Let’s be honest for a second. How many people considered Thor to be their favorite Avenger before 2017? Although Chris Hemsworth’s performance was well-liked by critics and audiences alike, many also felt that his standalone films from Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor lacked anything remarkable in making the God of Thunder stand out alongside his teammates such as Iron Man and Captain America. It didn’t help that the romantic dynamic between Hemsworth and Natalie Portman was lackluster, and the protagonist often had his thunder (no pun intended) stolen a bit by his co-star, Tom Hiddleston, the scene-stealing Loki. However, once Taika Waititi took on the third entry in Ragnarok, it felt like the God of Thunder’s true potential finally unlocked, and much of that can be attributed to the comedic collaboration between the director and the star working out quite well.
Nearly five years later, along with an unforgettable turn in both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Chris Hemsworth is back in Thor: Love and Thunder, making him the first Avenger to have his fourth standalone film. Not only does Hemsworth return to bring the hammer down again, but Taika Waititi, following his Academy Award-winning film Jojo Rabbit, returns to tell this standalone story that for the first time finds our protagonist without his scene-stealing mischievous brother, while bringing back Natalie Portman, who was widely considered to be associated with some of the weaker elements of the first two films.
After Thor: Ragnarok, does Thor: Love and Thunder continue the upward trajectory of the God of Thunder’s film series? The answer is a resounding yes, thanks to Taika Waititi’s signature style, brilliant work from the cast both old and new, and the fact that it’s refreshingly heartfelt and thankfully more focused on telling a standalone story without having to focus on the hype-based world-building and fan-service cameos that have dominated the last two previous MCU films Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
After helping defeat Thanos, Thor appointed Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) as the King of New Asgard and joined the Guardians of the Galaxy, spending much of his time trying to find himself. Along the way, he ends up reuniting with his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who for some reason, is now wielding his old hammer Mjolnir as Mighty Thor. Meanwhile, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) is on a personal quest to eliminate all gods, which leads to Thor forming a team with King Valkyrie, Jane, and Korg (Taika Waititi) to defeat this new antagonist.
Part of what made Thor: Ragnarok work was Taika Waititi’s signature sense of humor. The film was significantly more comedic when compared to the previous two films, which makes it stand out as one of the funniest films in the entire MCU. Thor: Love and Thunder is also filled with Waititi’s irreverent charm, and the film’s cast work effortlessly well with the humor. In recent years, Chris Hemsworth has showcased some brilliant comedic chops, and that continues in this film. This is the first solo film of his in which he doesn’t have Tom Hiddleston as Loki by his side, and it allows him to truly carry the film as his own god.
In regards to other returning cast members, Tessa Thompson’s King Valkyrie is as entertaining as she was in Ragnarok, and Taika Waititi also returns as Korg. Both characters continue to be hilarious and heartfelt in their own ways, but the true standouts of the film are Christian Bale and Natalie Portman.
With Christian Bale, the film opens with a prologue that centers on Gorr the God Butcher’s origins, and explains his intentions quite clearly. Bale has never turned in a bad performance, and his work as Gorr is yet another credit in his filmography that showcases his unmatched range, bringing so much humanity to the villain. When it comes to antagonists of Phase 4 films so far, Gorr is top-tier, standing alongside Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Tony Leung’s Wenwu as some of the best.
As for Natalie Portman, this marks her return to the MCU for the first time in nearly a decade. Fans haven’t seen Jane Foster as an active presence in the franchise since 2013, and the end of her relationship with Thor was addressed in Ragnarok through some quick dialogue. Now, we get the chance to finally see why the couple broke up, and see how the two old flames catch up – in a dynamic that is rarely seen in superhero films of this type. While Portman and Chris Hemsworth’s romantic chemistry was unremarkable and not all that compelling in the first two films, under the writing and direction of Taika Waititi, it’s perhaps the true highlight of this film, while also serving as the source for some of the film’s most emotional moments. Yes, Portman gets a chance to exhibit Waititi’s comedic sensibilities, but she also gets the chance to make the Mighty Thor her own. Of course, she stands out in the action scenes, but it’s her chemistry with Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson that make her long-awaited return more entertaining.
As addressed above, perhaps the best element of Thor: Love and Thunder is how it sneaks up on viewers as one of the more emotionally-resonant films that the MCU has dropped in quite some time. At the center of it all is the relationship between Thor and Jane, which is given so much more depth than ever before, and alongside that, Gorr is written with such depth that leaves more of an impact than any previous antagonist has given to the God of Thunder besides Loki. To further explain why both these narrative elements work would venture into some spoiler territory, so it’s best to go in knowing as little about the plot as possible.
These days, fans have come to expect new MCU films to focus on expanding the franchise with epic world-building and fan-service cameos that are reflective in films such as Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In particular, such sky high fan expectations are perhaps why some were left pretty disappointed back in May when Multiverse of Madness first hit theaters. Thankfully, Taika Waititi was more interested in telling a standalone story in Thor: Love and Thunder that cares more about the character growth than whether or not hyped-up characters will make surprise cameos. Yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy make an appearance in this film, but they’re only in it for a limited amount of time, and aren’t a prominent part of the story quite like how The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was part of Ragnarok.
Overall, Thor: Love and Thunder is a thoroughly entertaining time. Taika Waititi truly is a godsend for this character, and Chris Hemsworth once again proves why he should be in conversation as one of the best portrayals of a big screen superhero of the last decade. Add in some memorable turns from Christian Bale and Natalie Portman and a script that really emphasizes the emotional depths of its respective characters, and you get one of the better MCU entries of not just Phase 4, but of any Phase. If Waititi was able to work wonders with Marvel Studios, here’s hoping that Lucasfilm truly lets him work his magic with his Star Wars film.
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