How Humor Gets In The Way of Thor: Love And Thunder
As I return to writing on this site, I come back with another Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It seems appropriate considering I once proclaimed, “I promise this isn’t just a MCU” blog…and it is not; it just might seem that way at times. In my defense, it felt like these movies, flaws and all, were made for me…perhaps more accurately they were made for that little kid spending God knows how much of his parents’ money at the comic book shop. That said, I cannot help but to feel underwhelmed by Phase 4 (Spider-Man: No Way Home, “Wandavision,” and “Ms. Marvel” being exceptions). This leads us to this newest installment. If someone were to ask me what I think of Thor: Love and Thunder, I would have to tell them that it is a movie that is ultimately a disappointing failure.
This is not an objectively bad movie. On the contrary, it is perfectly fine in most categories in which a film should be judged. An awfully good cast is assembled here with the standouts being a returning Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster/The Mighty Thor and the incredibly menacing Christian Bale as Gorr, The God Butcher. It would be really difficult to dislike a character with a name like this, to be honest. The visual effects have been much maligned and possibly newsworthy given the apparent reasons for this [Note: I’m waiting for a more reputable source to come out before saying anything more] , but there truly are some amazing visuals and, yes, CGI set pieces, particularly toward the climactic showdown. I found most of the actual action to be fun and I am a sucker for all the Guns N’ Roses used in the duration of the runtime.
So, with all of what I said, why does Thor: Love and Thunder not work? Many people are pointing to the comedy and for me, they are on the right track. I say this as a Taika Waititi fan and as someone who enjoys Thor: Ragnarok: most of the jokes fall flat for me. This is subjective, of course, but the sheer volume of jokes being hurled at us feels like the filmmakers seeing what would stick against the wall (an odd repeating jealous weapon bit, an argument over a name that lasts far too long given the situation). I could not help looking at my watch an hour in and wonder how I was only at the halfway mark, especially with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Darcy landing with thuds in the first act. More importantly, I began to wonder if the movie would actually make me care about anything at all. That is the crux to it all right there: this film failed to make me care. We have been with the Thor character since 2011. Gorr has a compelling and sympathetic backstory. And Jane…well, if you know me, you would know that her story hits close to home. This should be a piece of cake, especially as I am such an easy mark for these movies.
Then why does so little of it matter? Some may place the blame with Gorr’s objective, but that is not the problem for me. All the emotion we need to connect is all right there in the film. The issue is that the jokes betray nearly every moment of meaning, particularly between Jane and Thor. For example, as the two Thors are alone having a private moment, they are interrupted by a sound and we are taken away from the moment to two supporting characters’ banter only to return to where we were. The moment of awkwardness can certainly remain, but the only thing the cut away accomplishes is taking us out of the scene. Nothing is allowed to breathe nor sink in. We are not given the chance to linger with dread nor sweetness. As soon as we begin to register something that resembles a feeling, the film cuts away and/or a joke is told that undermines the whole moment. This changes at the very end, but it is far too late at that point. I wanted to be drawn in. I wanted to care. Instead, I found myself reacting along the lines of less than eloquent, “oh, that’s cool,” or, “well, that sucks.” For the filmmakers, it seems to be far more important for me to be laughing for two hours from the scattershot jokes being told every other second. The problem is that I did not laugh nearly as much as they wanted me to laugh. In fact, admitting even as much as an occasional chuckle would be a stretch.
Without being able to connect emotionally with anything in the film due to overuse of failing humor, Thor: Love and Thunder becomes a forgettable spectacle. This might be enough for some viewers and I am happy for them. For me, it is not the worst film I have ever seen, but it also is not a film I can enjoy, despite some positives in its favor, nor is it one I will be revisiting any time soon. Unfortunately, I cannot quite turn my brain off to let this one slide. If the characters barely care half of the time, why should I care at all?