THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER – Review by Brandy McDonnell

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A lavish space Viking feast of a movie, Thor: Love and Thunder is delightfully laden with Oscar-winning talent, scene-stealing screaming goats, kaleidoscopic color schemes, 1980s iconography, A-list cameos, the Guardians of the Galaxy, thunderous action sequences, witty one-liners, a diverse horde of mythological gods and a bombastic soundtrack featuring Guns N’ Roses, along with Dio, ABBA and Enya.

Academy Award-winning writer/director Taika Waititi’s second cinematic serving in the apparently endless banquet of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a deliciously over-the-top treat that’s sometimes refreshingly bittersweet.

As with much of the New Zealander’s distinctively quirky previous work – including his Oscar-winning Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit, the Oklahoma-made comedy series Reservation Dogs and his previous MCU film, the 2017 smash Thor: RagnarokLove and Thunder veers wildly from madcap recurring jokes and silly sight gags to relatable and resonant moments of loss, grief and angst.

Narrated by Thor’s loveably loopy rock-warrior sidekick Korg (voiced by Waititi), Love and Thunder picks up after the universe-altering events of Avengers: Endgame. Now back in fighting shape, Thor, (the ever-charming Chris Hemsworth) continues (briefly, anyway) to zip around the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy, helping Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and Co. out of assorted interstellar scraps.

But the God of Thunder is clearly caught in an existential funk: His parents have died, his estranged siblings have been killed, his home world has been destroyed, and he has never gotten over his breakup with his human girlfriend, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Oscar winner Natalie Portman). He may be an immortal who has lived thousands of years, but he doesn’t really know who he is or what his destiny should be now.

An encounter with an old friend alerts Thor to a newly emerging threat: the horrific Gorr the God Butcher (Oscar winner Christian Bale), who, as the name implies, has been wreaking havoc by slaughtering superhuman rulers with the cursed Necrosword.

Thor has reason to believe this vengeful villain will next target New Asgard, so he rushes back to Earth, where his loyal pal King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) has become bored with the administrative duties of running the Scandanavian fishing village-turned-tourist attraction – even one complete with a new Thanos-themed ice cream shop and another dramatic reenactment of Asgardian history starring Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Luke Hemsworth (plus a couple of newly added famous faces).

When he arrives back on Earth, Thor is shocked to discover that he and Valkyrie aren’t the only fierce fighters battling to protect their people from Gorr and his creepy army of shadow monsters. His ex-girlfriend, Jane, has proven worthy to reassemble the broken pieces of his magical hammer Mjölnir and wield its electrifying powers as the fearsome warrior “The Mighty Thor.”

It’s hard to say which reunion is more amusingly awkward: Thor coming face to face with his former lover, who is now a buff butt-kicker, while recalling the dissolution of their romance in an ABBA-scored montage, or Thor encountering his semi-sentient former weapon, which leads to his new magical weapon, the enchanted axe Stormbreaker, becoming noticeably jealous.

But with Gorr taking New Asgard’s children hostage as part of his nefarious scheme, Thor and Jane team up and head off with Korg and Valkyrie on a cosmic rescue mission that involves screaming goats, space dolphins and an eventful jaunt to Omnipotence City, the glittering home of the top gods ruled over by the Oscar winner Russell Crowe’s blustering, big-bellied Zeus.

After two overly serious Thor films in 2011 and 2013, Waititi brought welcome color, style and – best of all – fun to the supercharged space Viking’s MCU presence with the vastly entertaining Ragnarok. With Love and Thunder, which he cowrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (the MTV series Sweet/Vicious) based on a couple of Marvel Comics runs penned by Jason Aaron, Waititi brings even more of his singular storytelling and eccentric humor to Thor’s adventures.

The filmmaker’s second Thor film boasts big ’80s action movie energy with matching hard-rock soundtrack and Day-Glo palette, although the most visually striking scene involves our heroes pursuing Gorr into a shadowy realm where all but a few splashes of color are leached away to shades of gray.

Similarly, Love and Thunder gives Gorr a stark introduction as a religious zealot who becomes the last person left alive on his dying desert world after the death of his young daughter. When he gets the chance to meet the god he has worshipped face to face, the deity’s callousness so enrages him that he takes up the vengeful mantle of the God Butcher.

With Bale’s legendary commitment and talents, Gorr immediately emerges as a top MCU villain on par with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger and Josh Brolin’s Thanos.

Under Waititi’s direction, Hemsworth has flourished in the godlike part he has now played for more than a decade over four standalone films and three Avengers outings. Along with continuing to show off his impressive comedic chops, the star kindles an appeal chemistry with Portman not previously seen in their meetings as Thor and Jane.

Already established as a formidable talent, Portman skipped out on Ragnarok after the first two Thor movies gave her little to do except occasionally spout scientific jargon and look pretty in Thor’s beefy arms. So, it’s thrilling to see her own now-famously beefy arms take up the title and hammer of Thor and fight against evil like an immortal, even as she privately battles her own mortal problems. Her “ride or die” friendship with Valkyrie – who deserves her own Disney+ spin-off series since Marvel seems to be handing those out as freely as after-dinner mints – also brings a lovely human element to the intergalactic proceedings.

Waititi’s abrupt tonal shifts and often manic wit may not be for everyone, and not every joke quite hits the spot. He he still manages to dish up another out-of-this world Thor adventure, spiced up with lots of heart, humor and memorable moments.

Although the trend is for blockbuster films to run close to three hours, Waititi keeps Love and Thunder to a zippy two hours, including the credits.

And, yes, like previous MCU movies, fans should stick around for two bonus scenes: One in the middle of the credits and one after. Both boast starry cameos, with one foreshadowing a possible future direction of Thor’s hero’s journey and one bringing back a beloved fan favorite.

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.