Sunday, December 4, 2022

‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ review: Christian Bale amazes

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best shot at Oscar glory has arrived in the form of Christian Bale’s ferocious Gorr the God Butcher in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

He’s as fantastic a Marvel villain as you’ll ever see. More threatening than Thanos and richer than Hela from “Thor: Ragnarok.” He has the complex motivations of Erik Killmonger of “Black Panther,” but with the mesmeric physical transformation we’ve come to expect from Bale.

The Brit is a glutton for punishment.

movie review

Running time: 125 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity.) In theaters July 8.

Able to shed and gain weight with the seeming ease of Alexa delivering the weather report, he’s Hollywood’s most addictive freak. In his latest role, the actor is stick-thin (no Batman biceps here) and looks like he might have fleas. And unlike so many of his A-list buds who casually pop into comic book movies to pay for their kitchen renovation, he can sensitively act against a green screen. He’s sensational.

Bale is part of an altogether thrilling action movie, written and directed by Taika Waititi, that enlivens the spotty Phase 4 of the MCU. It’s like “Eternals” never happened. If only…

The New Zealand filmmaker also once again takes on the role of rock alien Korg, who quickly recaps Thor’s history with his typical dry, pop-culture-savvy sense of humor. The “previously on” segment is set to “Only Time” by Enya.

Christian Bale is a smash in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
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Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor in Marvel Studios' "Thor: Love and Thunder."
Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor in Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
Jasin Boland

These days, we learn, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) sits zen-like under a tree awaiting save-the-universe missions. Then he learns of Gorr, a vengeful fella, killing gods in response to his young daughter’s death in the desert.

If Gorr can reach a device called Eternity, he can vanquish every ethereal being in one fell swoop. Including Thor. Only the God of Thunder himself can stop him.

Well, Thor and the returning Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who everyone forgets was in the MCU). Back on earth, Jane is ill and the pair, who broke up, are reunited in an unexpected, badass way.

Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) reunite.
Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Hemsworth) reunite.
Jasin Boland

Tessa Thompson’s party-hardy Valkyrie has been lording over New Asgard — an amusing blend of gods and school-board meetings — here on our planet. And she’s roped into the conflict when Gorr kidnaps all the city’s children.

Waititi, who did an equally terrific job with “Ragnarok” and should direct every Marvel movie, never gets lost in plot or vocabulary. Instead, he draws us in with stratospheric stakes for every single character and a genuine sense of peril. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was touted as a rare Marvel horror movie. “Love and Thunder,” as funny as it is, is much, much scarier.

For example, towards the end of the film, Waititi employs mostly black-and-white and Bale’s Gorr starts to resemble an anguished Nosferatu.

Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) reunite.
Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is along for the ride.
Jasin Boland

Fret not — Thor’s not all horror. This subseries, along with the supremely enjoyable “Spider-Man” movies, has been among the funniest of the MCU since Waititi took over.

We meet new gods such as Russell Crowe’s Zeus, who’s straight outta “Monty Python.” And there’s a fearsome, hilarious rivalry between Thor’s Hammer and Stormbreaker — two inanimate objects.

And, as much praise as Bale deserves, Hemsworth’s Thor still manages to take a regal, impenetrable figure and make him, for lack of a better word, human. We worry as much about the God of Thunder saving all the universe’s gods as we do about him getting dumped via a note left in the kitchen.

“Love and Thunder” is an urgent reminder that in order for the MCU to keep going, in an entertaining, soulful way, creativity and innovation is required. You can’t just say “multiverse” 1,000 times and call it a movie.

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