“If God exists,” my mom once told the teenage me, “He’s a son of a bitch.”
She changed this assessment dramatically within a few years (when I was still a teen). If she were still alive, I imagine she would say this occurred after she opened her heart to God and came to know and love Him. Given her nature, this didn’t stop her from getting frustrated and angry with life and, yes, with Him at times. But, at her core, she maintained for the rest of her life a strong faith not only in God, but in God’s love.
This might seem a strange way to start a review of “Thor: Love and Thunder” (PG-13, 125 minutes, opens July 7 in theaters). The fourth movie in the “Thor” series starring Chris Hemsworth in the title role, “Love and Thunder” is as goofy as the previous entry, 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Goofy in a good way.
That’s no great surprise, given both films were directed by the comic genius Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows”).
But there’s more to Waititi than his gift for comedy. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” for instance, is uproarious, but its story, about the struggles of a young foster kid, is also heartbreaking at times. Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” blends humor and real-life horror as it depicts a young boy in World War II Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi).
Now we have “Thor: Love and Thunder,” a superhero movie that, like its predecessor and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, is refreshing in that it doesn’t take itself seriously. Yet, we learn Thor’s ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has Stage 4 cancer and is receiving chemotherapy, with slim hopes of survival. And the film opens with a man (Christian Bale) having his young daughter die in his arms.
Cancer and the death of a child: not exactly the stuff that brings big yuks.
Clearly, Waititi, who also wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, isn’t just interested in laughs. While presenting a story that’s overwhelmingly funny, the filmmaker slyly considers whether seemingly senseless tragedy can coexist with a caring God (or, here at least, gods); whether there is an afterlife; how we should live our lives when so much seems confusing or uncertain. As for the last of these, Waititi suggests that, no matter what, the answer is always to fight the good fight.
Not a bad message.
The man whose daughter dies, furious with the gods, becomes Gorr the God Butcher. Armed with a powerful sword and a mission of vengeance, Gorr seeks to make the gods – including Thor – extinct. Joining forces to stop Gorr are Thor, Jane (sick, but now wearing Thor garb and wielding Thor’s famous hammer), warrior king Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and rock-pile gladiator Korg (voice of Waititi).
Waititi slips in one funny bit after another. Characters keep getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, for instance: She’s called “Jane Fonda” and “Jodie Foster” at various points. There are some amusing cameos (I won’t spoil them by revealing by whom), and Russell Crowe makes the most of his role as a flamboyant Zeus, who is “famous for his entrances.” Badass Valkyrie sports a black “Phantom of the Opera” T-shirt. Hemsworth plays Thor with a comically fragile ego and a certain level of obliviousness.
It’s all in the service of fun. Waititi likes to have fun, while also making us think. And that’s the case with the latest “Thor.” ***½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.