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Is Thor: Love and Thunder a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The official review embargo for the film has lifted and while critics are certainly charmed by the quirky and vibrant charm of director/co-writer Taika Waititi, they can't help but feel that Thor's fourth outing can't quite reach the same dizzying heights of 2017's Ragnarok. Even so, there's plenty to love here — from a wealth of colorful visuals, to a truly unsettling antagonist, to a rockin' soundtrack chock full of Guns N' Roses needle drops.
We've seen the movie and it feels a lot like Marvel's answer to Shazam!, in that it focuses on the divine side of its comic book mythos and isn't afraid to dip its toes into the world of horror. As of this writing, Love and Thunder holds a fresh 71 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the third-highest score out of the Thor series thus far. For context, The Dark World holds a 66 percent rating.
Set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, the film finds the God of Thunder (once again played to perfection by Chris Hemsworth) going on all sorts of cosmic adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy. His stint with the ragtag bunch is cut short when a heretical villain by the name of Gorr (Christian Bale) starts slaughtering gods with the help of a weapon called the Necrosword. Despite a rather persuasive argument about deity-based apathy, Gorr must be stopped and Thor joins forces with Korg (Waititi, who shares screenplay credit with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson), King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and his old flame — a newly-powered Jane Foster (Natalie Portman returning to the MCU for the first time in almost a decade) — to save the day.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige produced the feature alongside Kevin Feige and Brad Winderbaum. Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Brian Chapek, Todd Hallowell, and Chris Hemsworth are executive producers. Russell Crowe rounds out the cast as the cocky and thunderbolt-wielding ruler of Mount Olympus, Zeus.
***WARNING! The following contains mild spoilers for the film!***
"The climactic battle, with its shadow monsters, its children caught in the cross-hairs, and its all-for-one exuberance, has a tingly grandeur, and by the end I felt something unusual enough to feel at a Marvel movie that it seemed almost otherworldly: I was moved. Moved by how two Thors could come together to love each other and to save the universe. I like plenty of Marvel movies just fine, but they are what they are, and what they are is products. This one has enough wide-eyed boldness and shimmer to earn the designation of fairy tale." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety
"Sure, fans will be delighted to see Chris Pratt and the Guardians of the Galaxy crew turn up in an early battle, plus there are some mildly moving interludes between Hemsworth and Portman as Jane’s health becomes more compromised with each swing of the hammer. And one of the obligatory end-credits sequences will tantalize followers of Ted Lasso. But right down to a sentimental ending that seems designed around 'Sweet Child O’ Mine,' the movie feels weightless, flippant, instantly forgettable, sparking neither love nor thunder." -David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
"While there might be complaints about the film's pacing or weaker first half, Thor: Love and Thunder recaptured exactly what charmed me about these MCU movies. I never once rolled my eyes at a joke that was clearly dropped in, so it could be a zinger and make it to the trailer. It successfully silenced a rather jaded MCU fan by offering a story that had it all without having to sacrifice its soul to the MCU machine that is eager to churn out stories for future phases." Therese Lacson, Collider
"The movie suffers from none of the self-seriousness or draggy exposition of other Marvel outings, even when its patchwork plot feels stuck together with rainbows and chewing gum. (And so much Guns N' Roses — Axl Rose is essentially the spirit animal of this soundtrack). Even in Valhalla or Paradise City, though, there is still love and loss; Thor dutifully delivers both, and catharsis in a climax that inevitably doubles as a setup for the next installment. More and more, this cinematic universe feels simultaneously too big to fail and too wide to support the weight of its own endless machinations. None of it necessarily makes any more sense in Waititi's hands, but at least somebody's having fun." -Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"Love and Thunder feels like the MCU movie most decisively aimed at young children: the jokes are simple, inelegant, and repetitive, it’s hardly scary or too exciting, and the pace is relentless enough that your tot won’t get bored in the theater. Plus, it’s a film about our heroes learning to become parents of a sort, which really clicks once you realize the twentysomethings who grew up watching Iron Man have kids of their own now. Love and Thunder is the movie those moms and dads are taking their kids to now, and it feels frustratingly dumbed down as a result." -Clint Worthington, The Spool
"It’s a movie about midlife crisis that feels like you’re watching one in action, with its gourmet gods, glorious intergalactic biker-chicken battle, and Guns N’ Roses galore (the ‘November Rain’ solo is deployed perfectly). And come the closing reel, when the true meaning of its title is unveiled, it leaves our hero in a place so sweet and surprising, you’ll be truly moved. It’s a Taika Waititi movie, then — we could watch his cinematic guitar solos all day." -Ben Travis, Empire
"The first thing to know is that this film is enormous fun. As he did in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Waititi brings his distinct voice to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's cookie-cutter franchise. His formula balances a tongue-in-cheek tone with adventure, prizing wit over action; a relief from Marvel's more sombre instalments. (Doctor Strange has his qualities but he's not a witty sort.) In Love and Thunder, Waititi injects more emotion than in Ragnarok and goes for weightier themes, about nihilism and belief, love and death. The themes may be half-baked, but they exist." -Caryn James, BBC
"For grownups — or at least for me — Thor: Love and Thunder is a big snore. Waititi does toss in some snazzy cameos. The god of surprise —Spoileus?— forbids me from revealing their names, but they include an acting icon of the 1990s (and somewhat beyond) in a tiny chiffon skirt and a good-natured, well-liked Hollywood figure who specializes in all-American wholesomeness. It’s amusing when they show up, though the novelty wears off quickly. At the very least, there’s Hemsworth, who gets to play one of the least self-serious Marvel heroes and knows how to have fun with it. With his slicked-up pectorals and summer-of-love tresses, he’s the spirit of Jovan Musk Oil in Norse god form. But also totally SFW." -Stephanie Zacharek, TIME
"The problem with Love and Thunder is that it seems to reflect this identity crisis while pretending to solve it. The story begins to splutter with some perfunctory, poorly executed scenes of Thor tagging along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, allowing Chris Pratt, David Bautista, Karen Gillan and others to cash a quick paycheck. Things improve a bit once the action shifts to New Asgard, the bucolic Norwegian town/tourist trap where Thor’s fellow surviving Asgardians have relocated, but even here, the action bogs down in look-at-who-we-got cameos and product placements that are sometimes disguised as jokes about product placements." -Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times
"Overall, the most encouraging moment might actually come during a mid-closing-credit sequence, which hints at a more promising plot for a fifth movie to come, with the standard pledge that 'Thor will return.' When it comes to Marvel fare hope tends to spring eternal. Yet given the lag time between these massive undertakings it's disappointing having to pin one's hopes on the next phase. Still, Thor: Love and Thunder essentially sets up that scenario, with a movie that's muscular and handsome but at its best sporadically likeable, and even harder to love." -Brian Lowry, CNN
"There is more than enough magic, music and muscle to go around — everybody’s so ripped, Love and Thunder often seems like a Frank Frazetta painting come to life. Waititi is equally adept at crafting the MCU’s answer to Flash Gordon with Ragnarok or delivering defining, dazzling work such as Jojo Rabbit. And here he gives us a surprisingly personal superhero jam with extraordinary depth, infusing the delightfully fizzy narrative with queer characters, religious themes and a compelling conversation about the differences between mythic gods and all-powerful good guys." -Brian Truitt, USA Today
"Love and Thunder is still funny (you just won’t believe how much mileage Waititi can get out of screaming goats), and its action is exciting in the way comic book splash panels traditionally are, with a standout segment in Sin City-esque black-and-white that feels like Waititi thumbing the nose of critics who argue Marvel’s movies are grotesquely colorless. But in a movie obsessed with Guns N' Roses needle drops, Love and Thunder can’t find a singular, original rhythm of its own. Hemsworth is still a mighty presence, proving he’s the resulting mix of Steve Martin’s cornball comedy and a gallon of creatine." -Eric Francisco, Inverse
"Hemsworth and Portman generate a magnetic rapport, whether they’re super-peers or just two very busy people trying to work out a relationship. (Their pre-breakup flashbacks are among the highlights here, with an ABBA song that hits harder than any of Slash’s guitar licks.) Bale brings zero camp to his haunted villain, even when his journey leads him to one of Marvel Comics’ most powerful, reality-spanning characters — the script reduces him to a mere MacGuffin." -Alonso Duralde, TheWrap
"Thor: Love and Thunder is not nearly as cohesive or propulsive as Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s more ambitious and heartfelt. The cast all bring their A-games, and even when parts of the film don’t line up with the others, they are never boring to watch. There are moments where you’ll think, moments when you’ll cheer, and moments when you’ll cry. Love and Thunder can be a bumpy journey at times — but the destination is well worth the trip." -Germain Lussier, Gizmodo
"This installment flirts with the notion of 'trickle-down worship' being no more effective than 'trickle-down politics,' but it’s mostly about Thor rekindling with Jane, Natalie Portman cosplaying as Thor for a few sequences and hopefully cashing in on some of the Ragnarok goodwill. Like too many of the most recent MCU projects, it only exists because Disney can’t afford to stop this train. Bale, Thompson and ‘Guns and Roses’ tunes aside, this fourth Thor is a real chore." -Scott Mendelson, Forbes
"Thor: Love and Thunder doesn’t come anywhere near being as much of a letdown as Multiverse of Madness was, but the two movies are alike in how they both seem to be the products of the MCU settling into an era where its future is still being figured out. At least some of that future’s teased out in Love and Thunder’s mid- and post-credits scenes — both of which are almost certain to be crowd-pleasers that satisfy those who show up already certain they’re in this for the long haul. But as the latest piece of lore defining the Odinson and his allies in the present, Thor: Love and Thunder is a clunky chapter in what feels like a franchise that’s still figuring itself out." -Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge
Thor: Love and Thunder is one of many big blockbusters expected to light up the box office this summer. The film opens in theaters everywhere this Friday — July 8. Jurassic World Dominion is out now, and Jordan Peele's sci-fi horror mystery Nope opens July 22 in theaters.