This is a spoiler-free review of Thor: Love and Thunder.
When the MCU first began it was a slow burn series of lightly connected movies, crafted in the hope of creating a set of building blocks for a wider universe. Twelve years later we know how that initiative went. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was a cultural phenomenon, expanding swiftly and soon becoming a landscape-shifting Hollywood juggernaut. During that time the franchise became obsessed with interconnected narratives that insisted on viewers knowing and watching every movie in the series. But the MCU has always worked in phases. If Thor: Love and Thunder and its recent predecessor Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are anything to go by, we’re entering something entirely new: the fun standalone MCU movie phase.
Hot on the heels of the Sam Raimi superhero showcase, Thor: Love and Thunder continues the trend of an outrageous adventure that doesn’t immediately feel like it’s setting up a wider world and instead is just a wild flick. Saying that, you might still enjoy this more if you’ve seen the previous Thor movies. If not, though, writer/director Taika Waititi does a very good job filling you in. Translating the oral storytelling tradition to the big screen, the space opera is introduced by Korg (Waititi). Here we learn about Thor’s adventures, his loss, and his loves. Those are all important as this is very much a story about Odison finding himself. But it’s also about space pirates fighting battles set to Guns N’ Roses songs. So yes, it has something for everyone.
Thor: Love and Thunder is both entirely the movie you expect and not at all the film you thought it would be. It’s a rollicking romantic adventure—about exactly who you think, no matter what the lead-in interviews might have had you wondering—but it’s also a story about parenthood. It’s as rambunctious and colorful as Ragnarok but also a different sort of film entirely.
It’s very much a family movie but more in the vein creepy kids flicks like Return to Oz and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang than more contemporary fare. And younger viewers who can make it through Christian Bale’s legitimately terrifying turn as Gorr the God Butcher will be rewarded with what might be this reviewer’s favorite MCU battle yet. He’s channeling the Child Catcher as he torments the children of Asgard and it’s delightfully ghastly.
Speaking of Bale, he delivers a wickedly unhinged turn as the vengeful deity killer. Chris Hemsworth is once again at his charming best, with an extra layer of romantic and familial love. Natalie Portman returns for a far more fun and electrifying Jane Foster performance, as she takes on the mantle of the Mighty Thor. And Tessa Thompson once again steals the show as Valkyrie. The battle-hardened Asgardian leader has particularly wonderful chemistry with Jane, and is tired of her rather boring life as King. It’s lucky for all of the above then, because Gorr starts godbutchering and suddenly the crew are on an epic adventure through the universe. If you like Guns N’ Roses, space explosions, and adventure stories with a lot of heart, you’ll love it.
This is Waititi channeling the subversive and heart-filled family filmmaking of Hunt for the Wilderpeople through the MCU lens. That makes it feel really different from anything we’ve seen before. There’s a lightness and freedom here that belies the billion dollar franchise it has the responsibility to continue, and without those we get to just enjoy the ride. But that might not work for phase one MCU fans who love to catch an Easter egg and guess where it’s all headed. However, it did work exceedingly well for this regular theory-haver. It feels exciting, adventurous, and Amblin-influenced in the best way.
All of that said, like many MCU movies—and contemporary entertainment in general—there’s one part of the movie that was over-promised in the lead up to its release. To get anymore specific is to get into spoiler territory but let’s just say this one doesn’t go quite as deep as it could have when it comes to exploring certain characters. All in all, though, it’s another super fun superhero flick from Waititi, who cements himself as one of the MCU’s most exciting and original directors.