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Well, well, well. I started this year thinking Thor: Love and Thunder would not be much more than a fun sequel set-up and that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be a huge creative shake up of the MCU formula…and yet here we are. Because while I remain disappointed in Multiverse of Madness and its very leashed up and watered down Sam Raimi promise, I leave Love and Thunder very entertained indeed, and unmistakably feeling Taika Waititi’s fingerprints all over it.
The film catches up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), as he joins The Guardians of the Galaxy crew on various misadventures and battles, but all he seeks is to find himself. Well, that opportunity may be on the horizon, as the afflicted and vengeful god butchering Gorr (Christian Bale) is taking aim at New Asgard, now ruled over by King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). However, things are about to get even more complicated, as Thor’s old flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is now wielding the previously destroyed Mjolnir. Might be a blessing though, because Thor’s really gonna need help bringing this new villain down!
Campy, funny and often defiant in how it treats the material, Waititi’s second Thor film is more Flash Thor-don, than anything. The classic rock aesthetic and soundtrack were precisely my kind of thing. The rock band motifs and designs constantly bleed into the film, as Barry Idoine’s rainbow-splashed cinematography celebrates the dashing flamboyance of Waititi’s take on the material. Just as Michael Giacchino’s diverse score allows for heavy rock audio to meet operatic glamour, and even some dark twists, and of course the film makes great use of the chosen rock songs, particularly Guns N’ Roses (the “November Rain” solo-backed battle scene is particularly fabulous).
Fact is, the film is full of the director’s style, mostly for better and rarely (though not never) for worse. Which does mean those wanting “The Saga of the God Butcher” or “Goddess of Thunder” stories to be tackled with enormous gravitas, may be left a little irked. And undoubtedly while many gags land, some really don’t (including a number of irritatingly repetitive jokes and some stalling tactic comedy bits) but the energy is kept at a real high constantly, and the film does really unfold compellingly in the moments it is allowed to venture into a darkness that opposes the otherwise bright, romantic and indeed comic adventure. See Gorr’s story time one minute, followed swiftly by Russell Crowe’s joyfully silly Cornetto advert take on Zeus (who I would love to see more of), which is a great laugh opposite a superb villain moment, just like an earlier cameo-loaded New Asgardian little theatre sequence, is soon followed by a shadow monster battle and kidnap plot. While some might say it is all a bit veering in tone (it is), I enjoyed the opposing sides.
Hemsworth is of course fantastic as Thor, as is Thompson as Valkyrie, but it is Portman who excels among our colourful heroes, and finally gets a proper go around as Jane, not just being anointed with the great power that comes with the hammer, but also with a storyline that treads surprisingly far into the real world and shattering realities, and how they overpower fantasy.
That said, this film is absolutely stolen by Christian Bale’s colour-draining, shadow-stalking, unhinged and emotionally broken Gorr, who is hands down the best MCU baddie in years and a force of super-powered vengeance, that is a shining instance of old school villainy, even if they do slightly pull ever so slightly back at the end. His presence gives the film stakes and horrors to counter balance the laughs, so much so, it would have been better had Gorr being given even more impact on the plot, and might have balanced it all a great deal more.
Still, Bale is so all in, that his scenes linger most strongly, as his villain – literally – sucks the colour out of the frame with his internal, tortured, monster-conjuring darkness, and gives the action sequences a visual distinctiveness from other MCU fare. It is also great that, in a film full of CG overload, Gorr (apparently at Bale’s request) is a make-up crafted creation. True, a more comics accurate practical effects inspired transformation for Gorr would have been even more great but even in this more redux version, Bale – as he so often does – creates the transformation in his performance alone. His Gorr is the film’s greatest asset.
Thor: Love and Thunder may not be perfect but it is a blast and undeniably a product of its maker, and one I can imagine being quite rewatchable for those of us who take to it. Very enjoyable, very divisive, very Taika Waititi.
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