Home > Reviews > THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER – Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER – Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s interesting to see how the Marvel super-hero character Thor has changed over the years. When he first appeared in the titular Thor film in 2011 he was a mostly serious character, albeit with a ‘fish out of water’ quality that allowed actor Chris Hemsworth to engage in some light comedy; however, over the course of the subsequent Thor sequels, as well as his appearances in other Avengers-related films, he now has essentially become a parody of himself, a six foot man child with more muscles than brain cells. This has become especially apparent since Kiwi director Taika Waititi took over the franchise; the humor in the third Thor film, Ragnarok, was bordering on the sophomoric, and now in this fourth film Thor: Love and Thunder, the whole thing has hit an all-time low. The plot of this film involves Thor and his compatriots going up against Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale, who appears to have come in from a much scarier and more serious movie), an interstellar being with a crusade to kill all gods; the twist comes by way of the fact that one of Thor’s compatriots on the adventure is his former girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has gained super-hero powers and become ‘the Mighty Thor’ by wielding the reconstructed remnants of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. The film co-stars Tessa Thompson, Waititi himself, and Russell Crowe as Zeus, while also featuring cameos from Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, and other members of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

I don’t remember ever seeing a film where so much of its comedy fell completely flat. From Waititi’s weird narration in character as Korg, to the awkward romance between Thor and Jane, the bizarrely effeminate characterization that Russell Crowe gives as Zeus, the annoying screaming magical goats, and all the peculiar sight gags, virtually none of the humor hits the mark. It feels like Waititi was not given any instruction to reign anything in, and so he just threw everything he possibly could at the film, hoping that a small percentage of it landed. When you combine this with the genuinely unsettling performance by Christian Bale as Gorr – he comes across as a combination of Pennywise the Clown and Lord Voldemort – the tone is uneven at best. It’s still visually impressive, if a little overwhelming at times, but I hope that if the character continues in future films a new director is found to rebalance things and reduce the now out-of-control silliness.

Thor: Love and Thunder is now the fourth Thor film in a row where a new composer has come in to provide music for the character. After Patrick Doyle on Thor, Brian Tyler on The Dark World, and Mark Mothersbaugh on Ragnarok, Love and Thunder sees scoring duties falling to Michael Giacchino and his now established co-composer Nami Melumad, with Giacchino having scored Waititi’s previous directorial effort Jojo Rabbit in 2019. This is Giacchino’s fifth MCU outing, and as I wrote in previous reviews of Marvel scores, at this point I’ve essentially given up on the notion of there being thematic consistency across multiple films. Giacchino has abandoned everything that Doyle, Tyler, and Mothersbaugh did on their Thor scores, and written a completely new identity for the character – which, you know, is par for the course. I’ve accepted the fact that this is what Marvel does now, and I’m choosing to ignore it in favor of looking for the positives in the new music. If the lack of thematic consistency bothered you before, it’s going to bother you again here. I’ve moved on.

The truth of the matter is that there ARE a great number of positives in this new music. One of the things that Giacchino did retain from the score for Thor Ragnarok is Waititi’s stylistic choice to strongly feature classic rock and pop music in the film’s soundtrack, and this style bleeds through into the score. Several key moments in the film are underscored with songs, including a quartet of Guns N’ Roses bangers (“Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “November Rain”), plus “Rainbow in the Dark” by Dio, “Only Time” by Enya, and “Our Last Summer” by ABBA. Building off this starting point, Giacchino penned a brand new theme for Thor which takes a large orchestra with prominent brass and a prominent choir – and adds a huge rock drum kit and screaming electric guitar solos.

The theme kicks into high gear just after the halfway mark of the opening cue, “Mama’s Got a Brand New Hammer,” and I have to admit it’s hugely enjoyable, a massive throwback to the 80s big hair rock heyday. I do keep expecting the melody to turn into Jerrold Immel’s theme for the classic primetime soap Dallas, but that’s just a coincidental similarity – this one issue aside, the theme is one of the biggest and boldest and most memorable Giacchino creations in quite some time. This majestic theme receives enormous performances at several key moments – towards the end of “Indigarr with the Diva,” with the choir at 0:44 into “Gorr Animals,” and all through “Utter Lunarcy,” for example – but Giacchino is also clever with it, often using only the rhythms and the chord progressions to anchor the copious action music and maintain a sense of coherent identity.

Whereas this theme represents both Thor and Jane when she is in her Mighty Thor guise, there is also a secondary theme for ‘normal Jane’ that often plays alongside the Thor theme, focusing on her humanity and her frailty in the face of the issue that caused her to seek out Mjolnir in the first place: a terminal cancer diagnosis. Jane’s theme is often carried by a solo cello, and first appears at 1:07 in “Mama’s Got a Brand New Hammer” as an undulating, emotional interlude. The theme has a great deal in common, harmonically, with the main Thor theme, and in fact often works as a linking bridge between statements of it, but there are also several moments where it stands and shines on its own, emerging from the depths of the creative and powerful action music. I especially like the choral version towards the end of “The Ax Games,” the solemn and noble trumpet statement in “Thorring to New Heights,” and the intimate piano statement in “Bedside Hammer”.

The final recurring identity is the one for Gorr the God Butcher, who is driven to embark on a crusade to kill all gods after his daughter dies and the god of his planet callously laughs at his loss. Despite him being the villain of the piece, Giacchino initially affords Gorr a modicum of sympathetic humanity; the first performance of his theme in “Just Desert” drips with cello-led pathos amid an eerie wash for electronic textures and harp glissandi. Later, however, as Gorr becomes more ruthless, this compassion is replaced by a sense of looming menace, and his motif gradually becomes more ominous through cues such as “Distressed Out” and especially the menacing “Show Intel”. Elsewhere, the theme emerges lustily in an action setting as a counterpoint to the Thor theme in “Gorr Animals,” “A Gorr Phobia,” “The Ax Games,” and others, transposed to dominant brass. Perhaps the creepiest version of the theme appears in “Think on Your Defeat,” where Giacchino accompanies it with chattering, whispering, unsettling choral textures.

The sequence where Thor, Jane, Valkyrie, and Korg travel to Omnipotence City, a realm that is home to many gods, to seek an audience with Zeus, was scored mostly by Nami Melumad and comprises the cues from “We’re Not Emos We’re Gods” through to the end of “Saving Face”. Her cue “The Zeus Fanfares” is a terrific play on the golden age sound of Miklós Rózsa, massive brass fanfares and regal pageantry, while the subsequent “Saving Face” is a thrilling, masculine action sequence that pits chugging electric guitars against a heavy chanting choir and kinetic string figures, in what is one of the standout moments of the entire score. I’m especially pleased that Melumad’s career is developing the way it is; with this score she is now the second woman after Pinar Toprak to have a lead composer credit on a Marvel super hero film, and her work on television scoring projects like The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, Star Trek: Prodigy, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is enormously impressive.

The film’s finale takes place initially in the ‘shadow realm’ where Gorr has imprisoned the children he has kidnapped from New Asgard, and then in the realm of a wish-granting being known as Eternity, which Gorr reaches by stealing Thor’s axe and its powers to summon the dimension-hopping bifrost. Giacchino essentially scores these two scenes with multiple statements of all three main themes – the main Thor theme, Jane’s theme, and Gorr’s theme – in a variety of settings that range from powerfully dramatic to intensely action packed, and emotionally devastating. The use of choir is increased significantly during most of these scenes too, giving the music weight and depth, as is the bubbling electronic undercurrent that was present throughout much of Thor Ragnarok, but is less prominent here.

The statements of the main Thor theme here are especially welcome, especially the ones halfway through “Surely, Temple,” and throughout much of “The Power of Thor Propels You”. The theme hits with enormously powerful brass-led intensity in the outstanding “Foster? I Barely Know Her!” where it combines excellently with equally powerful statements of Gorr’s theme. The choral versions of both the Thor theme and Jane’s personal theme in “Jane Stop This Crazy Thing” are superb, underscoring the knowing sacrifice she makes to save Thor and all the other gods, and sound especially noble when they are again juxtaposed against the ominous dissonance of Gorr’s theme.

Gorr’s theme returns to its original cello lament state in both “One Wish to Rule Them All” and the moody “All’s Fair in Love and Thor,” as the character sees the error of his ways and makes amends for his actions with a personal sacrifice that ultimately saves the universe. There is some lovely contrapuntal writing here too, with more emotional versions of Thor’s theme and Jane’s theme echoing the tonality of Gorr’s theme. This leads into the score’s devastating climax as Jane succumbs to her injuries and dies in Thor’s arms; “Bawl and Jane” underscores this scene with a hugely poignant cello statement of Jane’s theme backed by a solemn, funereal choir, and provides a fittingly touching goodbye to the love of Thor’s life.

“The Kids Are Alright” renders the main Thor theme on a warm acoustic guitar, and leads into the end credit sequence, “The Ballad of Love and Thunder,” which reprises all three main themes for the full orchestra, the full choir, and with a large amount of rock and roll gusto, including several blistering electric guitar shreds. It’s a brilliant, nostalgic treat for an old metal head like me.

What a year it has been for Michael Giacchino. Having ended 2021 with the blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home, he consolidated this box-office dominance in 2022 with a trio of outstanding scores for The Batman, Jurassic World Dominion, and Lightyear, and has now capped it all off with this knockout tribute that combines 1980s fantasy-adventure scores with classic 1980s heavy metal.

What I don’t understand is the criticism of him that appears to be emerging with increasing frequency, especially within film music fan groups. Some of it is a matter of taste, and that’s fine, you can’t argue with a person’s individual aesthetic. Some of it is perhaps a little bit of blowback against his increasing ubiquitousness in the upper echelons of film music – in the past decade or so he has popped up in Star Wars, Star Trek, the Marvel superhero universe, the DC superhero universe, the Jurassic Park franchise, the Planet of the Apes franchise, and on several Pixar animated films. I can sort of understand this too, especially as it limits the opportunities for other composers to land plum assignments, but personally I find his giddy enthusiasm at being able to write music for all these different projects endearing: he’s as much of a film music nerd as anyone else, and his passion is contagious.

What I don’t understand, however, is the large amount of criticism of his overall approach to film, especially from fans of classic orchestral film music who lament the state of the industry today. For me, Michael Giacchino embodies exactly what I’m looking for in modern film music: he uses big orchestras, writes memorable themes and exciting action music, and isn’t afraid to write emotional music for emotional moments that other composers might shy away from for fear of sounding ‘too manipulative’. It used to be that this was the gold standard; now, it’s the exception rather than the rule, and I for one am delighted that Giacchino is one of the composers keeping the torch of expressive, lyrical orchestral film music burning.

In summary, and while the film itself may leave something to be desired, I found the score for Thor: Love and Thunder to be thoroughly enjoyable, an absolute blast. Unless something absolutely astonishing happens in the second half of 2022, Michael Giacchino is already Composer of the Year.

Buy the Thor: Love and Thunder soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Mama’s Got a Brand New Hammer (6:10)
  • Just Desert (2:25)
  • Indigarr with the Diva (1:44)
  • The Not Ready for New Asgard Players (1:39)
  • See Jane Thor (1:08)
  • Distressed Out (2:38)
  • Gorr Animals (2:33)
  • A Gorr Phobia (2:08)
  • The Ax Games (1:21)
  • Thorring to New Heights (0:57)
  • Show Intel (2:53)
  • We’re Not Emos We’re Gods (0:51)
  • The Zeus Fanfares (1:26)
  • I Was in the Pool! (2:25)
  • Saving Face (3:09)
  • Utter Lunarcy (1:24)
  • Think on Your Defeat (1:41)
  • Bedside Hammer (1:35)
  • Temple-itis (1:38)
  • Surely, Temple (1:01)
  • The Power of Thor Propels You (2:01)
  • Foster? I Barely Know Her! (3:06)
  • Jane Stop This Crazy Thing (2:52)
  • One Wish to Rule Them All (2:58)
  • All’s Fair in Love and Thor (1:44)
  • Bawl and Jane (1:23)
  • The Kids Are Alright (1:21)
  • The Ballad of Love and Thunder (8:12)

Running Time: 59 minutes 03 seconds

Hollywood Records/Marvel Music (2022)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad. Conducted by Cliff Masterson and Anthony Weeden. Orchestrations by Jeff Kryka, Curtis Green, Ludwig Wicki and Pedro Osuna. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley. Edited by Paul Apelgren, Paul Rabjohns and Ellen Segal. Album produced by Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad.

  1. mattlambertson
    July 16, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    Excellent review and now I want to listen to it again with your thoughts in mind. Totally agree that the negativity about Giacchino is baffling.

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