'Thor: Love and Thunder' Is Marvel's Most Rushed Movie Yet
The MCU has a timing problem.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is out of time. For the past two years following near-catastrophic delays in production, the MCU is attempting to spring back from the brink, with varying degrees of success. WandaVision and Loki were boons for Disney+'s streaming service, and the fanfictionized Spider-Man: No Way Home was a knockout hit over last year's holiday season. And yet, audiences didn't know what to make of Eternals, the heavily stylized Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was immediately divisive, the rest of Disney+'s Marvel lineup has been a string of misses (Ms. Marvel notwithstanding), and Black Widow might as well not exist. The franchise seems to me in flail mode, trying to keep some of the momentum going in the three years since Avengers: Endgame closed out a saga while also mostly directionless without the rudder of a long-teased big bad to tie this current Phase together. To make matters worse, everything feels—and probably is—extremely rushed, with plotlines that seem cut together from scraps with the panicked energy of a college exam cram session. The newest installment, Taika Waititi's prodigal return to the Thor series with Thor: Love and Thunder, doesn't help matters.
It's been three years since we last caught up with the God of Thunder, so let's recap: Following the Avengers' success at the close of Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) joined the Guardians of the Galaxy for a hot minute, bopping around the universe with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his band of renegades, reluctantly saving alien civilizations from evil with a wave of his mighty lightning axe Stormbreaker. Other than that, Thor doesn't really know what to do with himself, his godlike One Punch Man ability to defeat his enemies to the tune of whatever rock anthem happens to be playing at the time growing stale. Thor needs a purpose, and he is very quickly given one in the form of Gorr the God-Butcher (Christian Bale), a former supplicant now in possession of the deadly Necrosword and its shadow monster servants, and the desire to wipe all gods from the face of the cosmos.
But Thor isn't the only Thor in this movie. Following the arc of Jason Aaron's Mighty Thor comics, we catch up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor's sidelined physicist ex-girlfriend who has been stricken with terminal cancer. Determined to find a cure, Jane summons the hammer Mjolnir and is granted Thor's powers, a cool outfit, blonde extensions, and the appearance of godly health. Together with Thor, their ally Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the comic relief rock-guy Korg (Waititi), and a pair of screeching giant goats, the team set off to defeat Gorr and rescue a cage full of stolen Asgardian children. But Mjolnir's gift comes at a price: every time Jane uses the hammer, her real body becomes weaker, bringing her ever closer to death.
There are a lot of expectations riding on Waititi after he almost singlehandedly revitalized the MCU with Thor: Ragnarok, a glittery Heavy Metal riff on a superhero story based on a Norse legend, with a relentless rock 'n' roll soundtrack and a refreshing and wry sense of humor. It's one of the MCU's best, so Waititi's return to the franchise was expected. Love and Thunder has just as much, if not more, going for it: a compelling arc straight out of a hugely popular comic run, a cast of A-listers well used to this type of blockbuster genre filmmaking, and the formidable power of one of the entertainment world's biggest production studios. And yet, something seems to have gone badly wrong.
It's not that Love and Thunder is bad. It's hilarious, and heartfelt, and never boring, with enough flash to hold the attention of even those fans who have strayed away from the franchise. An interlude where our heroes meet Zeus, a preening, authoritarian deity played by a husky Russell Crowe with a hysterical "Greek accent," is particularly great, as is a climactic fight scene set inside a black-and-white realm whose only color comes from the light inside various magical weapons while the rest looks like a chapter out of Sin City. There is vision here, but the vision is so muddled by what must have been a frustrating and nightmarish production.
I obviously was not on the set of Thor: Love and Thunder, so I have no idea how anything went down. But this film has the same anxious, rushed quality of pretty much everything else Marvel has released in the past two years, trying desperately to get back on some sort of schedule. It's this very schedule that seems to be tanking any chance that this studio will ever make anything truly, astoundingly great ever again, because no one working on these projects has any time to consider anything they do before they have to start desperately shooting whatever they've got. Love and Thunder is badly paced, greenscreened into oblivion (staying through to the dissatisfying end-credits scene will allow audiences to see just how much of Marvel's visual effects budget is now outsourced to an endless stream of small VFX houses), and the constant dribble of jokes and jabs undercuts any attempt at plotting an emotional arc, leaving what should be an overwhelmingly tragic finale moment feeling like just another scene in an exhausting series of scenes.
It's exasperating watching this kind of product come from a group of people who have every ability to do this better, and have. Hemsworth remains hilarious, running circles around everyone else during the requisite banter bits. Waititi has repeatedly proven that he knows how to expertly marry humor with tearjerking pathos (go watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople if you don't believe me). Portman's return to the series is welcome, though by the time it's over, she seems ready for it to be done. This time crunch is far from the only problem the MCU has (the troublesome sexlessness of these movies is a topic that comes up every time a new one is released), but right now it seems to be the most pressing, and the most ruinous. The God of Thunder might be back in action, but the MCU is swiftly running out of juice.