NEW YORK (CNS) — Tongue-in-cheek humor paces the vivid action in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Disney), the third direct sequel to the Marvel Comics-based franchise’s 2011 original.
While it makes for an aesthetically satisfying extension of the saga, however, the film pushes the series’ previous boundaries in a number of ways, making it unsuitable for any but grown moviegoers.
Via the script he wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, returning director Taika Waititi, who helmed the previous outing, presents the Norse deity of the title (Chris Hemsworth) with a formidable new adversary, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). A disillusioned former believer in the divinities of paganism, Gorr has obtained a magical sword capable of slaying them and has launched a killing spree targeting them.
In response, Thor rallies Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the sovereign of New Asgard, and another of his sidekicks, Korg (voice of Waititi), an anthropomorphized pile of rocks, to stop the villain. But his crusade takes an unexpected detour when he’s reunited with his true love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a human astrophysicist who now turns up as his female alter ego, wielding his trademark hammer.
Thor’s romance with Jane has been hampered by his fear of commitment in the past and continues to be hobbled by his amusingly excessive emotional neediness and endless desire for affirmation. Waititi and Robinson also garner laughs with material satirizing the series itself.
However, while some of the picture’s underlying values — exalting teamwork and the importance of enduring relationships — are straightforward enough, others range from the complex to the downright murky. What are viewers to make, for example, of early scenes showing the futility of Gorr’s faith, depicting humans as the playthings of the gods and denying the afterlife?
If all this applies only to the imaginary immortals of the ancient world, fair enough. But is the audience meant to apply Gorr’s bitter lesson to religion more broadly? The wrap-up eventually mitigates Gorr’s nihilism but not so decisively as to relieve moviegoers of the need to interpret his experience carefully.
The screenplay also includes some problematic elements of gender-bending and homosexuality. Thus Valkyrie, a lesbian, is referred to as the King, rather than the Queen of New Asgard.
Thor’s buff physique has long been both a drawing card and a subject of jokes for the franchise. Here, though, the comedy surrounding it veers briefly into bawdiness.
All told, this latest visit to the Marvel Cinematic Universe cannot be endorsed even for mature teens. That’s a shame because, so long as it sticks to its real job of diverting popcorn-munching movie patrons, “Thor: Love and Thunder” succeeds quite well.
The film contains frequent bloodless but sometimes intense battle violence, fleeting rear male nudity, some sexual humor, references to lesbianism, about a half-dozen mild oaths, several crude terms and at least one crass expression. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.