In the early days of the modern superhero film—let’s say roughly 2008, around the time of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight—it was heresy to suggest that characters adapted from comic books were kids’ stuff. No, these were serious adult demigods, steeped in mythology as laid out by Joseph Campbell, worthy of our admiration and study. From that point on, it would never be time to put away childish things. We could keep them with us, always, even long after we became moms in tunic tops and bearded dads in long shorts.
We’re still in the era of comic-book superheroes as adult totems, but now that so many of our moviegoing dollars are being funneled into cinematic universes drawn from comic books, the wisdom seems to be that we also need a few things geared specially toward kids. Enter Thor: Love and Thunder, the second Thor movie to be directed by Taika Waititi and the fourth Marvel Thor standalone overall. Chris Hemsworth again plays the musclebound god of thunder, whose weapon of choice used to be a tiny but mighty hammer named Mjollnir, now broken; it has since been replaced by an ax named Stormbreaker, which was instrumental in almost bringing down big bad glove daddy Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, but never mind that.
As Love and Thunder opens, Thor is traveling the galaxy with the Guardians of the Galaxy crew. Meanwhile, the love of his life, the woman who broke his Nordic-god heart, astrophysicist Jane Porter (Natalie Portman), is back on Earth. She now sports an Instagram-mom haircut—no one can avoid the vagaries of aging. But she’s also dying of cancer, which is hardly fun. Suddenly, she remembers the power of Mjollnir, and she knows just where to find its broken pieces. She travels to Thor’s rebuilt home territory, New Asgard, now an amusement park, where…she does something, we don’t see what. Next thing we know, she has been transformed into a muscular she-Thor with flowing blond tresses, and Mjollnir has transferred its loyalty, once reserved for Thor, to her.
Other stuff happens. The chief threat to Thor and his fellow gods is the highly unfun Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), formerly a desert-dweller—at this point Waititi nods to New Zealand’s Maori heritage—who believes wholeheartedly in the power of the gods but who loses his faith after his young daughter dies. Now, he’s a powerful being with golden eyes and a sad, rough cloak, wielding a thingie called the Necrosword. His goal: destroy all the gods. In the meantime, he kidnaps the children of New Asgard, chiefly so he can terrorize them and Thor can empower them. At some point, Jane as she-Thor appears before him, and he’s practically speechless. He pretends not to care, but of course, we see through it all. Here and there, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie struts or flies through, fabulously, on her winged horse, making us wish she’d gotten more attention for her astonishing performance in Rebecca Hall’s Passing, but never mind.
Thor: Love and Thunder is packed with gags and jokes, advertising itself so loudly as “Fun!” that it ceases to actually be fun. This is the way with Waititi, a gifted director who, now that he’s no longer required to wield a light touch, seems to have forgotten how to do so. (He also appears, in spirit at least, as the voice of Thor’s right-hand pal Korg.) The effects are broad and flat and colorful, and like most modern computer-generated visuals, do little to inspire wonder: when you can create anything you want with manufactured images, these highly manipulated moving pictures end up being a big yawn. We’ve reached that point. There are big, extravagant battles, if that’s what you’re after. And, most notably, this Thor seems to be largely aimed at kids: The kidnaped New Asgard kiddies have been sealed in a cave by the ballbreaking God Butcher, but Thor is able to appear to them via telepathy, at one point delivering a rousing St. Crispin’s Day–style speech to get them ready for battle. Waititi, a smartie, may be thinking that it’s never too early to get the youngsters hooked on Shakespeare.
But for grownups—or at least for me—Thor: Love and Thunder is a big snore. Waititi does toss in some snazzy cameos. The god of surprise—Spoileus?—forbids me from revealing their names, but they include an acting icon of the 1990s (and somewhat beyond) in a tiny chiffon skirt and a good-natured, well-liked Hollywood figure who specializes in all-American wholesomeness. It’s amusing when they show up, though the novelty wears off quickly. At the very least, there’s Hemsworth, who gets to play one of the least self-serious Marvel heroes and knows how to have fun with it. With his slicked-up pectorals and summer-of-love tresses, he’s the spirit of Jovan Musk Oil in Norse god form. But also totally SFW.
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