Jokes and Gags
When I had first walked out of Thor: Ragnarok in 2017 I was caught off guard by the dramatic shift in tone for the character and felt they went too comedic too fast. In the years since its release, I have grown to appreciate the film much more and consider it one of my top 5 favorite Marvel films. Bringing back the same director and cast from that film made me feel like Thor: Love and Thunder was going to be another surprise hit for the franchise, but it sorrows me to say that this time they actually did go too comedic too fast. Thor’s latest adventure is a reliably entertaining Marvel film, but it borders on parody, gags, and inconsistent tone that make it feel lackluster. It lacks the impact and urgency of Ragnarok, and grows stale by the time the credits roll. What does work, however, is a standout performance by Christian Bale, surprising character arcs for Thor and his old girlfriend Jane Foster, and the ambition of becoming Marvel’s first romantic comedy.
Since the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor has joined up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to help stop threats across the galaxy. Lately, he has felt a sense of longing for something more and wants peace yet purpose in his life. When Gorr the God Butcher appears on scene and threatens to destroy all gods, and Jane Foster mysteriously obtains the power of Mjolnir, Thor must enter into the fight to protect humanity again.
Chris Hemsworth has great comedic timing and has established Thor over the past few years as more of a eccentric and humorous god than the sullen and serious take in the first few films. In Love and Thunder though, he goes full throttle into comedy land to the point where it feels like he is parodying the character. He feels a little too much like a bumbling idiot than a heroic demigod with a sense of humor. The character arc that he goes through is interesting as they explore they attempt to explore his longing for a sense of purpose and meaning in the midst of his previous adventures, however the slapstick comedy sometimes takes away from those dramatic moments. Ragnarok and Infinity War struck the appropriate balance of humor with dramatics while Endgame started to test the line of too much comedy. Now Love and Thunder has done the opposite of the first Thor film and slipped starkly into parody and it feels misplaced.
Natalie Portman’s return as Jane Foster on the other end is a welcome return as she becomes the Mighty Thor. The movie gives her an incredible character arc that imbues a sense of vulnerability and depth to a character that was once just a menial love interest. There’s a logical story-based reason for why she obtains the powers of Thor, but it never feels like the movie is trying to make her the new Thor for the franchise. The film celebrates her intellect, bravery, and determination in the face of adversity justifying her return to the franchise. Her relationship and chemistry with Thor does provide the film’s romantic comedy feel with their flirtatious jokes, and denial of their true feelings providing and endearing and often appropriate comedic tone. While no one really asked to see this dynamic play out, Taika Waiti handles the romantic comedy portion well even if its tone clashes with its villain.
Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher is a standout Marvel villain. Every scene he is in, he steals the show and you can easily tell that Bale is enjoying himself and relishing in the dramatics. He’s a haunting presence and although the film uses him sparingly, every time he is on screen he makes a visceral impact. However, its with this that the film has conflicting tones. In one minute you have Thor bickering over whether he loves his axe Stormbreaker or his hammer Mjolnir more, and in the next you have Gorr threatening to eat and kill children. It’s tonal whiplash, and makes the film feel a little fractured as a result.
The MCU is no stranger to comedy and running gags throughout its films, but this time it feels way too much and hurts the film as a result. Dramatic interactions with the villain are cheapened by the need for a joke to be inserted. There’s a moment where Thor is talking with Gorr using a vision spell, and Valkyrie is tickling his beard and distracting him. Why the film feels the need to do this is baffling, and it hurts the momentum and impact of the story. I loved Thor: Ragnarok and while there were one or two times where the comedy overcame the dramatic points, for the most point it balanced its dramatic and intense moments with some comedy in other sections. It feels too intertwined here where you feel you’re watching the MCU make fun of itself, making you not want to come back for more.
There’s also a serious lack of stakes in the film and frankly for the MCU as a whole. Because there’s so much comedy and jokes, it doesn’t feel like you can take the conflict too seriously and doesn’t make you feel as invested. Whenever Gorr enters the screen, particularly in the third act, there’s some potential for there to be added stakes especially during a black and white sequence that utilizes lighting and color in a creative way. However, the film doesn’t want to commit to it for too long in fear that it may potentially lose the interest of the audience. Additionally, since we don’t know what the MCU is building towards in a post-Thanos world it makes it harder to buy into the conflicts. We don’t see the big picture, making it more difficult to stay invested in the franchise. It feels aimless, that each of these movies simply exist rather than progressing a narrative forward. The over use of comedy and gags just adds to the low stakes interest of the franchise as a whole.
By the time the movie ends, Thor’s character arc is fulfilled but in an unfulfilling way. The resolution to his arc feels like it came out of left field and makes its conclusion feel a little underwhelming in the long run. It will be interesting to see where his character goes next given some new developments, but I didn’t feel like the film gave a proper resolution to the arc here. Love and Thunder unfortunately is a disappointing Marvel film that shows that the MCU is losing steam since Endgame. While the character work still remains solid, its overuse of comedy and slapstick humor are beginning to hurt the franchise especially with no end goal in mind. If you’re a fan of the franchise, its still reliably entertaining and fun, but for everyone else I would recommend waiting for Disney+.
(C -) Underwhelming