Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder is the movie that turns the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a great big joke. This particular MCU strand moved to the comedic side with 2017's very funny Thor: Ragnarok. They push humor even further this time, to greatly diminishing returns. There have been very few outright duds in the MCU. This is one of them. Only Eternals is less satisfying. It might be time to send Thor the way of Tony Stark.

The movie opens with a man named Gorr (Christian Bale) lamenting the death of his young daughter. When his people's god shows callousness to his suffering, Gorr kills him, taking a powerful dark sword with him. He then vows to slay all gods everywhere. Of course, this is bad news for Thor (Chris Hemsworth). He's traveling the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy and, frankly, feeling lonely without his true love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She's back on Earth, dying of cancer. When the mighty hammer Mjolnir calls out to her, Jane figures it might be worth responding, just in case it has some sort of healing property. That turns her into a new Thor. She meets up with Thor, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Korg (Taika Waititi), then joins in the fight against Gorr.

Thor: Love and Thunder has so many structural problems. For starters, it utterly skips over the most potentially interesting part of its own plot: Jane's transformation. You think you're going to see her weigh the decision over whether to answer Mjolnir's call. You think you'll witness what happens when she does answer it. Nope. She arrives in battle already Thor-ed up. That's massively disappointing. On a similar note, Gorr is introduced, then forgotten. His backstory is compelling, yet he's largely sidelined, only popping up intermittently before the finale. He could have been a world-class MCU villain had the film taken the time to give him some focus. Bale is definitely up to the task.

The worst storytelling choice was weaving Jane's terminal illness/Gorr's grief in and around a near non-stop barrage of wacky humor, the bulk of which is forced. Thor: Love and Thunder has a running gag about screaming goats that gets old by the third of the dozen or so times they haul it out. Also in here are a talking dumpling, Russell Crowe (as Zeus) wearing a skirt and talking in a funny accent, and a couple of lame big-star cameos, including one from a current comedy superstar. Nothing pulls you out of a movie faster than having it flash a neon sign pointing out a celebrity appearance.

The comedic approach would have worked if this stuff was hilarious. Relatively little of it is, though. An air of desperation hangs over the picture, as if the filmmakers ran out of ideas for Thor and subsequently fell into self-parody. Taking the character seriously as a superhero is impossible, because he's not a god anymore, he's a comedian. The last 20 minutes revert to a more typical MCU-style adventure, but it's too little too late. Over-reliance on broad comedy sucks the wind out of the big showdown.

Several small pleasures can be found in the film. A black-and-white sequence has a cool, eerie vibe, and Hemsworth certainly has a gift for dropping one-liners and delivering goofball facial expressions, even when they're not entirely appropriate for the plot. Nevertheless, this fourth Thor outing generally suggests the MCU is in danger of losing its focus. There's an old saying, which is that the longer a movie series goes on, the more likely it is to start making fun of itself. Think of the later Nightmare on Elm Street sequels or the “going into outer space” bit from F9: The Fast Saga. They call that jumping the shark. Thor: Love and Thunder jumps the shark.

out of four

Thor: Love and Thunder is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.