The powers-that-be with the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have inadvertently devised their own demise. From 2008’s Iron Man to 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, they built the universe toward an end goal. True, the journey contained in those 22 films was at times disjointed and often exhausting, but the reward that Endgame offered made everything worth it.
But because “Phase Four” of the MCU, which reaches its sixth film with Thor: Love and Thunder, has contained little-to-no cohesion, it makes it seem like there is no plan whatsoever, with the studio just throwing anything at the wall to see what sticks.
Last we left Thor (Chris Hemsworth), he was off to explore the universe alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy. The film opens with them still together, but they separate early so that Thor and his stone-made friend Korg (Taika Waititi) can find out why a villain named Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) has dedicated himself to killing as many gods in the universe as he can.
They return to New Asgard to find not only Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) fighting shadow creatures unleashed by Gorr, but also Thor’s old love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has somehow managed to repair and wield Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, making her a type of god herself. Together, they travel from planet to planet to try to stop Gorr’s rampage.
Written and directed by Waititi, the film is heavy on humor but extremely light on a comprehensible story. In fact, for at least half of its running time, the film is a full-on comedy, using Thor’s haughty obliviousness as a jumping-off point. Funny situations involving celebrity cameos, an odd voiceover by Korg, a meeting filled with different gods led by Zeus (Russell Crowe), and more keep the laughs coming.
But the more jokes Waititi includes, the more it seems like he’s using them to cover up the fact that he has no idea how to make his story work. After an effective — if slightly confusing — introduction of Gorr, the villain’s motivations quickly become muddled. He seems to pick-and-choose his victims at random and then, when Thor essentially serves himself up on a golden platter, toys with him instead of dispatching him as easily as he does others.
And then there’s the whole Jane conundrum. Not officially seen since Thor: The Dark World, her history with Thor is retconned in an interesting mid-film sequence. But because she hasn’t been around in any of the movies since 2013, it’s difficult to work up any big feelings about her and Thor, even when an extra layer of drama is put on her. It’s fun to see her in Mighty Thor mode, but like much of the rest of the film, it comes off as window dressing instead of something truly meaningful.
Hemsworth is certainly at home playing up the goofy side of Thor, and if he were allowed to be the lead in an actual comedy, there’s little doubt he’d do well. Portman and Thompson exude the strength their characters require, but they’re not given enough opportunities to show it. Bale is as method as ever as Gorr, but to say that the character feels truly menacing would be a lie.
Some may take the funny parts of Thor: Love and Thunder and give the film more credit than it actually deserves. But its uninspired story, a villain who makes little sense, and other missteps show that the MCU has a long way to go before it regains its mojo.
Thor: Love and Thunder opens in theaters on July 8.