At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Thor: Love and Thunder “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Matt Damon, Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Akosia Sabet, Jenny Morris, Simon Russell Beale, India Hemsworth, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Brett Goldstein; Voices of: Taika Waititi, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper/Runtime: 119 minutes

I think it can safely be said that a slice of cinema that is an entry in the iconic series of films (and yes a collection of Disney+ exclusive shows) known collectively as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to come to quite the intriguing crossroads 14 years into its existence on this (and maybe on other versions in the multiverse) Earth. This is because with the first main arc known as the Infinity Saga having been wrapped up 3 years ago courtesy of saga send-off Avengers: Endgame, the next “ overarching and bigger saga” objective of this franchise really doesn’t seem to be that evident (despite Kevin Feige saying we have gotten quite a few hints that say otherwise). At any rate, this lack of clarity has also resulted in every single slice of cinema that has come out really needing to operate as their own distinct entity in a manner that I don’t think we as movie goers have had to see out of this franchise since the first Iron Man film all those years ago. As a result, we see that since there is not as much riding on each and every slice of cinema to contribute a piece or three to the overarching story at play, this means that now the films can just concentrate mostly on giving moviegoers like you and me a riveting and intriguing narrative that just so happens to occur within the larger world of the MCU. Of course, there are a pair of distinct ways of looking at this new franchise mo. One way is that it really doesn’t do the MCU any favors since the fans are very much aware something bigger will come again sooner rather than later and thus it just feels like the franchise on the whole is twiddling its thumbs waiting for such a reveal to take place (a feeling that is only increased exponentially by the aforementioned Disney+ shows both the ones released and the ones still coming down the pipeline as well like Armor Wars and whathaveyou).  On the other hand, there is a fairly more brighter outlook which says that even though it is unfortunate that the big reveal hasn’t happened yet that’s ok because now is a wonderful period of time for a film helmer to present the viewer with a narrative that they are passionate about with the characters that Marvel has at its disposal without having to worry about if said story is able to fit into the grand scheme of things the way the films in the Infinity Saga had to. I think it is the latter way of thinking which has managed to present to us the newest entry in the MCU, Thor: Love and Thunder, since this is one slice of cinema that easily is one of the most distinct and artistic takes on a Marvel character since at least the first Guardians movie came out in 2014. No this slice of cinema is not as powerful as what film helmer/writer/co-star Taika Waititi gave us with Thor: Ragnarok due to some decent size issues with tempo popping up and the narrative being a bit leaner than it should be, but otherwise this is genuinely a fairly engaging and riveting little film. Not only that, but this slice of cinema does do a fairly good job at working in both a series of distinct tonal shifts as the film goes along to say nothing of wonderful work behind and especially in front of the camera. Suffice it to say it might not be perfect, but Thor: Love and Thunder does manage to be a fun slice of popcorn superhero cinema that both fans of the character and the MCU as a whole are sure to enjoy time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Now when we last caught up with the titular God of Thunder we saw that in the aftermath of the epic events of Avengers: Endgame, he had made the choice to find his own way in the cosmos. A way that saw him not only hand over the crown of New Asgard to fierce warrior extraordinaire Valkyrie, but also set off with that delightful group of space rascals known as the Guardians of the Galaxy in their ship to see just what incredible adventures awaited him in the vastness of outer space. From there we see that, when our slice of cinema opens proper, that our titular hero has found himself settling in to a life comprised of peaceful meditation whenever he can, but also in operating as an extremely lively and colorful superhero mercenary of sorts who goes from civilization to civilization facing a dastardly foe and/or threat to their way of life and proceeding to kick some serious butt and chew a massive amount of bubble gum (or something like that). Yet it isn’t long before we see this hero-for-hire lifestyle is soon thrown a serious curveball. One that takes the form of our hero receiving a distress call from an old friend who soon tells him of a ruthless barrage of attacks being conducted by someone calling himself Gorr the God Butcher. Gorr, we rather quickly learn, was at one time a rather devout individual who found himself not only seriously backstabbed by the deity he was a faithful and diligent servant of, but who has also found himself seriously afflicted by an incredibly strong weapon he happens to have in his possession known only as the Necrosword. As a result of being hit with this serious double whammy, we soon learn that what Gorr desires above anything else in this life now is to completely and utterly annihilate every single deity figure in existence. Something our hero cannot exactly support or get behind seeing as his name happens to be on Gorr’s god hit-list. Yet upon coming back to New Asgard which is being besieged by Gorr’s minions, we see that Thor makes an incredible discovery in the midst of fighting them off. Namely that he is no longer the only hero who is called Thor. It seems his old ex-girlfriend, who he might still be pining for, Jane Foster has been deemed worthy to wield Mjolnir, and as a result she too has been endowed with Thor’s powers and is being referred to as….(wait for it) the Mighty Thor! Thus, with the aid of the aforementioned Valkyrie and Thor 1’s devoted warrior friend Korg along for the ride, we see Thor 1 and Thor 2 make their way on an odyssey through space in an attempt to stop Gorr and his dastardly machinations before it is too late (dun, dun, dunnnn!)……

Now right off the bat, it should be known that Thor: Love and Thunder is one superhero slice of cinema that is in possession of all the distinct and time honored Marvel elements at play. By that I mean there are action beats on a grandiose scale, quite a few characters that have fairly complex backstories, and so much CGI that I could honestly see James Cameron, Roland Emmerich, and George Lucas all smiling with glee and saying “And YOU thought I used a lot of CGI in the slices of cinema I have made!” At the same time this is one slice of cinema that I actually wouldn’t have minded going for another 10-15 minutes. That’s because, including credits this slice of cinema runs a minute shy of about two hours, but with how fast this film seemed to brush past certain things I really wouldn’t have minded seeing this slice of cinema really just take it slow on certain things in order for them to achieve as much impact on you, the viewer as possible instead of just rushing off to the next action beat or set piece. Now one thing that this slice of cinema does have in its corner which does help to distinguish it is none other than Taika Waititi. I say that because this man does a beautiful job of making sure that this slice of cinema has a style and goofiness all its own. A style that makes itself apparent not only in the fact that an early action beat looks like artwork a 70s rock’n roller might air brush on the side of their van before rushing off to a gig at the nearby watering hole, but also in moments like in the Shadow Realm where we see Waititi brilliantly utilize stark black-and-white in order to really make this locale seem genuinely intimidating and terrifying whilst still making the action that follows feel very much like one we would see in an MCU film. Yet perhaps the best contribution made by the crew behind the camera is the fact that, much like Led Zeppelin blared through the speakers at certain points with Ragnarok, we see Waititi and his team keep the classic rock flowing in this one courtesy of choice moments in this blaring iconic songs from legendary 80s band Guns ‘n Roses. Thus if I had to think about it, I would say that the best comparison I can make to this entry in the MCU, ironically, would be 1980’s Flash Gordon especially in terms of its visuals, its rockin’ soundtrack, and just the general vibe of the film altogether. A comparison I can safely say is most certainly a compliment in every sense of the word.

Of course, where this slice of cinema really soars is in terms of the work done by this slice of superhero cinema’s truly talented cast. Now in the titular role, it should come as a surprise to no one reading this to learn that Chris Hemsworth is once again very much in synch with this character from the more comedic moments especially the ones involving his physique as well as just tapping into the inherent goofiness of the character to the moments that actually call for him to show some of the more serious emotions or to use said physique to kick some serious butt. Suffice it to say that much in the same way as RDJ is Iron Man, Chris Evans is Captain America, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine, and Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool, I can now safely say that Chris Hemsworth is most definitely Thor and I hope we continue to see more adventures with him for years to come. This brings us to the also returning Natalie Portman in a long-awaited reprisal of her role of Jane Foster, but this time she also is technically The Mighty Thor (or Thor 2 if you prefer) and honestly she does an amazing job in the role. Indeed Portman, to no one’s surprise, is able to contribute quite a bit of emotion and gravitas to the part especially in regards to certain elements involving Jane’s return which I shan’t spoil here. Yet when it comes time to drop the drama and pick up the hammer and go to work we see Portman is able to do a terrific job at flexing some literal muscle and hold her own with ease alongside Hemsworth in the film’s action beats where the two are operating side by side and kicking bad guy butt. Indeed I don’t know what the future holds for Portman’s career, but I wouldn’t mind seeing her do some action movies because she definitely could make for a terrific lead in an action franchise of her own. Yet even with the top-flight work done here by both Hemsworth and Portman, I have no doubt that a lot of you either won’t care about that or won’t be all that surprised by it. Instead, you are more curious about just how distinct screen talent Christian Bale does in his return to comic book movies in the role of antagonist Gorr the God Butcher. Well here is a little detail in regards to Bale that you should know in case you didn’t know it already: the man is the kind of guy who, even if given the option to phone in a performance, is seemingly physically/psychologically incapable of doing so. Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that Bale immerses himself 110% into this role and proves to be a maniacal, scene-devouring delight whenever he shows up on screen. Yet lest you think this is one villain who you are supposed to view as nothing more than just a heavy for our hero to take down, this film wisely is aware that a character played by Bale is supposed to have more dimensions than that. As a result, the film does a brilliant job of also making it possible for you to actually empathize with this being and maybe understand why he’s doing what he’s doing in this rather than just see him as “diabolical villain wanting to ruthlessly murder a bunch of people”. I also really enjoyed Russell Crowe in this as a fluffy and very sleazy take on the god Zeus who may be on board with having sex with multiple people as well as human sacrifice, but when it comes to actually doing something that could help save the universe….ehhh not really. Indeed it may not be the biggest role in the film, but this is easily the funniest I have seen Crowe in a movie since 2016’s criminally underseen noir comedy The Nice Guys (a film that incidentally if you haven’t seen already then stop reading this and go see it right now. Trust me you’ll definitely enjoy yourself) Of course I should also point out the terrific work done by the returning Tessa Thompson in the role of Valkyrie yet I also should point out that her role may not seem as significant as you may think. Oh don’t get me wrong she is in quite a bit of this film. Rather, it’s that in terms of stuff she gets to do in the overall narrative she doesn’t do as much as you might imagine. Of course, even when you factor in the ever-delightful work done by the film’s director in the role of Thor’s best mate the lovably quirky Korg and the rest of the talented cast in this, there is no denying that at the end of the day this film belongs to Hemsworth and Portman and they are fanfreakingtastic.

All in all looking back I can say without a doubt that one of the crown jewels in the back half of the Infinity Saga without a doubt was Thor: Ragnarok which saw film helmer Taika Waititi bringing a novel mood to the comic book cinematic saga that involved taking us away from the typical portrayal of Thor and his section of the universe up to that point in time and instead made it more vibrant and colorful, a heck of a lot funnier, a lot more Led Zeppelin than Shakespearean, and ultimately more in line with an 80s sci-fi adventure akin to Flash Gordon than a film set in the MCU. Yet even though Ragnarok was very much the definition of a cinematic risk, it was one that Waititi took the ball and managed to run it all the way in for a cinematic touchdown. Yet even though this one still retains that light vibe mood and tone that Ragnarok did so well, we also see Waititi endeavor to try and actually bring some hefty pathos-driven gravitas into the mix for this go-around. Suffice it to say this heavier emotional content might not always synch up well with Waititi’s goofy and quirky sense of humor and as a result the action does have a few brief fairly uncomfortable lulls in them, but for the most part this slice of cinema does still work fairly well in the grand scheme of things with a collection of terrific performances, some truly fantastic and vibrant work behind the camera, and a mid-credits tease that should get fans of the MCU quite excited for future adventures with our favorite Asgardian with a hammer/ giant war-axe and his loyal gang of pals. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Thor: Love and Thunder “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.