Release Date(s)2022 (September 27, 2022)
Studio(s)Marvel/Disney (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C
Of all the sub-franchises that fall under the umbrella of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, no one would have ever predicted that Thor would be the first one to reach a fourth film. Granted, the events of Avengers: Endgame did throw a monkey wrench into any future plans for Iron Man or Captain America, but there’s always a way—especially where comic book lore is concerned. Still, something else had happened to the Thor franchise that gave it a much more appealing future: Taika Waititi. With Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi had breathed personality into the MCU in a fashion comparable to what James Gunn had done with Guardians of the Galaxy. It was inevitable that Waititi would be invited to return, and almost as inevitable that it would be for another Thor film. The only real question would be whether or not Love and Thunder would be Waititi’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Gunn’s overstuffed sequel had offered more of the same, only more so, and while it was still entertaining, it lacked the narrative and thematic focus of the first film.
The pleasantly surprising answer to that question is that not only does Love and Thunder improve upon the unfocused nature of Guardians 2, but it improves on the bifurcated structure of Ragnarok as well. That film had combined two separate Marvel Comics storylines, Planet Hulk and Ragnarok, but they always felt like unrelated narratives that never really connected to each other. Since Love and Thunder pulls both The Mighty Thor and Gorr the God Butcher into the same tale, it could have had a similar problem, but that’s not the case. Things may seem disjointed at first, but gradually all of the disparate pieces do start to fall into place, leading to an eminently satisfying conclusion. That puts the film in the odd position (for the MCU, at least) of requiring a bit of patience and a willingness to put some effort into connecting the dots. There’s a lot more going on beneath its candy-colored surface than may initially meet the eye.
One of the commonalities between Waititi and James Gunn is the way that they both combine humor and pathos in their films, and that doesn’t seem to work equally well for all viewers. The humor in Love and Thunder has been particularly divisive, but it’s worth noting that even lightest of moments are sometimes laying seeds for important narrative or character details that will follow. For example, there’s an early scene where Thor goes to rescue his fellow Asgardian Sif, and the seriousness of that moment appears to be undercut by some seemingly inappropriate jokes from Thor (including one of the best lines in the film). Yet those jokes are setting up an important concept for the finale, one that really pays off during the second post-credit scene. Waititi loves using humor to take the sting out of exposition, and he does that very well here.
Waititi even uses humor to undercut what could have been the most painful exposition in the film: recapping previous events. Appreciating Love and Thunder does require knowledge of the events of prior MCU films, especially Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Endgame, so Waititi solved the need for summarizing the events of those films in an inventive fashion. The actual flashbacks are narrated by Korg, in his hilariously deadpan style, and one of them is even ironically accompanied by a perfectly chosen deep cut from ABBA. The events of Ragnarok, on the other hand, are covered by bringing back an element from that film—essentially, a device from Ragnarok is used to recap the events of Ragnarok, which is appropriately meta (and yes, the actors who had cameos in that scene all return here, with one new addition).
All of the humor and self-referential elements still serve the larger purpose of supporting the core narrative, and there is indeed one single thread running through the film, however scattershot that things may seem at first glance. Even the choice of villain isn’t a random one. At first blush, there wouldn’t seem to be a way to tie Gorr’s personal mission of vengeance against the gods into the framework of Jane Foster’s journey with cancer and her transformation into The Mighty Thor, but they end up intertwining in unexpected ways. Thanks to Christian Bale’s committed performance, Gorr is easily one of the best MCU villains in recent memory, but the emotional pain that drives the character still ends up providing a contrapuntal line to the primary motif of Jane’s own suffering. Gorr may be the villain, but he serves as an unintentional support structure for Jane’s character arc.
Ultimately, Love and Thunder is a film about finding closure, in more ways than one, and that’s why the yin and yang of Gorr and Jane Foster eventually come full circle to form a complementary whole. Everyone needs to let go of their pain and move on with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Hanging on to the past has been the Achilles’ heel for Gorr, Jane, and even Thor himself. It’s only when all three of them let go as group that each of them can move on as individuals. Love and Thunder has been criticized as being yet another journey of self-discovery for Thor, but that’s far too reductive of what actually happens in the film. Thor does indeed learn a thing or two about himself, but that’s only because he finally understands the other people around him—friend and enemy alike. It’s a voyage of mutual discovery.
Even the title Love and Thunder isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. The real meaning isn’t revealed until the final shot of the film, just before the credits roll. Yet what happens in that moment was actually set up at the very beginning of the film, so once again, everything has come full circle. The cycle will continue; only the players will have changed.
Cinematographer Barry Idoine captured Thor: Love and Thunder digitally at 4.5K resolution in the ARRIRAW codec using ARRI ALEXA LF and ARRI ALEXA Mini LF cameras, with Panavision Ultra Vista Panaspeed and Vintage 65 anamorphic lenses. Everything was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate. While the film was released theatrically at 1.90:1 for IMAX presentations, per Disney’s usual policy, only the standard 2.39:1 framing is included on UHD and Blu-ray; the 1.90:1 version is available exclusively streaming on Disney+. Like Disney’s recent Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness UHD, this is another 4K DI that doesn’t always reveal true 4K levels of fine detail, and it sometimes looks like an upscale from 2K instead. That’s likely a reflection of the post-production squeeze on most Marvel films, where the underpaid and overworked VFX studios are being pushed to deliver on unreasonably short schedules. Some of the VFX may even have been rendered at 2K and then upscaled to 4K for compositing. Still, it’s a definite improvement over the Blu-ray, especially since there’s less compression due to the greater breathing room on the UHD format. The image is quite sharp, and there’s a nice amount of detail in textures like the costuming, hair, and faces—Gore’s cracked skin during the opening scene on his home world stands out in that regard. It’s only when examining things at closer than normal viewing distances that the actual resolution seems a bit soft for 4K. Still, there’s none of the plasticized skin textures that were occasionally visible on the Multiverse of Madness UHD, so this presentation of Love and Thunder has a slight edge over it.
On the other hand, just like Multiverse of Madness, the real glory here is the high dynamic range grade. (Only HDR10 is included on the disc, with Disney once again reserving Dolby Vision for their Disney+ streaming version.) Waititi’s kaleidoscopic vision for the Thor franchise offers plenty of opportunity for the expanded contrast and wide color gamut of HDR to shine, and Love and Thunder is no exception. The contrast range is strong, with deep blacks, but there’s also more picture information visible within them. Scenes like the night attack on Asgard tended to look a bit muddy during theatrical screenings, but there’s much more clarity here. It’s a case where there’s more to the story than just the apparent resolution of the DI, because the improvements in contrast also add to the perception of fine detail. The colors are gorgeous, from the rich reds of the capes worn by both Thors, to the rainbow spectrum of the Bifrost. The metallic golds and silvers in the costumes demonstrate dazzling specular highlights, and the frequent energy effects like lightning really do glow in HDR. The lack of Dolby Vision on this disc may be disappointing, but for anyone who has a display with good tone mapping capabilities, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the HDR10 layer—it won’t disappoint.
Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, with optional English SDH, French, Spanish, and Japanese subtitles. It’s a Disney disc, so the Atmos track is mastered at too low of a level, but like many of their more recent discs, raising the volume to reference levels doesn’t diminish the dynamics. Things do start quietly during the prologue that provides Gorr’s backstory, but it’s very immersive, with the sounds of the fauna in the oasis surrounding the viewer from all sides, and the whispers from the Necrosword placing the viewer into the environment right alongside Gorr. Once the action scenes kick in, everything gets much more energized, with a decent amount of slam in the bass (though it’s still not as deep or as powerful as non-Disney discs for similar titles). The overheads do get some use, like when the Thors launch into the Bifrost, or when Zeus shows off his lightning bolt in Omnipotence City—and until you’ve heard screaming goats panning around your surround channels, you really haven’t lived. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio; French 5.1 Dolby Digital; and Spanish and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus.
Like most of their Marvel releases, Disney’s 4K Ultra HD version of Thor: Love and Thunder is branded as a Cinematic Universe Edition (which is still a strange designation, since it’s not like there are any non-Cinematic Universe Editions). It’s a 2-Disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy in 1080p, a slipcover, and a Digital code on a paper insert. All of the extras are on the Blu-ray only, all of them in HD:
- Audio Commentary by Taika Waititi
- Hammer-worthy: Thor and the Mighty Thor (5:36)
- Shaping a Villain (6:11)
- Another Classic Taika Adventure (7:53)
- Gag Reel (2:45)
- Deleted Scenes (7:45)
Frankly, Waititi’s commentary is a bit of a slog. For such a gifted improviser, he really doesn’t do a good job speaking extemporaneously during commentaries—he’s definitely someone who could use a moderator to keep him focused. It’s a sparse track, with frequent gaps, and he often falls into the trap of describing what’s happening on screen. It’s more of a reaction track than a commentary track, with Waititi riffing on his own film—and he unintentionally demonstrates why groups like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax do careful preparation before they ever start recording. Let’s put it this way: when his daughters join him partway into the commentary, they don’t even derail it, because there wasn’t anything happening that could have been derailed in the first place. Near the end, he mentions that he would be amazed if any listeners had made it that far, and he’s got a point.
The rest of the extras are standard (and very shallow) EPK-style featurettes, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. Hammer-worthy looks at the training that Portman and Hemsworth underwent to play their parts. Shaping a Villain examines Gorr the God Botcher, both in terms of how he was adapted from the comics, and also the influence of Christian Bale. Bale being Bale, he was deeply involved in designing the way that Gorr was portrayed on film. Another Classic Taika Adventure shows the unique voice that the director brought to the proceedings. However you may feel about the humor in Ragnarok and Love and Thunder, Waititi makes it clear that he was just trying to utilize Hemsworth’s own personality, which he felt didn’t really come through in the first two Thor films. The Gag Reel is mostly just a typical collection of actors mugging for the camera, and would really only be amusing for the cast and crew. The Deleted Scenes include four different sequences that can be played individually, or as a group: Looking for Zeus, Wasting Time, A Safe Vacation, and Fighting for You. Most of them have rough composites and animation, so they were relatively early deletions from the final cut. The most interesting one features a reappearance by Russell Crowe’s Zeus, but it doesn’t offer any necessary information, so it was still better left on the cutting room floor.
If you didn’t already enjoy Thor: Love and Thunder, there’s nothing here among these extras that’s going to change your mind, especially the rather grating commentary track. Yet it’s still a film that’s worth revisiting, as there’s more to it than may have been obvious the first time around. Sit back, settle into its quirky rhythms, and appreciate it for what it is, not for what you think that it should have been. It does work in its own way, if you’ll let it. Regardless, it’s a mighty pretty presentation of the Mighty Thor in 4K, and a great demonstration of the advantages of HDR.
- Stephen Bjork