Taika Waititi’s funny but uneven second Thor movie gets tantalisingly close to providing the MCU with its first straight-up comedy, before getting serious and losing its way. In standard Marvel house style, the Taika-ness – that wackadoodle energy, colour and quippiness that made Thor: Ragnarok such a ride – drains away in an over-busy middle stretch that re-ups on that old franchise preoccupation: a superbad who must be stopped from unleashing an(other) apocalypse.
Introduced by the Waititi-voiced rock warrior Korg (now rivalling Groot in the fan-favourite stakes), Chris Hemsworth’s mopey, dad-bodded Thor is soon beefing-up again to help Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his fellow Guardians defeat an army of furry space ferrets.
It’s a prelude to the main villain: Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale beneath layers of pale make-up that make him look like Voldemort rocking up for a Fury Road audition. As his name implies, he’s nursing a grudge against the galaxy’s entire pantheon of deities and has a certain Norse god with a blond mane and forearms like hams on his shit list.
There’s an ugly, murkily-framed action sequence in New Asgard – now part home to Asgardian refugees, part tourist attraction – that throws Thor’s old flame, Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), back into the mix. She’s now the owner of Thor’s also-much-missed hammer, Mjolnir, and has newfound powers that are barely keeping a secret terminal illness at bay.
Cue some amusing scenes of neurotic hammer banter, as Thor reassures his new hardware, Stormbreaker, that it’s all over between him and Mjolnir. ‘It’s you and me now, buddy,’ he vows.
The odd duff fight scene aside, Waititi is so good at this stuff, and he directs it all like a circus master eager to keep the entertainment coming. And it all works a treat for a good fifty percent of the relatively lean runtime, with some great cameos, a refreshingly pisstakey approach to mythology and an improv’y looseness that regularly delivers big laughs from all directions. For my money, Hemsworth is the best thing in the MCU and seeing him given free rein will never not be a joy.
Hemsworth is the best thing in the MCU and seeing him given free rein will never not be a joy
There’s also a memorable clash between our Norse hero and his posse (this new Thor has a post-Avengers emotional need to form into teams) and Zeus, an orgy-loving waster played with camp gusto by Russell Crowe. Somewhere out in the galaxy Gorr has a bunch of Asgardian kids under lock and key (‘Team kids in a cage,’ as Thor is soon calling them), and Thor, Jane, and Korg are off to rescue them.
But all that loosey-goosey irreverence eventually dissipates in a hoop-jump of plot devices, like the Shadow Realm, the Gate of Eternity and the Yawning Chasm of Meh (okay, not the last one). And when the quartet touch down for a murky showdown on a black-and-white planet, there’s a real sense of a film losing sight of what’s making it fun in the first place.
It’s a shame because the final scene or two are as affecting as anything since The Snap, and there’s loads to enjoy in Love and Thunder, not least in its embrace of queerness – the quartet dash around the galaxy in a longboat powered by the rainbow Bifrost in what has to be an open goal for anyone planning their next Pride float – and a major effort to make Guns N’ Roses happen again. But after 29 MCU movies, is it time to mix up the formula? A bit more love and a bit less third-act thunder might be nice.
Thor: Love and Thunder is in cinemas worldwide on Jul 7.