The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned his fourth Marvel Studios film, Thor: Love and Thunder. This marks the second MCU entry of seemingly ever-present genius writer/director and Oscar-winner Taika Waititi. While this movie continues Thor’s story right from the end of the Avengers: Endgame where he flies away alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it also adds a whole new twist with the return of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Foster finds the shattered Mjolnir and—as she apparently is worthy—summons the full power of Thor. Waititi takes this movie through a whirlwind thrill ride with tons of laughs and a lot of heart. There are the requisite actions sequences, but the mirthfulness of the story is really its key selling point.
Waititi is an immensely talented director who engages his actors in the filmmaking process and encourages improvisation. Numerous actors have gushed about how lovely it is to work with him, which may explain why this film is almost overloaded with either top-tier talent or stop-you-in-your-tracks celebrity cameos. With the exception of Christian Bale, all of the film’s major cast look almost punch-drunk with glee.
This film’s stakes are no different than any other MCU entry: King Valkyrie as she’s now known (Tessa Thompson) returns awash in formal duties leading New Asgard on Earth. She’s bored out of her skull and being assisted by Korg’s old friend Miek the insect warrior, hilariously clad in a three-piece suit. Waititi returns for the voice and motion capture work of Korg, the Kronan warrior comprised entirely of stone and Thor’s number one friend. Later, you’ll find Russell Crowe in his least serious role as Zeus, sporting an accent that seems aimed at not-so-perfectly approximating the way a Greek god would speak.
The story fills in the blanks, hinted at off-screen but never explained, as to what was the cause of Thor and Jane’s breakup years back. From there, we pick up with Thor as he’s engaging in misadventures with the Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s wonderful to see the Guardians again, but they’re in the movie for far less time than one might hope. After getting the lay of the land, the main quest of the story revolving around new villain Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) is revealed. From there, it’s a rollicking freight train of activity, action, and gags all the way to the end. Bale is predictably stellar as the creepy Gorr, a humble person initially reborn into an abominable yet cursed antagonist.
It’s difficult to unpack much else of what happens in Thor: Love and Thunder for any reader here as damn near every other moment of the story are massive spoilers. Numerous characters or actors make special appearances and they are all either humorous additions or pivotal parts of the ever expanding MCU. The biggest problem here—and now somewhat backed up by the recently confirmed news that stars Jeff Goldblum and Lena Headey shot scenes and were fully cut from the movie—is that the film feels just a little bit leaner than it should be. One could never speculate as to why footage was left out or if it was really superfluous, but Love and Thunder seems to yearn for several more minutes to let its characters just breathe in the moment, and that just doesn’t really happen. Things move along briskly, and with so many stellar characters to play with, more time with each of them feels like it would have been well worth it.
Most Marvel Studios film fans are likely thrilled to see Hemsworth dawn the cape one more time, but here Hemsworth has found renewed purpose. Where earlier films may brimmed over with tongue-in-cheek bravado, Love and Thunder finds him doing some of his most improved acting. The few moments where the story slows down long enough to give him a moment to show quiet contemplation, you can feel the character’s inner turmoil and evolution. Waititi and the studio play into each step of this evolution with a whopping four licensed tracks by Guns N’ Roses included in the soundtrack. Much like Waititi’s pitch for Thor: Ragnarok that was driven by the use of Led Zeppelin’s legendary “Immigrant Song,” the tone of the action seems to go hand in hand with the brutally real yet immensely celebratory vibe of the greatest Guns N’ Roses songs. Like this year’s final season of Stranger Things, the film’s trailer including “Sweet Child of Mine” was no simple marketing nod to try to drum up interest in ticket sales, it and three other songs are very much married to the rendering of the story’s narrative.
It’s also worth mentioning that this may be the most solid MCU movie since the first era wrapped up with Avengers: Endgame. Eternals came in with the least favorable reviews in arguably serving as Marvel’s first serious misstep, while Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, might have just fallen short of putting together something that jumped off the screen. Thor: Love and Thunder course corrects on those two movies and does what nearly every great Marvel movie has before, telling a fun story, connecting the affairs to the entire expanded MCU, and expertly teased new threads that will stretch out for many films to come.
Thor: Love and Thunder impressively proves that continuing to have sequels with a beloved character can work so long as the story itself has meaning and rendered with care. Diehard Marvel fans will love this hilarious trip through space, mining the inner intricacies of love and devotion, while casual filmgoers will find this entertaining without being lost without the details of the greater continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a sterling example of why superhero movies can be great fun when done with the right amount of care and enthusiasm.