This article contains spoilers for “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) arrived in a storm this summer with “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the fourth of Marvel’s Thor-centric solo movies. Following a wide release over the summer, “Love and Thunder” arrived on Disney+ on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Directed by Taika Waititi, who returns to the MCU after also directing 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” the movie sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) reunited with his ex-girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has been diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer. Jane travels to New Asgard, the Norwegian town where Thor’s people have settled, hoping that Thor’s hammer Mjolnir might be able to heal her. While the hammer bonds itself to Jane, turning her into The Mighty Thor, she and Thor then need to team up with his companions from “Ragnarok,” Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (voiced by Waititi), to fight the newest Marvel villain, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Gorr has vowed to kill all the universe’s gods after the death of his daughter, Love, and kidnaps the children of New Asgard, imprisoning them in the Shadow Realm.
Coming off of the roaring success of “Ragnarok” in 2017, expectations were high from both die-hard Marvel fans and casual viewers for Waititi’s next move in the MCU. “Love and Thunder” certainly attempts to recall some of the vibes of “Ragnarok,” with the song “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses prominently featured in the film to invoke a hard rock, gritty flavor of nostalgia. The comedic strength of “Ragnarok” also returns in most of the jokes in “Love and Thunder,” though some of the comedic lines don’t land quite as well as Waititi might have expected.
One area where “Love and Thunder” clearly doesn’t lose any shine, though, is the vibrancy of every shot. Waititi knows exactly how to make use of color, and it pops in each outfit and background, reflecting the feeling of fun that the film tries to embody. When Thor and co. arrive in the Shadow Realm to fight Gorr, Waititi drops out all color from the scene, transforming the entire screen to black and white to demonstrate the darkness of Gorr’s shadow powers. It’s a powerfully dramatic contrast that makes you feel how the film can shift from joking fun in one moment to dark loss in the next.
Despite concerns with the shifting tone of the movie, the film’s emotional notes remain believable because of the strong performances from the cast, with Portman, in particular, delivering exceptionally. In her return to the MCU, Portman carries herself with grace as she portrays the final days of Jane’s life, granting the character the depth she deserves. Portman’s heart and soul goes into this version of Jane, especially in the scenes where Jane’s physical strength lapses and the reality of her imminent death becomes visible. The story’s reliance on Jane as the emotional throughline of the film succeeds because of the power of Portman’s performance, which is aided by her chemistry with Hemsworth’s Thor and the relationships between the rest of the central characters.
The cast of “Love and Thunder” feels simultaneously new and old: Throughout the film, Waititi brings in both new characters and familiar faces for Thor to interact with, like Zeus (Russell Crowe), king of the Olympians, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who feature briefly at the start of the film. And Jane isn’t the only character to return from the first two Thor movies: Thor’s childhood friend and Asgardian warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is also brought back.
Though the rest of Thor’s companions don’t get as much screen time as in “Ragnarok,” the moments that they are on screen are fun to watch, especially with the casual queer representation that Waititi includes through Valkryie and Korg. Valkyrie, who is now king of New Asgard, openly flirts with women, while Korg is shown at the end of the movie to have a male partner. While it’s not as though these scenes feature a waving pride flag, these are still important steps for Marvel movies to allow for more representation in the future.
Hemsworth is as comfortable as Thor in this film as he was in “Ragnarok,” playing the role of the god of thunder with a natural comedic ease that the actor balances well with genuine care for Jane. While “Love and Thunder” might not seem as revolutionary to Marvel’s canon as “Ragnarok” did, it maintains Waititi’s talent for mixing the emotional with absolutely insane fun by bringing Jane back and endowing her character with the strength she has always carried, all the while making the most of its 119-minute runtime.
The lackluster reaction to “Love and Thunder” might just be from the seemingly unstoppable pace of Marvel releases. Coming off of the roll of new MCU content in 2021, which included multiple live-action shows like “Loki” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” 2022 continued with the “Moon Knight” series and the second Doctor Strange film, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Even since the release of “Love and Thunder,” Marvel hasn’t slowed down, with new shows “Ms. Marvel” and “She-Hulk” added to Disney+ as well. It isn’t hard to see why even fans are starting to find it hard to keep up with the sheer amount of shows and movies one must watch to keep up with the next phase of the MCU.
Compared to the multiversal, galactic-sized scale of the three Marvel movies leading up to Thor 4 (“Eternals,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and “Multiverse of Madness”), “Love and Thunder” feels more grounded. While this may be a drawback for fans who want to see more of that cosmos-straddling action from the MCU, Waititi’s second MCU film is a reminder that superhero films are at their best when they get to the core of who their heroes are. “Thor: Love and Thunder” rumbles with a rambunctious, self-aware sense of fun and flair that keeps Thor an entertaining staple of the Marvel universe.
Jem Shin can be reached at email@example.com.