What to Watch Verdict
Thor: Love and Thunder is packed with love and unleashes its mighty thunder with all the colorful personality we've come to appreciate from Taika Waititi's films.
Natalie Portman owns Jane's journey
Whimsical and goofy, but also sincere
Chris Hemsworth becomes the best version of Thor yet
Taika Waititi's voice shines through
Silliness can undercut seriousness in choice moments
Ambitious storytelling means a fair bit of jumping around
Reverts back to Marvel's "lack-of-stakes" feel
Thor: Love and Thunder is an energetic rock n' roll spectacle that blasts Taika Waititi's personality out of amplifiers dialed to 11. Marvel continues empowering its filmmakers' creative ownership over their entries, as the movie showcases even more free reign than Waititi exhibited in Thor: Ragnarok.
Chasing Sam Raimi's horror-centric Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness with Waititi's cosmic mythology proves how few Marvel movies are created equal, especially these days. Thor's return blares Guns N' Roses hits to set the mood, feels the sincerest tingles of love and brings the so-called thunder often to satiate many an evildoer's appetite for destruction.
Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, Son of Odin, currently trying to fill the hole left by his lost family. He's summoned back to New Asgard when Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) unleashes shadow demons on the slumbering townsfolk, but is dumbfounded to find Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) has a new warrior ally. Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) now wields Mjolnir as The Mighty Thor after hearing the hammer's call post-Stage IV cancer diagnosis. Thor must navigate his unresolved feelings for Jane and Gorr's wake of slain gods if he's to save the New Asgardian children Gorr has kidnapped. But will jealousy or awkwardness ruin his and Jane's unexpected reunion?
Waititi and co-story creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson are pulling from Greecian epics, sappy romantic comedies, kaleidoscope-colored interstellar psychedelics and other artistic influences in this ambitious tale. Although, it's less about Thor himself than Thor and Jane Foster.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a tragedy at its core that's still brimming with vitality, excitement and Waititi's good-vibes goofiness in what could be the best representation of Thor to this point. Moments of loss and defeat are still imbued with the counterbalance of introspection and hope, which is what Waititi seems to do best. He's a bit like Guillermo del Toro, finding brightness in the macabre and smiles amidst our darkest battles.
The return of Natalie Portman and new additions like Christian Bale as Gorr and Russell Crowe as Zeus means Thor: Love and Thunder is overflowing with splendid performances. Hemsworth's evolution into Waititi's manifestation of a heavy metal van mural who's a himbo barrel of laughs but deathly serious when protecting those he loves has reached its fullest form — that's expected. Portman's conquering of Marvel's Mighty Thor arc as Jane Foster is mighty indeed, as she meets Hemsworth's meaty man-god eye to eye in fantastical combat and through meaningful conversations.
Same for Bale's pale representation of Gorr as his Necrosword infects a grieving man driven by divine rage or Crowe's flamboyant Italian-whatever representation of Zeus, who's a shiny-golden hoot whenever he's on screen. The likes of Tessa Thompson and Waititi as Korg are as strong in presence as we remember, with newcomers only adding to the potency of the ensemble.
Where recent Marvel entries can feel inundated by an overload of CGI landscapes and creatures, Thor: Love And Thunder is as bright and opulent as driving across Mario Kart's Rainbow Road. Everything from Barry Baz Idoine's swooping cinematography to Michael Giacchino's bombastic score accentuates the epic space rocker operatics of Waititi's ambitions. Whether that's as Thor teams with Star Lord's (Chris Pratt) Guardians of the Galaxy against an army of owl-punk maniacs while "Welcome To The Jungle" plays or when Gorr subdues Thor, Jane and Valkyrie using inky tentacles under the greyscale nightshades of his black-and-white shadow realm.
There's so much thought put into details beyond typical Marvel mechanics — smash and blast action beats and narratives that think too far ahead — as Waititi fulfills studio obligations but on his signature terms. He'll give us Asgardian combat, but in a wholesome, still electric way as Thor imparts Stormbreaker's powers into weapons held by a horde of children who then charge behind Thor into a skirmish against Gorr's tar-colored minions. Stuffed bunny rabbits blasting lightning bolts that incinerate nasty beasties is so Waititi; and that's just a taste.
It's the highest compliment to say Thor: Love And Thunder isn't a Marvel movie; it's a Taika Waititi movie. Marvel sometimes struggled to let filmmakers shine, like how Captain Marvel or Thor: The Dark World don't have any identifiable flourishes. Perhaps the MCU has learned over time that their entries only benefit from letting the James Gunns and Sam Raimis of Hollywood bring every ounce of their essence into their films, which Waititi fearlessly does in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Waititi's wacky sense of humor translates into one of the MCU's funniest gags between Thor, Stormbreaker and Mjölnir (Thor sees his "ex" with another wielder); worldly inclusivity is on full display. Marvel's latest adventure thrives because Waititi's allowed to tell the type of tale he's best at handling, whether he wants to include Thor's gigantic goat companions or present a Marvel villain that's far more complicated than the norm who egotistically thirst for world domination.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a warm hug of dazzling cosmic Marvel sights and wackadoo attitudes that kicks tons of ink-blotty butt. It's worthy of Thor's Asgardian epicness but not overpowering enough to diminish the emotional richness of subplots that are vastly more human than eternal. Its messages don't need to be more complicated than "love trumps hate" or "fight for yourself because your gods don't care" because Waititi's grandiose execution shoots straight as an arrow.
It might be a Marvel victory, but it's impossible not to acknowledge Waititi's importance beyond generic oversight. As long as the studio keeps hiring individuals who are confident in their tactics, Marvel — and audiences — will keep benefitting from franchise entries that feel standalone and incomparable instead of churned out on an assembly line.
Thor: Love and Thunder releases in movie theaters around the world on July 8 (early screenings starting on July 7). Tickets for Thor: Love and Thunder are now available.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.