Before we go any further, let’s get something straight here: Swapping Guns N’ Roses for Led Zeppelin isn’t like exchanging Mr. Pibb for Dr. Pepper. It’s more akin to asking for a Diet Coke and getting ranch dressing: Technically, it is the same general substance, but it isn’t anywhere near the same thing, and although some people really love it, most of the people who do are very unhealthy.
Downgrading from Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in “Ragnarok” to a smattering of GNR’s “greatest” hits in “Love and Thunder” is a pretty good summary of the whole experience. The cosmic cleverness of the last Thor installment has been replaced by sloppy, lazy choices that seem just good enough to hit the release window that was promised. Writer/director Taika Waititi and cowriter Jennifer Kaytin Robinson somehow get almost all the small things very right and all the big things quite wrong. The mistakes go beyond asking Natalie Portman to be funny, but that choice is right there at the top of the list…
The first scene portends the problems to follow. Gorr (Christian Bale) wanders a desert with his daughter, praying for salvation from a generic intergalactic deity. After his daughter dies, an oasis with the aforementioned deity appears for no good reason. Once inside, Gorr stumbles upon a magic sword that kills Gods, which is totally a thing that otherwise-omnipotent Gods just leave lying around. Gorr kills his God and swears to do the same to all others. This all happens in like maybe three minutes… Every beat is rushed, every motivation and plot thread is explicit and convenient, and we haven’t even seen Thor (Chris Hemsworth) yet.
When we do, he’s traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy! Woo hoo! Fans have waited a long time to see these wacky adventures…which are then mostly skipped over via a voiceover from the sentient, stoned pile-of-rocks that is Korg (Waititi). It becomes very unclear how much of what follows is Korg’s version of events. That’s just one of many things that feels like fallout from mayhem in the editing room. Thor returns to Asgard, which is now a tourist trap, one of those fantastic little things the film nails. He arrives to find Gorr’s shadow monsters doing mayhem despite the best efforts of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Then Jane Foster (Portman) shows up with Thor’s hammer and powers. What follows is a cliched quest to stop a bad guy from getting a magical object in order to go somewhere to do a very bad thing.
“Ragnarok” was silly, but it hefted emotional weight. Thor’s fundamental identity was shattered and reforged. Then the events of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” happened. They further traumatized the Norseman, although not as much as “The Northman” traumatized its Norseman: He kissed his mommy! All those years of Thor storytelling (Thorytelling?) somehow lead to a wildly simplistic, overwhelmingly facile conclusion that would be funny if it wasn’t so self-serious.
Speaking of self-serious, Natalie Portman is a talented dramatic actress who has been funny one (1) time on “SNL” when she rapped curse words. She is a complete mismatch with Waititi’s sensibilities, which require a cheeky sincerity exhibited exactly nowhere in Portman’s otherwise impressive filmography. Her inclusion here makes no substantive difference to the plot, as she could be literally lifted out without changing the narrative in any way. And yet Thompson, who is almost impossibly delightful here and integral to events, gets zero (0) development or depth. The best part of the movie is somehow Russell Crowe’s “Greek” accent and/or the credit stinger we can’t talk about, introducing a character that can’t be mentioned, played by an actor who can’t be named.
Again, other than thinking “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a better musical cue here than literally any Rush song, all the insignificant elements click. Two giant screaming goats steal the show, the black-and-white space battle is inspired, and a child uses a teddy bear’s laser eyes for monster murder. Those things just don’t add up to a movie. “Love and Thunder” is nowhere near an unpleasant flop so much as it is just half-inert. Expecting the exhilaration of “Ragnarok” would be unfair, but nobody should ask for Diet Coke and get a glass of ranch dressing. Oh, we’ll still drink it, but it’s nothing to be proud of…
Grade = C
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Carmen Phillips at Autostraddle says “Ultimately, in a movie that promises love to span each universe, nearly everyone finds some version of a love-filled ending, except the sole queer woman of color. Even Korg — yes, the cheerful Rock monster dude! — finds gay happiness to call his own. Funny how the Black bisexual woman can’t say the same, now isn’t it?”
Jennifer Heaton at Alternative Lens says “Waititi’s more laidback approach to directing works great in its moments of comedic respite, but it does also leads to pacing issues and a more fractured editing style; you can just sense how many scenes must have been binned, or how much improvising they’ve cut around. It’s not an inherently bad style of filmmaking, but it’s one that requires a lot of skill and a fair bit of luck, and sadly fate wasn’t as much on Waititi’s side this time around.”
Anupama Chopra at Film Companion says “In an interview, Waititi described ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ as ‘the craziest film I’ve ever done.’ He said, ‘If you wrote down all the elements of this film, it shouldn’t make sense.’ It doesn’t.”