The director also opens up about Natalie Portman’s return to the MCU, and says Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher is ‘one of the best villains that Marvel’s had.’

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Thor may be the god of thunder and lightning, but when it comes to his love life, sparks aren't exactly flying. Chris Hemsworth's golden-haired superhero has grown quite a bit since he first crash-landed on Earth in his 2011 MCU debut. He's saved the universe countless times. He's grown more confident as both a warrior and a leader. He's even mended his rocky relationship with his brother (although he still hasn't quite forgiven Loki for the snake thing).

But in Thor: Love and Thunder (out July 8), our Herculean hero is still uncertain, yearning to find his purpose in this wide, chaotic universe. And when a familiar face returns, wielding an equally familiar hammer, Thor finds himself facing down a threat even deadlier than Hela or Thanos: romance.

Love and Thunder is Thor's fourth solo film, and it might just be his most ambitious adventure yet. Director Taika Waititi helped reinvigorate the Asgardian hero with 2017's delightful Thor: Ragnarok, and when he first began brainstorming for a sequel, all he knew was that he wanted to push the character into even more unexpected territory.

"What I didn't want to do is just make Ragnarok again, because that's been done," Waititi, 46, tells EW. "I needed to do something more interesting for myself to keep the whole thing ignited and to make sure that I'm feeling creatively stimulated. I thought, What's the least expected thing with this franchise?"

Chris Hemsworth suits up as Thor in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

The answer turned out to be love. Love and Thunder is part superhero extravaganza, part rom-com, reuniting Thor with his astrophysicist ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Since the two parted, Jane has proven herself worthy to carry Mjölnir, and taken up the mantle of the Mighty Thor. She's become a hero in her own right, with the muscles and flowing blond tresses to prove it. (The film itself draws inspiration from Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman's influential Mighty Thor comics, which first introduced Jane as the hammer-wielding hero.)   

Much of Love and Thunder builds on Thor's last appearance in Avengers: Endgame, which found the Asgardian prince grappling with guilt and self-doubt. Ultimately, he and his Avengers colleagues triumphed in their battle with Thanos, but some of that uncertainty still remains.  

"Ragnarok felt a bit like a party," Waititi explains. "It was quite festive. This one is still fun, and it's got moments of being over the top, but thematically, it's about something a bit deeper than the last film. It's not a serious film, and it's not a drama, but we do deal with ideas that I think a lot of humans deal with — universal themes about love and loss and our place in the world. Everyone sort of asks this question in the film: What is your purpose? What is the reason that you're a hero, and what do you do when you have these powers?"

"It's sort of like a midlife crisis film, really," Waititi adds. "That's the question we ask everyone: Are we doing the right thing, and are we doing all we can in the world? I think right now, while the world is still healing from this pandemic, it's a good question to ask. It's like, well, are we doing enough to look after each other and to look after ourselves?"

Thor: Love and Thunder
Natalie Portman in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

As Thor searches for self-actualization, Jane isn't the only familiar face he encounters. Waititi himself is back as the mild-mannered rock monster Korg, while Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie has embraced her new role as the King of Asgard, ruling over the tiny kingdom her people founded after the original realm was destroyed. In some ways, Waititi says, Valkyrie is thriving as king, but going from the battlefield to bureaucracy has taken some adjusting. "She's got to do all the things that they never tell you about when you're supposed to rule the people, which is deal with all of the infrastructure and figure out the economy and have delegates visit from other countries," he explains. "So, she's spending a lot of her time not fighting, and all of her new battles have to do with ruling her people."

Love and Thunder also introduces several newcomers, although the director is more tight-lipped about their roles. Christian Bale is playing the nefarious Gorr the God Butcher, and Waititi praises Bale's performance, calling him "very formidable." "I think personally, he's probably one of the best villains that's Marvel's had in their films," Waititi adds. "He's very layered."

Waititi is even more secretive about Russell Crowe's role as the god Zeus, but teases that Crowe plays the role in "a way you've never seen Russell before."

"I consider Russell a friend, and I forget that there are some friends I have who are really incredible at what they do," Waititi says with a laugh. "When I was on set with Russell, I was like, 'Oh shit, that's right! You're Russell Crowe! You're a really amazing actor!'"

Thor: Love and Thunder
Tessa Thompson as King Valkyrie in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

If Ragnarok was a '70s-inspired space opera, Love and Thunder has a more '80s adventure vibe. Visually, Waititi says some of his biggest influences were "movie posters for things like Conan or Beastmaster and the fancy art that you'd see on vans in Venice Beach." But ultimately, he says his main goal was to deliver a sequel that's just as big, bold, and hilarious as Ragnarok — if not bigger.

"I guess the biggest difference would be that it was my first time playing in the Marvel sand pit on Ragnarok," Waititi says. "This one, I felt like I've got a little more experience and knew how to shoot this a lot more efficiently." And he knows that, sometimes, lightning can strike twice.

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