As a director, Taika Waititi‘s speciality has always been balancing comedy with tragedy. Whether it be his hilarious but heartfelt Hunt for the Wilderpeople, or his satirical but surprisingly earnest Jojo Rabbit, Waititi can change tone so quickly that it almost induces whiplash. Yet this also adds a deeply human quality to Waititi’s films, rarely allowing one tone to overwhelm another. This approach led Thor: Ragnarok to be one of, if not the funniest film in the entire Marvel Studios canon, despite revolving around death, colonialism and the end of an entire world. While that story felt as if had been ‘inherited’ by Waititi, with his follow-up Thor: Love and Thunder, the mischievous writer/director/actor can indulge in a narrative of his own making.
First off, Thor: Love and Thunder is absolutely nuts – it’s the sort of film in which the main characters ride a boat dragged along by giant screaming goats across a rainbow bridge to save the universe from a bloke with freaky snake eyes and a sentient evil sword. This sense of fun is undoubtedly infectious, and it’s clear that the cast are having a wail of a time behind the scenes – the standout being Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, now christened ‘the Mighty Thor’ with the powers of Mjolnir, who throws herself back into the part with more enthusiasm than ever before. Not only does she hold her own in the action sequences, but her dorky sense of humour is utterly charming and very consistent with her character. Love and Thunder really feels like Jane’s story, and perhaps my greatest disappointment with the film is that it doesn’t fully commit to this idea – even though Jane has the most compelling story and a more theoretically interesting conflict with the main villain.
After battling his brother, his sister and an army of elves, Christian Bale‘s Gorr the God Butcher makes for a surprisingly unique adversary for Thor’s fourth solo outing. Bale himself is fantastic in the role, looking incredibly sinister whilst his motivations make him surprisingly relatable. His arc – that of a mere mortal being given godlike powers – parallels Jane’s, but alas the story doesn’t seem interested in developing this idea further; a missed opportunity in my opinion. Chris Hemsworth is as enthusiastic as ever as the God of Thunder, Taika Waititi sneaks in some fun gags as his rocky sidekick Korg, Tessa Thompson is fun, if underused as King Valkyrie, and Russell Crowe‘s Zeus is the sort of improv-heavy, out-there performance that can only be expected from a Waititi feature.
While it is refreshing to see a major tentpole blockbuster of this scale running at under two hours, it does feel as though a lot has been cut out of Love and Thunder (there are a total of four credited editors), and there are a number of jokes that simply run on too long, resulting in rather inconsistent pacing. In some respects, it does feel as though Taika Waititi and co have been allowed to let loose a bit too much, perhaps over-indulging in certain aspects of the film to the detriment of the story as a whole. This less restrained approach does result in a more ‘gonzo’ approach to a Marvel film that’s very rarely seen in the franchise, throwing in all sorts of gags, aliens and big concepts into every scene. Waititi described it as a film made by and aimed at ten-year-olds, and it certainly lives up to that idea.
It’s also a film that’s best experienced on the biggest screen possible. Having been filmed for IMAX, Thor: Love and Thunder was shot with IMAX-certified digital cameras, with nearly 35 minutes of the movie presented in IMAX’s exclusive expanded aspect ratio of 1.90:1, resulting in a more immersive experience for cinemagoers. This extra height adds an extra sense of scale to various key sequences, including Omnipotent City: the home of the Gods, and a spectacular-looking black-and-white sequence in the third act, while the IMAX sound system really brings the thunder. Thor: Love and Thunder is one of the most vibrant and colourful MCU films to date, and looks and sounds fantastic in IMAX.
Overall, Thor: Love and Thunder does live up to its promise of spectacular big-screen adventure. It may not be quite the surprise that Ragnarok was, but its sense of fun is infectious, and it boasts plenty of spectacle and imagination – not to mention an ending that sets up an intriguing future for this corner of the Marvel universe. I do wish that the film had focused a little more on the compelling stories of its new heroine and antagonist, although as a simple ‘switch-your-brain-off’ adventure movie, it’s quite the ride!