As often as Iron Man dished up a snarky one-liner in Avengers films, he was never the comedian Thor has become.
In the latest, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” he’s practically Chevy Chase, serving up visual gags worthy of “Vacation.”
When he and his friends attend a gods convention (presided over by Zeus), anything goes. Russell Crowe (as Zeus) is so out there he could easily play a role in another Mel Brooks film. Chris Hemsworth (as Thor) leans into all of it and isn’t afraid to bare all if it means he can get a reaction.
Then, just as you think director Taika Waititi has crafted a “fun” film, “Thor” turns dark and, soon, it’s close encounters of the Gorr kind. Gorr, who looks a bit like Voldemort, is a God Butcher who is determined to kill other gods because he feels betrayed when his own family life goes south.
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As played by Christian Bale, he’s a relentless combatant who’s not above taking children hostage and using them as leverage. The scenes hardly match the film’s lighter moments but they do give Thor a chance to get his groove back.
Without his trusty hammer (it’s now in Jane Foster’s hands), he’s untethered. Sure, there’s a substitute weapon but it doesn’t have the same feel.
Foster (Natalie Portman) is a bit different as well, but Waititi uses her as a wedge to get Thor back into his own old fighting form. We get the “dad” bod Thor in an unnecessary opening that also includes the Guardians of the Galaxy and more exposition than a Marvel presentation at Comic-Con.
Loki, who is sorely missed, must have had to sit this one out while dozens of others got their moment in front of the green screen.
Considering Avengers films have been known for their special effects, this one is pretty low-key (see what we did there?) In terms of eye-popping visuals. Much looks like it comes from a 1960s Ray Harryhausen film. The stuff you want more of (like the passion play performed at the beginning – complete with Matt Damon and Melissa McCarthy) goes by so quickly you can’t properly savor it. And yet, those dark Gorr moments take this in such an unexpected direction you don’t quite know how to process it. The big battle is scary – perhaps too scary for the younger audience that might have expected “Harry Potter” -level frights.
Bale, though, is so good as the bad guy you’ll have a hard time remembering he was the Dark Knight. He has a much more complete journey than Thor and a storyline that includes all the necessary beats.
Thor is more like a variety show host, trying to keep the jugglers from running into the opera singers. He fares pretty well, but it would have been nice to keep him on one track instead of straddling four.
Portman, who never fit comfortably in this world, looks like she’s ready to exit the minute she turns up. Others – like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie – could have been given more to do.
Even Crowe’s Zeus might have had a few more scenes, particularly since his lightning bolt is on par with Thor’s hammer.
A complete film? Hardly. “Love and Thunder” is filler while Marvel masterminds figure how their next series of films connect. It’s not the missing link it appears to be.