The Marvel Cinematic Universe is out of time. Over the past two years, following near-catastrophic production delays, the MCU has been trying to bounce back, with varying degrees of success. Wanda Vision and Loki were boons for the Disney+ streaming service, and fanfiction Spider-Man: No Coming Home was a knockout during last year’s holiday season. And yet, the public did not know what to make of Eternalsthe heavily stylized Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness immediately split, the rest of Disney+’s Marvel lineup has been a series of misfires (Ms. Marvel notwithstanding) and Black Widow might as well not exist. The franchise seems to me to be in plague mode, trying to maintain some of the momentum in the three years since Avengers: Endgame closed out a saga while mostly directionless without the rudder of a long-teased big bad to tie this current phase together. To make matters worse, it all seems – and probably is – extremely rushed, with plots that seem cut from scraps with the panicked energy of a college exam cram session. The last episode, Taika Waititi’s lavish return to the Thor series with Thor: Love and Thunderdoesn’t make things better.
It’s been three years since we last met the God of Thunder, so let’s recap: after the Avengers’ success at the end of End of Game, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) joined the Guardians of the Galaxy for a hot minute, roaming the universe with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his band of renegades, reluctantly saving alien civilizations from evil with a wave of his mighty ax Stormbreaker lightning bolt. Other than that, Thor doesn’t quite know what to do with himself, his One Punch Man divine ability to defeat his foes to the beat of whatever rock anthem playing at the time becomes stale. Thor needs a purpose, and he is very quickly given one in the form of Gorr the Butcher God (Christian Bale), an ancient supplicant now in possession of the deadly Necrosword and his shadow monster minions, and the desire to erase all gods from the face of the cosmos.
But Thor isn’t the only Thor in this movie. After the Jason Aaron arc Mighty Thor comics, we reunite with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s physicist ex-girlfriend who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Determined to find a cure, Jane summons the hammer Mjolnir and is granted the powers of Thor, a cool outfit, blonde extensions, and the appearance of divine health. Along with Thor, their ally Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), comedic rocker Korg (Waititi), and a pair of giant screaming goats, the team sets out to defeat Gorr and save a cage full of stolen Asgardian children. But Mjolnir’s gift comes at a price: each time Jane uses the hammer, her real body weakens, bringing her closer and closer to death.
There’s a lot of expectation on Waititi after almost single-handedly revitalizing the MCU with Thor: Ragnaroka sequin heavy metal riff on a superhero story based on a Norse legend, with an unrelenting rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack and a refreshingly ironic sense of humor. It’s one of the best in the MCU, so Waititi’s return to the franchise was expected. love and thunder has just as many, if not more, advantages: a compelling arc straight out of a hugely popular comic book series, an all-star cast well accustomed to this type of blockbuster genre cinema, and the formidable power of the one of the largest entertainment film production studios in the world. And yet, something seems to have gone wrong.
It’s not that love and thunder is wrong. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, and never boring, with enough flash to hold the attention of even fans who have drifted away from the franchise. An interlude where our heroes meet Zeus, an overbearing and smoothing deity played by a raspy Russell Crowe with a hysterical “Greek accent”, is particularly brilliant, as is a climactic fight scene set in a black-and-white kingdom whose only color comes from the light inside various magic weapons while the rest looks like a chapter of city of sin. There’s a vision here, but the vision is so muddled by what must have been a frustrating, nightmarish production.
I was obviously not on the set of Thor: Love and Thunder, so I have no idea how anything happened. But this movie has the same anxious, rushed quality as pretty much everything Marvel has released in the last couple of years, desperately trying to get back on some sort of schedule. It’s this very schedule that seems to give this studio any chance of doing something really, incredibly awesome, because nobody working on these projects has time to think about anything they’re doing before they start. desperate to shoot whatever they’ve got. love and thunder is poorly paced, green screen oblivion (staying until the unsatisfactory end-credits scene will allow audiences to see how Marvel’s visual effects budget is now outsourced to an endless stream of tiny VFX houses ), and the constant dribbling of jokes and jabs undermines any attempt to draw an emotional arc, leaving what should be an extremely tragic final moment to feel like just another scene in an exhausting series of scenes.
It’s infuriating to see this kind of product coming from a group of people who have all the ability to do better, and who have done it. Hemsworth stays hilarious, circling around everyone during the requisite banter. Waititi has proven time and time again that he can deftly marry humor with heartbreaking pathos (go watch Wilderpeople Hunt if you don’t believe me). Portman’s return to the show is welcome, though by the end of it she seems set on it. That lack of time is far from the MCU’s only problem (these movies’ awkward lack of sex is a topic that comes up every time a new one comes out), but for now, it seems to be the most pressing. and the most ruinous. The God of Thunder may be back in action, but the MCU is fast running out of juice.
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