Thor: Love and Thunder Needed Way Fewer Jokes
I’m late to the party to review Thor: Love and Thunder. So late that I’ve been spoiled somewhat by consensus. Going in, I knew people didn’t like the goats and that the comedy was apparently overbearing.
But nowhere had I heard about how structurally and tonally off this movie was. It’s not just that the jokes are ill-timed; they’ve taken over the entire sensibility of the piece. It invades scenes and infects them. Multiple times, I questioned what the logic even was from a filmmaking standpoint. Why was that moment even included? Why was it written and shot that way? Some of the humor is problematic; some of it’s covering lazy writing. A lot of it just doesn’t quite work. The only jokes that semi-reliably got a smile or a chuckle out of me were visual gags involving Stormbreaker. Yes, it is funny that Thor’s story of reacquainting with an ex-partner parallels him missing his old hammer, but that’s maybe five jokes out of a hundred groaners.
The Jokes Ruin The Tone And Are Not Even Funny
And this is infuriating because there’s a phenomenal premise at the heart of Thor: Love and Thunder. A plot conceit I would gladly read a multi-book saga about. The exposition-heavy dialog, sappy and weirdly paced romance, and dismal parade of tone-derailing half-jokes bury it deep, but a few moments where it surfaces were electric. This could’ve been the most high-concept Marvel film ever made.
Like, let’s look at this on paper. The plot of Thor: Love and Thunder is an action-packed, high-fantasy space opera dealing with the philosophical debate/argument of why bad things are allowed to happen when god(s) exist. And that’s already rich grounds for a narrative. But it’s also set in a world where deities act as known superheroes. From cursory glances at Omnipotence City crowd shots, many mythological and religious figures have physical bodies in the MCU and can canonically be killed. Imagine the conversations people would (no, absolutely should) have in this world/universe/dimension. The implications are staggering and wasted. There’s a plotline about stage-four cancer in this film. There’s child death in this film. How are there not more characters talking about the nature of god(s) or the afterlife? Sure, a plot like that opens a lot of doors to mess something up or upset audiences—and I’ve no idea how well the movie handled the concepts they used as is—but the film could’ve done so much with these ideas.
Thor: Love And Thunder Neglects Its Strong Ideas
And, what’s more, Thor: Love and Thunder has such a great villain for this conceit. Action scenes involving Gorr (played by Christian Bale) feel justified and are not just a spectacle to ensure the audience has sufficient adrenaline to make it through the runtime. His motivations are understandable and sympathetic, and they let him (and his shadow monsters) be genuinely scary, menacing, and the right level of bombastic. He even gets a consistent power set with understandable limitations—which is more than I can say for other magic users like Doctor Strange or even Thor himself. The God Butcher could’ve carried a whole saga like Thanos or Kang, and I would’ve been on board. I was game for his monologue on the gray-scale planet to go The Matrix levels of deep. A few scenes with him felt slightly out of character, and I hated his ending, but Gorr was the highlight of the whole movie.
He’s not the only enjoyable character, though. Charisma and delivery can help a lot, and the acting is good across the board. The dialog and scenarios often mar it, but I loved the smaller moments from almost everybody. Peter Quill’s side of the conversation in one of the first scenes was surprisingly deep. There was a lot of storytelling (even if it’s simplistic) from the strong body language choices made when Thor and Jane are trying to figure out their feelings. The acting can even be good when it’s more comedy focused. The scene where Thor is trying to apologize for wrecking a sacred monument didn’t quite make me laugh, but it was such a snappy, high-energy moment that fit Thor’s (both the previous movie and the characters’) new irreverent tone. And Valkyrie’s breezy nonchalance is charming when it’s allowed to just be a part of the character and not a punchline.
The Characters Sometimes Still Work In This Mess
That’s actually true of the whole movie. My arc of watching Thor: Love and Thunder was initial amusement (though the enjoyment was tempered by reminders of End Game’s fatphobia scenes and my general dislike of expositional storytelling intros), then deepening annoyance at this movie’s infamous “joke” barrage only eased by the occasional tense action scene, and then finally hope gradually returning for a semi-salvageable viewing experience. And that relief, that shift into a better movie, is instigated by the necessity of having a Marvel third-act action climax. Thor: Love and Thunder drops a lot of the comedy to facilitate a series of connected/quickly concurrent battles and dramatic moments, only keeping irreverent stuff that’s actually fun. The editing sometimes feels like they forgot to film something somewhere, but at least it pushes forward the plot and has energy. The fight scene on the gray-scale planet was the most visually distinct thing I’ve seen from Marvel in ages, spatial cohesion be damned. And with that scene setting the bar higher, the combat scenarios pick up going forward. They’re more kinetic, better choreographed, and engaging. The child actors probably had a blast doing their superhero scenes. And the adults get much more drama to work with. Sacrifices are made in the final confrontation, and I wasn’t sure of what would be the plot outcome of it all, even given the usual Marvel formula clearly underpinning the whole thing. Even some of the themes (though not all the ones I wanted explored) interplay in interesting ways with semi-payoffs. There are still plenty of issues, but it improved markedly as a film.
But is that recovery enough to earn positivity? Is Thor: Love and Thunder worth sitting around for the strong bits? Well, no, probably not. The weird structure, writing, and how it handles humor make for a disorientating viewing experience full of missed opportunities. The action, visuals, and villain are fun and noteworthy, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be too irritated at too many points to come away from the experience with even a pleasant impression.
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