Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder ★★★

The title that Taika Waititi chose for “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a good one; not only does it reflect the movie’s hard rock flavor (which is as much of a tribute to Guns N’ Roses as “Thor: Ragnarok” was to Led Zeppelin), it also speaks to the latest Marvel spectacle’s almost perfectly even split between raw emotionality and empty noise. Besides, the similarly accurate “Thor: More Thor” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though it might have been even better at articulating the air of “are we really doing this?” that hangs around the hunkiest Avengers’ fourth solo adventure.

Despite the film’s wit and geniality — and despite the himbo perfection of a Chris Hemsworth performance so refined and self-possessed that it single-handedly justifies the decision to build another blockbuster around it — “Love and Thunder” is clouded by its uncertain place in the universe from the moment it starts. And yet, the same thing could be said about Thor, whose mega-swole aimlessness mirrors that of his new movie in a way that sometimes allows this chapter of the MCU to feel more intimate and personal than many of the 28 installments that came before it. Even moving, on occasion.

To its mild peril — and my great relief — this “Thor” largely eschews the corporate synergism that has defined the MCU in the Disney+ era (a wild thing to say about a movie whose opening 20 minutes feel like deleted scenes from next May’s “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3”). Where “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” often felt like watching a mega-franchise play a Wordle with its own lore, “Love and Thunder” has little interest in rewriting history, relying on look what our lawyers did! crossovers, or requiring some janky streaming miniseries for context. For all of its callbacks and cameos, this is ultimately a character-driven story about an unkillable superhero who’s searching for new purpose in the wake of his greatest possible triumph, in the face of his gravest potential loss, and in the midst of his mega-franchise’s lucrative struggle to do the same.

Waititi’s film opens with the vengeance-obsessed villain (Christian Bale) clutching the body of his dead young daughter, diagnoses a major character with stage four cancer not long after that, and then sends Thor and his friends on a mystical journey to the center of the cosmos, the most poignant moments of which have more in common with “The Fountain” than anything in the MCU franchise. While any number of lives are at stake — human and god alike — “Love and Thunder” is persistently less about saving the world than it is about making peace with it. Or at least it wants to be.

~this review continues on IndieWire~