By Lynn Venhaus
The beguiling “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a sweet love story wrapped in a darker cosmic adventure and draped in Norse god mythology.
This flashy blend of heroics, heart and humor is sometimes too goofy to be taken seriously, but overall is an inspired take from director Taika Waititi, and that is reason enough to spring extra for the IMAX viewing.
But first and foremost, the enormously appealing Chris Hemsworth is back as the crown prince of Asgard being playful, very physical – and emotional. In the Summer of the Chris’, he might be having the best one (His comrades Chris Evans and Chris Pratt, although, are not being left in the dust).
Hemsworth has now played Thor in four stand-alone installments and in four Avengers films, and has made the role his signature. When we last saw the superhero in “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, he was having an existential crisis, and Hemworth’s comedic skills were used well.
In this chapter, Thor, interrupted in his retirement, enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to combat the galactic killer Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who intends to make the gods extinct. To Thor’s surprise, Jane wields his magical hammer, Mjolnir, as the Mighty Thor, and they must join forces to stop Gorr’s vengeance and save the multi-universe.
Picking up where “Avengers: Endgame” left off three years ago, Thor gets back in shape, going from “Dad bod to god bod” — and is shown meddling in the Guardians of the Galaxy’s quests, and hanging out in Asgard as this retired guy content to let the world pass him by. Naturally, duty calls, and so does his ex, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster, now battling cancer and wielding the enchanted hammer.
Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have a delightful chemistry together, and their scenes of tussling and reconnecting are sincere and sentimental. They make you believe in them – and care.
And as The Mighty Thor, Portman shows off her physicality. She’s able to meet the demands of the role with ebullience and grace.
Thor, the god of thunder, was turned into comic book gold by writer Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber and artist Jack Kirby in 1962, making his debut in Marvel’s “The Silver Age of Comic Books,” and #82 “Journey into Mystery.”
Now, 60 years later, the brawny do-gooder is an indispensable part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe treatments. The Kenneth Branagh-directed one started his story in 2011, followed by “The Dark World” sequel in 2013, then Waititi took over in “Thor: Ragnarok” in 2017 and now “Love and Thunder.”
Hemsworth plays up Thor’s strong, beefy, and boastful qualities, and always seems to let the audience in on the joke.
Multi-hyphenate Waititi, who won an Oscar for best original screenplay for “JoJo Rabbit” in 2020, is known as a writer for his cheeky and brazen humor, and injects a liveliness into his second Thor film, for which he wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson.
As a director, the New Zealander takes on quirky projects – see “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” for a surprisingly fun adventure – and as an actor, he’s stood out in a wide range of wacky characters. He might be best known for creating “What We Do in the Shadows,” now a wildly successful television series adaptation.
Waititi moves through a jumble of genres with ease. This installment of “Thor” actually straddles darkness and light rather deftly, but it is certainly a jolt to plunge into the creepy ink-black world of Gorr’s cruelty as he terrorizes kidnapped children.
So, while “Love and Thunder” is geared to be a family film, it has elements of horror, and can scare the young ones. They really push that PG-13 rating.
A gaunt and nearly unrecognizable Christian Bale is quite good as the sinister villain, bringing an interesting edge to the role. It’s a welcome return, for the Oscar-winning actor had planned not to do any more superhero movies after he finished playing the Caped Crusader in “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012, relented, and he makes his mark giving Gorr more dimension as a grief-stricken father.
The quality of the performances, with both Bale, Portman and even Russell Crowe being silly as Zeus, is indicative of their willingness to take risks and not rest on their golden Academy Awards statuettes.
The cast is up to the challenges, both in harrowing danger and in the “Team Thor” camaraderie – especially with Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie presiding over Asgard as the ruler, and Waititi voicing the giant hunk of stones Korg.
The zippy action-packed visual effects extravaganza is set to a very loud pulse-pounding classic rock score. After two hours and five minutes, it intriguingly leaves us wanting more with two surprising scenes during the end credits.
“Love and Thunder” whets our appetites for the future projects – what a fun reveal some recognizable people are – but satisfies as a rip-roaring, energetic, and entertaining stand-alone with a compelling story and fine performances.
But — those screaming goats are a bit much.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” is a 2022 action, adventure, fantasy film directed by Taika Waititi and stars Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Russell Crowe. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material, and partial nudity, and runs 2 hours, 5 minutes. Opens in theaters on July 8. Lynn’s Grade: B+
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.