REVIEW: Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)

Let us talk briefly about bathos. Most people are generally familiar with its homonym pathos, which is an act of persuading an audience via an appeal to their emotions. It describes the technique of most drama, with an artist deliberately choosing a combination of words, tones, and aesthetics to generated a deliberate effect. Bathos was a term first coined by Alexander Pope in the 18th century, and basically refers to pathos gone horribly wrong. It indicates a sudden shift from the sublime to the ridiculous, or a puncturing of an emotionally effective scene with something inappropriate and silly.

While invented as a negative term, it is possible to intentionally generate bathos; indeed such an effect would seem the cornerstone of satire. Writer/director Taika Waititi makes tremendous use of it in his 2019 feature film Jojo Rabbit, which takes a very serious subject matter – a child growing up in Nazi Germany – and undercuts the seriousness with humour. It is a deftly written and directed film, because Waititi balances making the Nazis an object of ridicule while maintaining the underlying and genuine menace that they represented. He attempts the abrupt shifts of comedy and drama again in his new Marvel Studios sequel Thor: Love & Thunder. In this case it seems disastrously unsuccessful. The balance is all wrong, for one thing. Rather than puncture a drama with pointed jokes, he has created a ridiculous comedy with added genocide and terminal illness. The dramatic and comedic elements simply do not mix well; none of the more serious elements feel earned, and none of the humorous bits can be taken seriously. The film curdles.

Waititi took a similar approach with his previous Thor film Ragnarok, which I disliked mainly for the cavalier manner in which the film assassinated established character traits to make jokes of them – as well as the sacrificing of the perfect-for-adaptation Incredible Hulk comic arc “Planet Hulk” in the name of self-parody. He does much of the same here, in this case the comic storyline being Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s “The God Butcher”. It is not a funny story, but Waititi (and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) certainly tries to make it one.

The film picks up after the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Thor (Chris Hensworth) travelling with the Guardians of the Galaxy – an extended multi-actor cameo that adds little to the film bar running time. When he discovers an alien named Gorr (Christian Bale) is travelling the universe murdering gods, he rushes to New Asgard to protect his people only to find a new Thor (Natalie Portman) defending them.

It should be noted that Portman is great in this, bringing back her character Dr Jane Foster from earlier Thor films and filling her with a new purpose. Similarly great is Christian Bale as Gorr, with a interesting take on what could easily have been a one-dimensional villain (rarely Marvel’s strong suit). Both ultimately seem wasted. Chris Hemsworth is honestly appearing to run on automatic when playing Thor. His character has been reduced to comedy bits and stereotypes now; earlier films – even the widely loathed Thor: The Dark World did better.

There are comedy elements that work wonderfully, but there are also ones that fall flat – and even ones lazily duplicated from Ragnarok. The novelty, for example, of a giant rock monster who calls people ‘bro’ in a New Zealand accent, has very much overstayed its welcome. So has Matt Damon’s cameo performance as a bad Asgardian actor.

The film is overloaded with CGI, to such an extent that it looks worse than Marvel productions released more than a decade ago. The narrative feels sloppy and thrown together. Nothing gels. No dramatic beat feels earned. Scenes that should feel emotionally effective are thrown on the screen without care or precision. It is all so blithely tossed into a pile that the question is ultimately how Love & Thunder will be remembered: as a film half-filled with terrible ideas that are embarrassing to sit through, or as a film half-filled with great ideas and good characters – all randomly thrown away.

Marvel Studios have made some underwhelming and poor features in the past, but this may be their first genuinely awful picture. The hard-core fans may love it, but they are fooling themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.