Thirty minutes into the heartfelt silliness of Thor: Love and Thunder, a comparison dawned on me that clarified why I enjoyed this week’s new film so much: In 14 years of Marvel Studios films, the company has never as successfully made an homage to Jim Henson as this.
At its most madcap, Love and Thunder giddily honors the likes of Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show in terms of a rogue’s gallery of goofballs and kiddos chewing up the film’s gilded, Technicolor scenery. And at its darkest, it feels like a direct descendant of Labyrinth, as its villainy combines no-holding-back ruthlessness with some impressively staged shadow realms.
Most importantly, co-stars Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth nail the film’s titular L-word in remarkable fashion. This action film knows that it’s smothering a slab of rom-com peanut butter with ridiculous superhero-stakes chocolate, and the film’s leads dance around this fact mostly in joking fashion while still threading the needle of building a believable, finale-clinching connection. (Comparing the results to Kermit and Miss Piggy would short-shrift their incredible work to some extent, yet the comparison also kind of makes sense, once you see the movie.)
Getting out of muscle-first stupor
In 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, writer/director Taika Waititi put his quirky stamp on the otherwise drab Avengers-offshoot series about all things Asgard. But that film’s shift toward amped-up humor, amusing as it was, was also hamstrung by a few things: a touchy relationship between Thor and his brother Loki and an omnipresent Marvel Studios need to keep the Infinity Stones boulder tumbling forward.
Four years later, freed from those constraints, Waititi gets to pick and choose how to tell a new, post-Endgame story about Thor. And it’s a rousing success, right up there with the filmmaker’s legendary 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Hemsworth begins the film as an overbearing, pompous Thor. The Asgardian hero of legend has emerged from his Endgame hangover with an aimless sense of duty, fulfilled by joining the Guardians of the Galaxy and mindlessly shooting at their targets. It’s not really working out, and a chance encounter sees the Guardians excusing themselves from Thor’s muscle-first stupor—but not before reminding him that their interstellar conquests would be meaningless if their crew didn’t care about each other.