‘Thor: Love And Thunder’ Is Joyful Chaos
If Thor: Ragnarok was Taika Waititi smashing Thor’s myth and rebuilding it into a bombastically better franchise, Thor: Love and Thunder is an affectionate renovation.
— Warning: Spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder ahead. —
Picking up where Avengers: Endgame dropped off, we’re meeting back up with Thor on his gap year with the Guardians of the Galaxy. After a quick work-out/meditation montage that sees Thor swap his “dad bod” for his familiar “God bod,” it’s quickly established that Thor is in the midst of a godly mid-life crisis. A crisis of identity so agonising, he turns to Chris Pratt’s Starlord for friendly advice (can you imagine?).
Starlord offers the sage wisdom that Thor finds meaning and purpose in those he cares about most. In typical Starlord fashion, however, this is uniquely articulated by telling Thor he should find someone to “feel shitty” about. The logic here is that it’s better to feel shitty about having loved someone than not to love at all.
Humour Lights The Way Through Dark Times
This is Love and Thunder‘s core tenant, and it underpins a chaotically heartfelt saga of events that ultimately culminate in a story about maturation, the reclamation of lost love, and finding purpose in helping those you love. It’s an adult coming-of-age story that also features giant screaming goats, Thor standing bare-assed before a room full of Gods, as well as Thor courting two magical hammers.
Once again, Taika Waititi’s unique panache for wrapping serious conflicts up in imaginative silliness is on full display. Like in Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, Boy and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, the silliness never detracts from the darkness. Instead, the absurd moments act as a small light that allows the characters to traverse the dark times ahead.
When the film’s villain Goor the Godkiller (played in delightfully evil fashion by Christian Bale) kidnaps Asgard’s children, threatening the already tenuous future of the recently rebuilt culture, Thor can’t maintain a poker face. While talking to the stolen kids via magic projection, Thor tries to give a stereotypically macho hero speech to keep them brave. But, swearing, he cuts his barely rousing speech off to exclaim fearfully that they’re trapped somewhere in the “Shadow Realm”.
All at once, the scene is funny, terrifying and earnest and manages more sincerity in embracing its silliness than other Marvel projects do in attempting pure drama. Each scene finds a silly way in for the audience that, before you realise it, unravels into a more serious representation of the film’s conflict. Even Thor’s iconic bare butt cheeks serve a greater purpose, with the scene in question ultimately being about how Thor has nothing to convince Zeus of the severity of Asgard’s predicament. In the eyes of the apathetic Gods, this god of thunder is reduced to little more than meat.
Without spoiling anything too major, the film also knows when to refrain from poking fun at itself. The opening scene introducing Gorr the Godbutcher is a tragic, harrowing sequence that sees a daughter die of starvation and a father’s violent loss of faith. There are no jokes in the film’s climax either as certain characters meet their ends, allowing Portman, Bale, and Hemsworth the space for a little pure pathos.
Going Beyond Poking Fun at Heroic Masculinity
Poking fun at the macho brand of heroic masculinity is nothing new for Taika Waititi’s Thor films, or his filmography. Much of Waititi’s work has always been dedicated to humbling dominant masculine figures with humorous humanity, reminding these characters that they’re people before they’re warriors or heroes. Thor might be mighty, but he’s also just a pigheaded dude who can’t handle his ex being back in his life.
But where Ragnarok stopped the buck at poking holes in Thor’s reliance on his hammer, hair, and personal effects to craft his macho persona, Love and Thunder takes the next step. With Loki gone (busy with his own show to be more precise), Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Natalie Portman’s Jane make up Thor’s main ensemble. Of course, sentient alien rock Korgis also along for the ride.
Along with co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Waititi forces Thor to confront the idea of a woman stepping into his role. For reasons I will not spoil, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is now the Mighty Thor, flying around wielding Thor’s ex-hammer, Mjolnir. With Jane as Thor, she’s a direct challenge to everything Thor has built his identity on (even gender-wise), a physical manifestation of his aforementioned mid-life crisis that includes the painful reminder of lost love.
The film’s question is not what makes Thor a man, but what makes him who he is at all? With Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) as Asgard’s King and Jane as the Mighty Thor protecting the nine realms, who is Thor himself? A far worthier theme of identity than making jabs at masculinity, even Gorr the Godbutcher is set on his vengeful path by his loss as a father and loss of faith. Both he and the shadow realm he occupies is quite literally colourless, with their entire confrontation filmed in black and white.
Questions of, loss of, and finding of identity make up the film’s epic throughline. It doesn’t always make for the same unforgettably fun banter that endeared Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s the most emotionally relatable take on a character whose entire bit has involved being above the questions humans concern ourselves with.
It’s Still A Distinctively Indigenous Film
Thanks to Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok is critically regarded as a film with loud yet subtle anti-colonial themes. As Thor and Loki were forced to confront their father’s hidden genocidal warmongering past in Ragnarok, Love and Thunder advocates for the importance of passing culture down to children, and protecting the future.
With the realm of Asgard destroyed in Ragnarok and their refuge ship destroyed by Thanos, Love and Thunder paints a picture of displaced people who are only now getting their footing back after a near-extinction event. The town of New Asgard is thriving (it’s also very amusingly obviously the greens of The Coast Golf Club in Sydney) under King Valkyrie whose seen filming old spice commercials and opening new buildings for tourists.
But Asgard is still made up of endangered people and cultures. When Gror takes Asgard’s children, it’s a true act of villainy that echoes how Indigenous children across many cultures were taken by colonial forces in attempted genocides. Even when Thor appeals for help to save the children from Zeus and the council of the Gods, he’s met with derisive dismissal — reflecting the powerful’s apathy toward preserving endangered Indigenous peoples throughout history and today.
It’s difficult to say more without deep-diving into the plot. But for Indigenous MCU fans who see their histories reflected in Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder won’t let you down either.
The Final Verdict?
Recapturing the lightning in a bottle of Thor: Ragnarok was always going to be an impossible task. But like any sequel worth its salt, it’s not a carbon copy, but a story builds on and expands what came before it to create something new. With its countless cameos, mythologically absurd spectacle and unique self-deferential attitude — there’s plenty of what made Ragnarok great to enjoy, but its all in service of a very new chapter for Thor.
Admittedly, there is a gaping Loki-shaped hole in the story. Without the emotional antagonism of his mischievous little brother, there’s a lack of inter-personal conflict in Thor’s interactions. While his romantic struggle with Jane takes centre stage, the film loses out on the morally insane games of Loki’s that add that juicy extra layer to Thor’s character arcs.
Surrounded by Jane, Valkyrie, and Coorg whose moralities are equal and serve him directly, he’s essentially surrounded by yes men, which doesn’t always make for the most compelling banter between characters. However, the banter between Valkyrie and Jane is wonderfully friendly. We love some godly gal pals.
Between its glam rock soundtrack, vibrant spectacles, and hot people in goofy bright fight gear, Thor: Love and Thunder is full of heart with plenty of entertaining chaos in between. Above all else, it’s a worthy sequel.
Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.