Many — arguably even most — movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been about dads. Iron Man’s relationship with his dad is a central part of the first-ever MCU film, Ant-Man is a good father, Thanos is a bad one, Star-Lord’s dad was an evil planet and his father figure was a space pirate, etc. But, while many MCU movies are dad-heavy, Thor: Love & Thunder is the first movie in the franchise that’s about dads rocking… and also dad rock. Here’s why it’s great, even if it’s not the greatest Marvel movie ever. No major spoilers ahead.
In retrospect, the use of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O' Mine” in trailers for the film, which opens in theaters this Friday, July 8, should’ve been an early tipoff. Then again, Axl Rose wrote that song about his then-girlfriend, so it’s also a fitting score for the rekindling romance between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane Foster (Nathalie Portman, returning to the franchise for the first time since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World).
Thor and Jane have a complicated relationship in the film. At the start of the movie, Thor is still cruising with the Guardians of the Galaxy, having joined up with the MCU’s premiere space team at the end of Avengers: Endgame. He leaves them after a fun action sequence because he’s searching for something more in his life — something to love. Also, there’s a fellow known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) who is killing gods, and Thor probably should look into that. While on the case, Thor discovered that Jane, his ex-girlfriend who he’s still pinning over, now wields his old hammer Mjölnir and has all of his powers.
The dynamic between the two doesn’t quite get to the point where it’s fair to call Love & Thunder the MCU’s first rom-com, but it’s pretty damn close. Hemsworth is a gifted comedic actor, and he’s gotten a chance to showcase that in Thor: Ragnarok and the later Avengers movies. Portman did not get a chance to let her own comedic cops loose in the first two Thor films, but she more than makes up for it in Love & Thunder. The two have earnest, awkward chemistry, and it’s a hoot to see two godly beings dealing with petty breakup drama and big feelings.
Throughout the movie, the pair use humor to cover up their own emotions about what could have been. While that’s extremely relatable and also makes for plenty of funny moments, it also is demonstrative of Love and Thunder’s biggest shortcoming. Sometimes, it’s trying too hard to be funny, and that’s masking some of the other emotions the movie could be playing with. While Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok was an unexpected revelation, Love and Thunder can’t help but feel like it’s attempting to manufacture the same vibes. The movie comes close to recapturing the magic at times (a recurring, delightfully stupid bit with screaming goats kills), but the forced humor kneecaps the stakes, a bit. In short, Ragnarok is probably still a slightly better film, even if Love & Thunder is a bit more fun.
As a result, the drama sometimes feels disconnected or out of place compared to what a fun time our heroes are having. For example, despite being a “fun” movie, Love & Thunder opens with a massive bummer, in which a child starves to death. It’s heavy stuff that doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the movie’s banter and partying.
That bummer opening represents the dark side of the movie and the grimmest aspect of the fatherhood vibes. It’s the incident that prompts villain Gorr (who Bale plays with a charmingly unhinged drive) to essentially create the plot of the movie. Saying more would be a spoiler.
And yet, though, Love & Thunder are making it clear that fatherly love is as much a driving force in the film as romantic love, for all of Jane and Thor’s flirting. That extends beyond mere plot points, though. All of Love & Thunder has a specific sort of dad vibe. It’s about finding love, being loved, and having a sense of purpose — three things that dads know about. It’s about telling unabashedly corny jokes. And, it’s about some extremely dad rock needle drops, mostly from Guns N’ Roses. If the Iron Man films made the case that AC/DC was the official band of Tony Stark, Love & Thunder makes it clear GNR is all about the God of Thunder.
And this single point is actually the best way to understand Thor: Love & Thunder. The Iron Man movies made us love AC/DC again, perhaps in a way we never expected. Love & Thunder makes GNR’s “Paradise City,” a wild revelation all over again. It’s not like we need Marvel to curate our classic rock playlists per se. But Love & Thunder’s validation of the “dad rock” mentality isn’t just fun. It’s generous, escapist, and best of all, validating.
Thor: Love & Thunder hits theaters everywhere on July 7, 2022.