“THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER”
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale, Taika Waititi, Jaime Alexander, Russell Crowe
Written by Taika Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Based on the comic book character Thor, created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby
Directed by Taika Waititi
Produced by Kevin Feige and Brad Winterbaum

By Matt Neufeld

Amid the suffocating, endless, deafening and moronically bloated barrage of generally average or below-average assembly-line, cookie-cutter and formulaic comic book superhero fantasy and science-fiction movies released during the last twenty-five years, one of the few sequels–and one of the few movies in this particular genre in general–to actually stand out and succeed in this genre was 2017’s surprise charmer “Thor: Ragnorak,” which somehow found the right combination of thrills, chills, comic book fantasy, action, adventure, hero worship and humor to memorably rise above the fray.

Alas, that fun movie’s exasperating, even irritating at times, follow-up, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” completely fails on nearly every level, and, barely, this latest Thor-oriented movie ends up being yet another big average, or average big, movie in the increasingly cluttered, over-crowded and just plain tired comic book superhero tattered catalogue of movies. Only a few aspects of respectable filmmaking keep “Love and Thunder” from completely collapsing into the Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich territory of all-out awfulness and dumbness.

That said, that this Thor entry somehow manages to hover steadily at the average level, it’s still difficult to completely recommend that moviegoers risk overly-priced gas, overly-priced parking, overly-priced concessions and overly-priced movie tickets to go see this B-movie (despite it’s huge production budget, this is still essentially a B-movie) this early-July summer weekend. In the end, it’s just not worth the time, money, resources and effort.

That may seem harsh, but the filmmakers behind this fourth–yes, if you can believe it, fourth–Thor comic book movie have only themselves to blame. And that’s because “Love and Thunder” fails bizarrely in most filmic areas, including direction, acting, writing, dialogue, story, story development, plot, plot development, characterization, pacing, timing, editing, staging–and even, most surprising for a comic book superhero movie, make-up, costuming, music, and special and visual effects.

Essentially, “Thor: Love and Thunder” fails not only because of a severe, nearly-complete lack of judgement, cleverness, originality and inventiveness in all of these filmic areas, but also because the film just tries too hard to be all of the things the movie is trying to be–funny, dramatic, romantic, exciting, scary, adventuresome, fun and thrilling. So, as the film tries too hard to be all of these things–sadly, and quite honestly, this movie ends up not really being, and succeeding at, any of these areas. “Love and Thunder” has a few laughs here and there, but it’s not really generally funny; there’s some dramatic moments, but it’s not that generally dramatic; there’s an obvious attempt at a love story, but it’s not that generally romantic; there’s fights and monsters and more fights and more monsters–but the proceedings are strangely, generally, not that exciting, adventurous, action-packed, suspenseful, scary or thrilling.

So when a movie like this one–and like too many of it’s genre brethren–ends up being so over-blown, over-produced, over-done, over-cluttered, overwhelming and over-everything, the movie ends up generally empty, unfeeling, scattered, confused and generic. There’s a lot there to look at, but there’s not a lot there to actually feel. In the end, this movie, and, again, like so many of its fellow comic book superhero movies, just ends up feeling cold, lifeless and empty–the movie equivalent of bland pop music, bland elevator music, fast food, junk food, low-fat foods, ugly strip shopping centers, manufactured town centers, reality television shows, scam sideshows and freak shows, rigged carnival games and lounge lizard floor shows at seedy, divey hole-in-the-walls.

What does manage to at least keep “Love and Thunder” at the average level is its very attempts, albeit with limited overall success, to be lighthearted, funny, positive, heroic, good-willed, good-natured, romantic and true to the underlying statutes, tropes and traditions of superheroes actually trying to save the world, save the day, fight the good fight, be a hero and mentor to others, defeat the bad guys, and make sure that in the end, good triumphs over evil. With these morals, messages and lessons still at the forefront of the movie’s basic story, moviegoers can still have some familiar, optimistic filmic aspects to rely on.

Another notable filmic aspect that helps keep “Love and Thunder” relatively watchable is the, at times, breathtaking, dazzling and beautiful special, visual and computer effects. Despite an earlier statement here that the movie can be somewhat lacking in this area, which remains true, at the same time, there are scenes, sets and images in the film that do manage to razzle and dazzle in a quite effective manner. However, at the same time, there are some special effects, that, despite their obviously high level of technical proficiency, come across as just overdone. That’s not really the specific fault of the literally hundreds of effects artists who worked hard on the film. It’s the general fault of director, co-writer, co-producer and actor Taika Waititi. As the director, Waititi just doesn’t seem to grasp in “Love…” just how to most effectively use his treasure chest and big budget of effects in the most effective manner. Special effects, of course, just like any other filmic aspect, should blend seamlessly, effortlessly, into the film and the story to effectively elicit not just razzle-dazzle, but story and momentum, forward movement, power and emotion. In “Love…,” when Thor throws his powerful hammer or shoots up into the air or his eyes light up for what seems like the thousandth time, the power, emotion and effectiveness of it all are increasingly diminished.

This, of course, is a constant and very real continuing criticism of all of these comic book superhero movies–the over-reliance on these high-tech, big-budget special effects at the expense of real, grounded emotion. The work of the hundreds of talented special effects artists is always to be praised. The producers’ and directors’ misuse and over-use of these effects is to always be criticized.

Waititi, also, must take the blame for most of this movie’s many other shortcomings, too.

His ham-handed direction; his trite, cliched, unfunny and unoriginal screenplay and dialogue; his stilted pacing, timing and editing (the director is not the actual, technical editor, of course, but the director does oversee the final editing); and his overall scattershot, all-over-the-place production are all faults of Waititi. Again, he simply tries far too hard in too many ways to be too many things, and his over-reaching, over-trying and over-confidence end up being detrimental this time around in the Thorniverse.

Which is somewhat surprising, since Waititi was the director of the far-superior “Ragnorak.”

Of course, Waititi has some accomplices this time to share the blame–mainly, the continuously greedy, money-blind, bottom-line-obcessed, money-crossed Disney and Marvel Studios and DC Comics studio suits who keep green-lighting these productions like addicts who just can’t kick their habit. Most prominent among these suits is relentless, obsessive comic book superhero movie producer Kevin Feige at Disney.

Just how much is enough? Just when will Disney, Marvel, DC, Feige and other similar sequelmongers finally heed the increasingly constant calls of hundreds, if not actual thousands, of co-workers in Hollywood, entertainment, business, popular culture and the public who keep criticizing these movies, who keep accurately noting the continual decline of moviemaking in general, and who keep asking the same questions: When the holy heck is this going to end, for at least a several-years break? When are we going to free ourselves of this trend and just simply get back to focusing on more movies in other genres, and more intelligent and intellectual movies in general, that are not comic book superhero fantasy and sci-fi movies?

Really, truly, honestly, the best move for all of the above-mentioned entities is for movie studios, television networks, theaters, game makers and production entities to just sit back, breathe, relax–and give this genre of comic book superhero movies, shows, video games and stage plays the well-deserved break that it needs. That’s not naive, that’s not cranky or un-zeitgeist, that’s not wishful thinking, that’s not blind or innocent–it’s what truly needs to be done, and it needs to be done now. And, again, many people in many areas have said this many times in recent years.

In “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the otherworldly god Thor, this time around somewhat lazily and half-heartedly portrayed by what seems like a bored Chris Hemsworth, is without his hammer, but still working to save lives and battle evil. One day, the quite evil and slimy villain Gorr the God Butcher–yes, that’s really the character’s name, as campy as that sounds–arrives in Thor’s land, New Asgard, with an army of equally-slimy monsters and kidnaps all of New Asgard’s kids. It’s up to Thor; his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster, a research doctor played by a seemingly terribly miscast Natalie Portman; Thor’s somewhat funny and charming rock-formed, Thing-like friend Korg, lightly played by Waititi; and the puzzlingly, strangely bland, blah and ineffective warrior Valkyrie to find Gorr, kill him, get the kids back, and, of course, prevent Gorr from taking over Middle Earth, er, the world, and killing the rebels, er, the Harry Potter wizards,, er, the Starfleet Federation, er, the people and gods of the world and universe.

If you think that, much like many of the other films in the comicbooksuperheroverse, that the stories, plots, action sequences, heroes and villains of “Love and Thunder” all start to mix, blend, whir, splice and dice together with the concurrent continuing pop culture realms of “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” and Who Knows What, then you are right, and you win a prize of use two tickets to a serious dramatic movie playing at a local movie theater.

There’s just not that much new in “Love and Thunder.”

Hemsworth, Waititi, Portman and the also miscast and ineffective Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie all gamely attempt to lighten the movie with forced humor, but the jokes are unfunny, awkward in their respective contexts and they mainly serve to deflate and downgrade the much-needed heroic aspects of the story. Hemsworth and Portman are supposed to be ex-lovers who still love each other and want to get back together, but, as attractive and movie-glamour good-looking as Hemsworth and Portman are, there’s a weird lack of onscreen romantic chemistry between the actors. And Jane Foster, amid everything, has Thor’s hammer–and she just happens to be dying from stage-four cancer.

I’m sorry, but what on Asgard is a stage-four cancer fight doing in a comic book superhero movie? It’s wholly, completely, entirely inappropriate, out-of-synch and just plain unneeded and out-of-place. And I’m certainly not insensitive to stage-four cancer fights–I had stage-four cancer, I fought a horrendous cancer fight, and I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing funny–and nothing that should be in a comic book movie–about cancer. Foster’s cancer fight just does not belong in an escapist comic book movie.

And comic book movies generally seem to have a difficult time handling love stories, too. “Love…” tries to incorporate the love story between Thor and Foster into the action–but that doesn’t work, either.

And then there’s a completely forced, unneeded and gratuitous introductory sequence with the usually-loved and usually-welcome “Guardians of the Galaxy” crew, played by the original actors, but even this sequence feels, again, forced, rushed, unneeded and gratuitous.

“Love..” can’t even succeed with its costuming and make-up and music. Valkyrie, who, as noted, comes off as boring and decidedly un-heroic and unfunny in this movie, is seen wearing a “Phantom of the Opera” shirt and a Kings shirt in some scenes. Why? It does nothing for the story and movie. It just looks…out of place. And even the main superhero costumes for Thor and Jane are cheesy and campy. And the movie, for some reason–desperation, probably–insists on blasting old Guns N’ Roses songs–which have no connection to the story, or the movie in general. These are classic, great songs–but there’s really no reason they need to be here. It would have been far better if the film contracted with some current, zeitgeist rock bands, such as Seether, Shinedown, Three Days Grace, The Pretty Reckless or Dorothy, for new, current, story-appropriate rock songs.

And then there’s the villain, Gorr. Christian Bale tries his very best to be scary, evil and creepy under mountains of make-up and prosthetics, but his Gorr ends up scattershot and oddly un-frightening. The character is too similar to the HarryPotterverse’s Voldemort and to George Lucas’ Emperor, and to Clive Barker’s Pinhead and that scary sideshow creature The Conundrum in “Humbug,” the circus sideshow episode of “The X-Files.” And maybe Frankenstein’s monster, too. Bale tries, but, mainly, Gorr is reduced to wielding his power through a sword with super powers. The character would have been far more effective if his power came from within himself, and not from some piece of metal.

Everything just seems deflated and devolved in this movie. Thor himself is deflated. Jane is deflated. Valkyrie is deflated. Gorr is deflated.

And then–there’s Russell Crowe’s appearance as Zeus, which could have been a great star turn, a great heroic meeting of minds with Thor, and a great chance for some real, strong heroics. But Crowe’s gross, disheveled, slovenly, slobby, over-weight, slimy performance as a basically rotten, lazy, sleazy and disappointing Zeus completely further deflates, disappoints and brings down an already deflated, depressing and disappointing movie. Everything about this Zeus is just wrong, and it doesn’t work on any level.

The character of Zeus should have been strong, powerful, clever, insightful, inspiring–and heroic. Crowe was the wrong choice for this role. Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, Jeremy irons or John Rhys-Davies as a strong, confident, smart and helpful Zeus would have been amazing–and would have strongly helped this movie. Instead, we’re left with a Zeus that brings to mind Foster Brooks crossed with the Dude and further crossed with John “Bluto” Blutarsky. But at least Foster Brooks, the Dude and Bluto were actually funny. Crowe’s Zeus is just sad. And deflating.

All you can do at this point is just cry in your over-priced Sno-Caps.

After the needless credit sequence scenes–yet another irritating, tiresome, ridiculous aspect of these comic book superhero movies–a movie should end with its ending, which occurs before and only before the final end credit sequence, which should be about the actual people who made the movie–“Thor: Love and Thunder” flashes an ominous message, one that’s far more scary, frightening, horrific and chilling as Gorr, Valdemort, the Emperor, the Borg, Sauron, the Conundrum, the Joker and Frankenstein’s monster: “Thor will return.”

Say it ain’t so. Perhaps some powerful movie god will intervene, invade the minds of Disney and Marvel executives, persuade them to change their minds, and cause them to instead intensely pore over and study the last twenty years’ worth of The New York Times novel bestseller lists, and subsequently prompt the immediate production of a slate of new, intellectual, insightful, literary-based dramatic movies that deeply explore the deeper issues of the day and of humankind.

Hope springs eternal.

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