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Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’

Taika Waititi’s take on Thor remains refreshing, but doesn’t surpass ‘Ragnarok’

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Thor: Love and Thunder

Few franchises have been able to completely engulf our pop culture and the box office in the way that Marvel has. The Disney-owned company took characters only well known to comic book fans and turned them into household names, carefully weaving complex storylines and multiverses into something kids and adults alike can enjoy.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” marks the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), starring Chris Hemsworth as the Norse god of thunder Thor, and Natalie Portman as world-renowned astrophysicist and Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster. After receiving superpowers of her own through Thor’s old hammer, Jane and Thor team up with friends Valkyrie and Korg to defeat Gorr, a villain plotting to kill all of the gods.

Uniquely, “Love and Thunder” breaks MCU precedent as the fourth feature film to center around an individual hero. Prior to “Love and Thunder,” Marvel characters were traditionally allotted a trilogy of solo films to flesh out their character arcs. Thor is the first to rise above the likes of Iron Man and Captain America with a fourth film, breaking the formulaic nature the franchise otherwise follows.

Admittedly, I was late to the Marvel craze. I saw “Doctor Strange” when it came out in theaters with a friend, and then didn’t touch a single movie in the franchise until “Avengers: Infinity War” engulfed our pop culture. I then decided to backtrack my way through Marvel’s daunting catalog so I could enjoy the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame” and not feel out of the loop when scrolling through my social media feeds.

As I binged my way through, Thor quickly became my favorite character out of the Avengers — but only after his third film, “Thor: Ragnarok.” I don’t think I’m alone in calling Thor’s first two films boring. Even Hemsworth himself said that before “Ragnarok,” he was underwhelmed by the constraints of the character.

“Ragnarok” was a comedic breath of fresh air that the previously straight-edged Thor desperately needed. The film is playful in a way that makes it immediately stick out against the first two Thor films, and much of that praise has been attributed to director Taika Waititi.

Waititi, who directed “Love and Thunder” as well as “Ragnarok,” had quite the transformation himself the past few years. The New Zealand filmmaker started as a beloved indie director with the hit mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” in 2014, won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his film “Jojo Rabbit” in 2020, and even starred in the hit HBO show “Our Flag Means Death” which released earlier this year.

With Waititi directing a fourth Thor movie, it seemed like there was no way it could fail, and by most measures, it doesn’t. “Love and Thunder” excels as a witty and heartfelt film, however, it still fails to surpass the near-perfection achieved in “Ragnarok.”

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The core of “Love and Thunder” is, as one might guess from the title, love. The relationship between Thor and Jane is one of the film’s major highlights. Hemsworth and Portman have chemistry and charm in all their interactions, and I was glad to see their relationship finally being explored again in this film.

Another strength of the film is in its comedy. Waititi broke the mold with “Ragnarok” by making Thor funny, and the biggest compliment I can give “Love and Thunder” is that it made me laugh throughout nearly the entire runtime. The comedy is balanced by the film’s careful handling of some more serious topics, a layer of the film I didn’t expect, yet greatly appreciated.

There isn’t a way for me to talk about my major dislikes of the film without breaching too far into spoiler territory. To put it briefly, one of the major failings of “Love and Thunder” is how it treats some of the female characters in the third act. While not as overt as it could be, the film’s third act falls dangerously close to some old comic book tropes I’d prefer to be left in the past.

Regardless, “Love and Thunder” is an enjoyable and deeply funny continuation of the magic Waititi found in “Ragnarok,” but unfortunately doesn’t do much to surpass it.

If you go into the film expecting laughter from some familiar characters, you’ll likely be as entertained as I was, but if you’re looking for something more foundational as Marvel continues into its fourth phase, you may leave the theater a bit disappointed.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” was officially released July 8 and is now showing in theaters.

Reach General Sections Editor Natalie Roy at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @nataliedroy

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