Thor: Love and Thunder (2022, Taika Waititi)

Thor: Love and Thunder ends like all Thor movies, promising the next one will—finally—deliver on the promise. The first movie follow-up fumbled when co-star Natalie Portman didn’t rate an Avengers 1 gig, the second movie when Portman didn’t rate an Avengers 2 gig, the third movie had Avengers 3 entirely upend it (with Portman not bothering coming back). Well, she’s back for Love and Thunder and given how she’s got such a lousy arc, it won’t be a surprise if she’s gone for good this time.

Of course, they didn’t stop messing with Chris Hemsworth’s character arc—which now apparently wraps back around to the first movie, only not really—with the latest Avengers. The most recent one sent Hemsworth off with The Guardians of the Galaxy, who barely show up in Love and Thunder. Chris Pratt gets the most lines, but the others seem like they showed up for a couple hours, plus and minus the makeup chair. They’re just around long enough for Hemsworth to head back to Earth, having found himself between Avengers 4 and this one.

Only not really, because when he gets back to Earth, he discovers Portman has the power of Thor. She’s been superheroing it up on Earth; only we don’t see any of it. Once Hemsworth’s back in the movie, Portman’s downgraded to a girlfriend part. Worse, she’s demoted to an ex-girlfriend whose emotional experience isn’t part of the story. And their reuniting arc is all about them getting back together.

Shame she’s only Thor because Hemsworth made his old hammer promise to look after her, which includes after it got broken in Thor 3 and Portman ingloriously got cancer at the beginning of this movie. It’s got to be really hard on the character, whose single bit of character development—besides Kat Dennings coming back for a cameo—is flashbacks to the character’s mom dying of cancer. It doesn’t even rise to middling soap opera; Love and Thunder could give a shit about Portman.

To be entirely fair, it’s unclear what Love and Thunder does give a shit about. Special guest star villain Christian Bale, who starts the movie in an apparent homage to the beginning of Star Trek V, which is a flex, is potentially compelling, but once the film spends any time with him, it’s clear he’s… just as dangerous as Josh Brolin in the Avengers movies. So, why doesn’t Bale get a fourteen-movie arc or whatever.

The film’s very wishy-washy on the Marvel movies’ gods—with Russell Crowe showing up for a Zeus cameo (leading to the film’s most successful moment, as long as you stick around long enough)—but they don’t do jack shit for their worshippers. They like it that way just fine, thank you very much. Bale’s mad his daughter died in a desert while his god had an oasis nearby and didn’t intercede.

Conveniently, Bale then finds the power to kill all the gods in the universe, pretty quickly going after Tessa Thompson and the Asgardians living on Earth. Specifically their children. He kidnaps their children and puts them in a spider cage on an asteroid in a black and white universe.

Kieron L. Dyer plays the lead kid, son of now-dead Idris Elba, who can communicate across the universe with Hemsworth. Given where Love and Thunder ends up, there ought to be an arc for Dyer and Hemsworth. There’s not. There’s barely an arc for Hemsworth and Portman.

Actually, given the end of the movie, it seems like Dyer could’ve been the film’s protagonist or at least jockeying for the spot. He doesn’t. Despite Love and Thunder having a Guns N’ Roses-heavy soundtrack and Dyer being a new, enthusiastic Guns N’ Roses fan, the two things are unconnected.

Director Waititi narrates the film in his role as Hemsworth’s CGI sidekick. The film’s more successful in summary than in scene, which isn’t great.

There are some iffy effects throughout—Waititi’s got these vaguely boring intergalactic settings (not sure who thought black and white universe was the way to go with an outer space fight)—but the finale’s got some fantastic visualizing of a tough Marvel Comics character to visualize realistically.

They get away with it, on Portman and Bale’s professional competency and Hemsworth’s easy charm. And the setup for next time is beyond cloying and trendy; they’ll finally do a great one. Promise.

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