With the success of the previous Thor installment, Ragnarok, Taika Waititi is back; as he directs and stars in “Love and Thunder” – which, technically, could be considered the 4th film of the 11-year-old franchise. If Ragnarok was highly praised for injecting dry humor and irreverent fun into the proceedings, then one can safely assume that the Marvel (read, Kevin Feige) marching orders given to Taika would have been give us more of the same, without repeating yourself. Simple enough to say in words, not as easy to actually do.
As a result, I have to confess there is something of a schizoid quality to L&T; and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I will admit that it may divide a portion of the audiences that surely will flock to this latest from Marvel. For much of the film, what can be depended upon is that whenever Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is onscreen, you can be assured that the humor will flow, and generate an immediacy and familiarity that any crowd will willingly subscribe to. His banter with the Guardians of the Galaxy, with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and with Korg (Taika himself) all possess this crowd-pleasing quality. With Jane (Natalie Portman), Taika as director is out to give us those ‘Awww’ moments, and turn the film into a grand, unconsummated love affair possibly reaching fruition – ready to bring out the hopeless romantic in any of us.
It’s with the introduction of Gorr the God Butcher (portrayed by Christian Bale), that Taika pulls out his biggest trick, offering us a storyline filled with gravitas, psychological complexity, and a truly subtle, winning performance from Bale. It would have been easy to present Gorr as a cookie cutter super-villain, with his necro-sword the counterpart to Thor’s hammer and sword, and the trademark weapons of Valkyrie. Instead, Taika gives us a Gorr with motive and purpose that we all can sympathize with and root for. Something quite different for a Marvel villain, to have so much texture and to elicit such ambivalence. I know there’ll be some half-hoping Gorr succeeds, especially when we watch some gods acting so entitled and oozing with arrogance.
This is established with the film’s prologue as Gorr’s origin story allows us to appreciate that Taika is out to give us something quite different from his ‘more of Ragnarok vibes’ expectations. It does throw us off-balance at first, but that’s righted from the point where we have Korg narrating on the Thor saga ‘so far’, and giving us an update on what our Norse god has been up to since the last film, and Endgame.
There is one really hilarious scene, and it happens when Thor returns to Asgard, and finds it’s been turned into a tourist destination, complete with rides, live theater, and tours. It’s here where we get crazy, funny cameos from the likes of Matt Damon, Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, and Melissa McCarthy. Russell Crowe has tremendous fun in his support role as a god, one that I’ll let you be surprised by, as it comes out of nowhere but is such a delight.
So beyond this schizoid quality, there’s still much to enjoy with the Waititi touch, and I won’t be surprised if he’ll be getting a call back for the next Thor film. It’s a confident, assured touch on how to present this Norse superhero, and extend the use of Hemsworth’s gift for comedy. The first Thor films may have been a tad too serious and aspiring for Shakespearean-type elements – with the brothers in conflict, and the Daddy issues between Thor and Odin. There obviously was a need to lighten things up, and Taika did provide that. Now, the issue will be whether he’s repeating himself and a new change of tone is required.
So no spoilers here, just the assurance that Love & Thunder is an enjoyable, popcorn movie. If the light tone of Ragnarok will no longer be a novelty, rest assured that with Gorr, we have a supervillain worthy of the adjective.