Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder is the next MCU movie hitting theaters, and audiences can expect a wild ride filled with humor and heart. Taika Waititi returns to direct his second Marvel movie after Thor: Ragnarok and this time, he leans even further into his trademark zany comedy. But he also tells a story infused with tons of human emotion and poignance, and it just might surprise audiences.

Thor: Love and Thunder is set sometime after Avengers: Endgame and Thor has been traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a while. Despite being over a thousand years old, Thor is lost after losing his entire family–mother, Frigga, dad, Odin, and brother, Loki–his comrades on the Avengers, and the love of his life after he and Jane Foster break up. He’s on a journey to find inner peace or to discover his purpose in life, whichever comes first.

However, his meditation-filled journey to enlightenment is cut short when he stumbles across an old friend who reveals that a new threat has emerged: Gorr the God Butcher, who has been traveling the universe killing all gods. New Asgard and the Asgardians are next in his sights. It’s up to Thor to find his heroism once again and put together a team along with Jane Foster/Mighty Thor, Valkyrie, Korg, and, if they’re lucky, a few other gods in order to stop Gorr’s slaughter and save Asgard.

With so much riding on its success, how does Thor: Love and Thunder stack up against the rest of the MCU? For that matter, how does it stack up against Thor: Ragnarok? And is it worth seeing in theaters? Read on for three reasons to see Thor: Love and Thunder in our spoiler-free review.

Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher Is Terrifyingly Memorable

The MCU has always been a franchise more focused on its heroes than its villains, and while a few baddies have stuck out over the years, such as Thanos and Loki, the truly memorable ones have been hit or miss. But Christian Bale brings a different kind of villain to Thor: Love and Thunder in the form of Gorr the God Butcher. Gorr’s story is tragic, and Bale’s delivery is often darkly comic, but he is, in many ways, the most terrifying villain Marvel has ever had. Part of that is down to the boundless talent of Bale, who is one of our finest actors. He delivers a performance that is at times intensely sinister and at others unsettlingly jovial, with a smile that can’t quite hide the mania in his eyes.

But the direction and visuals also add menace to his performance. Despite Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being hyped up as the MCU’s first horror-tinged film, there are moments in Thor: Love and Thunder that are as creepy as anything in Doctor Strange 2. The use of shadows is particularly compelling, a slithering, creeping darkness that slides over cozy homes and landscapes, upending the feeling of safety and replacing it with dread. The way Gorr moves also gets under the skin, utilizing the mechanics of a horror movie villain. One blink, he appears in the crowd; another blink, and he’s disappeared; a third and he reappears twenty feet closer. If there is one criticism, it’s that Gorr occasionally feels like he exists in a completely different movie. Yet, he’s so interesting that it doesn’t matter. Bale is clearly relishing the role, bringing his trademark intensity in a way that doesn’t let you look away whenever he’s on the screen.

There Are More & Bigger Laughs Than Ever

In 2017, Thor: Ragnarok swept into the MCU like a spring gale, breathing new life into a character that no one seemed to know how to handle. Taika Waititi recognized Chris Hemsworth’s inherent comedic talent and leaned in, delivering a hysterical romp that reinvented the Thor sub-franchise. Thor: Love and Thunder builds even more firmly on that, with more laugh-out-loud moments packed into the movie than anything that’s come before in the MCU.

Waititi has a knack for drawing comedy out of his actors, even ones not traditionally known for their comedic chops, like Natalie Portman. It works well here, with all the returning actors so clearly comfortable with each other that the riffing and banter come naturally. Surprisingly, newcomer Russell Crowe’s hedonistic interpretation of Zeus is one of the most unexpectedly hilarious parts of the movie. Crowe delivers every line with an over-the-top and purposely terrible accent that’s more “It’s-a me, Mario!” than Greek, which makes it all the better.

As many Waititi movies are prone to do, a few of the gags in Thor: Love and Thunder are drawn out a little bit too long. The humor of a few scenes is slightly undermined by them being allowed to run past their natural cut point. But those are small quibbles in the grand comedic scheme of things. Love and Thunder is a movie that makes you laugh, and laugh hard, and there’s little better feeling right now.

But There’s Also A Surprising Amount Of Real Heart

If Waititi’s penchant for letting a few bits run too long, then he certainly did learn from Thor: Ragnarok in one way: don’t let the humor overshadow the heart. Despite the jokes that come frequently in Love and Thunder, it also has a surprising amount of real poignance and emotion. Though we’ve already seen their romance blossom once before, Jane and Thor’s love rekindling feels fresher than it ever has before thanks to their hesitant innocence whenever together. Jane is a force when she’s Mighty Thor, but she’s still the nerdy, awkward Dr. Jane Foster at heart; Thor is a millennium-old God of Thunder, but he still gets butterflies whenever he’s around Jane.

Not all the emotion of Thor: Love and Thunder is sweet and innocent; there are heavy moments, too–real heavy. The stakes are genuine and real, and if the cast is up for the comedy, they are more than able to carry the movie’s dramatic stakes, as well. Thor: Love and Thunder makes it clear that Waititi has matured as a filmmaker. Poignant moments that might have been undercut earlier in his career by a quick joke are now allowed to marinate in bittersweetness. It’s a movie that covers the fullness of the emotional spectrum, and if it seems silly to say that about a Marvel movie, so be it. Thor: Love and Thunder is exactly what it needs to be, and what it is is great.

Thor: Love and Thunder is in theaters Friday, July 8.

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