Grade:  B/B-
Rated PG-13

As with the James Bond franchise, the tone of superhero films can vary significantly depending on who’s directing. Kenneth Branagh was no doubt hired to direct Thor in 2011 so he could put his own quirky stamp on the Marvel character, which turned out to be a brooding Adonis; meanwhile, Alan Taylor’s TV background (Lost, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Deadwood) was reflected in the action intensity and darker tone of Thor: The Dark World (2013). When Taika Waititi was hired to direct Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and a sequel, you knew the series was moving away from the darkness and into the light . . . and, as it turns out, lighter.

With humor, you never know when you cross the line until you actually step over it.  Director John Glen did so with the pre-title sequence to the Bond film A View to a Kill when he turned a ski chase scene into a one-ski snowboarding adventure with a Beach Boys surfing song playing in the background. And Marvel fans might think that director Taika Waititi did so by including more silly gags and comic dialogue in Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) than he did in Ragnarok.

It’s Waititi’s own fault, really, because he created such a tough act to follow. Thor: Ragnarok earned a 93 percent “fresh” rating from critics and an 87 from the audience at Rotten Tomatoes. Though he’s been a consistent master of subtlety when it comes to infusing serious topics with humor, as he did with his masterwork Jojo Rabbit (2019), maybe Waititi felt he had to push his Thor sequel even further into the broadly comic atmosphere of the Guardians of the Galaxy films to keep the franchise moving forward. And yeah, Love and Thunder gets pretty silly at times, which is why critics gave it their lowest mark (64/100) since The Dark World (66/100). Audiences, however, who liked this one in spite of the silliness. So did our family.

Chris Hemsworth got so buff for this fourth installment and is so comfortable with the comedy his character brings to the film (some of it intentional, some of it unintentional) that his performance is worth watching over and over. So is Natalie Portman’s return as scientist and love-interest Jane Foster, and Christian Bale’s unique and frightening portrayal of Gorr, the last of his race after their god allows his daughter to die. In a perverse alternate universe Sword in the Stone way, a “Necrosword” rises up from the ground just as Gorr is about to be killed by his god. Instead, he does the killing. And his grief and hatred drive him to go on a killing rampage targeting gods everywhere.

It becomes Thor’s job to stop him and save the children of New Asgard, with some help from Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (voiced by Waititi), and Jane, who has “bonded” with Thor’s hammer. Russell Crowe also appears as Zeus (yep, Olympus and the Greek gods also get into the act). Except for a few zigzagging, screaming space goats (I’m serious), the plot itself is straightforward enough so that viewers can enjoy the elaborate scenic construction, action sequences, and special effects without a whole lot of head-scratching. And then, of course, there’s the humor, which sometimes gets in the way of the dramatic action. You do get used to it, though, and it adds more to the film than it detracts.

As Hollywood tries to usher the movie-going public into the 21st century, some have thundered (and will continue to thunder) over the brief, non-demonstrative love felt by LGBTQ+ characters (yes, plural) in this film. And those whose faith is easily shaken might find it unsettling that the opening sequence features a god laughing at a worshipper for putting faith in them and expecting an eternal reward in return, when, the god says, none exists. But one of the film’s ultimate messages is that life does go on after death. So maybe lighten up? After all, Waititi did.

Entire family:  No (10 and older?)
Run time:  119 min. Color
Aspect ratio:  2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features:  B+ (nice extras on Waititi and the three stars)
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital Code
Best Buy link
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity

Language:  3/10—A euphemistic “frickin’” and around two dozen other swearwords, plus that orgy talk

Sex: 3/10—Thor is shown completely naked from the rear in a non-romantic scene, and in other scenes he and Jane kiss a number of times; Zeus and others talk about an orgy

Violence: 6/10—The action sequences are intense, with the ante upped because children are involved (and that means point-of-view identification); monsters are beheaded (though the blood is purple), a woman is bloodied in battle, blood from a monster spurts all over, there are major battles, and gods are killed (which kind of puts a dagger into the whole immortality thing)

Adult situations:  3/10—There is celebratory drinking of beer, wine, and a reference to drinking mead, plus that orgy talk

Takeaway: Already Thor has more stand-alone films than other superheroes in the Marvel Universe, but with Avengers: Secret Wars already announced for 2025, another Thor film probably won’t be forthcoming until 2028 at the earliest