which, if you’ve actually read Greek mythology… huh.
Either way, Crowe is just taking so much delight in giving a big, whole-hearted appearance here. It feels at home with everything else going on. I thought it was fun because I do appreciate when Crowe knows what movie he is in and just goes for it.
So I’m left with a movie whose first sixty minutes or so left me thinking “Wait, is this a BAD movie?” before reversing course and finishing very strong.
The more I think about it in hindsight, the more I think the second half easily covered for the first. But I remember sitting in the cinema and the negativity I felt for so long. So what do I do?
I need to watch this again, and I’m sure I will someday for my podcast when someone pulls it once it’s on Disney Plus. I imagine knowing where the movie is ultimately going to end up will cushion the early rough patches.
But for now, I will go with a respectable score. It could have been better–it should have been better–but it still finished with gusto.
And, like I said in the spoiler section: The end credits scene made me happy.