The MCU is a variable place. Sometimes its offerings can be po-faced and terribly earnest and, then again, they can occasionally be played for laughs. I tend to prefer the latter, which makes Thor: Ragnarok – in my humble opinion – one of Marvel’s better efforts. Writer/director Taika Waititi did a great job with the Thor franchise, amping up the laughs and throwing in fistfuls of surreal nonsense, just because they let him. So I go along to Thor: Love and Thunder with high expectations. For the film’s first half, I’m happy enough, though it’s probably true to say that, despite Chris Hemsworth’s best efforts, many of the jokes here don’t land quite as well as they did in the first film.
And then, in the second half, there’s an attempt to swing the mood towards more serious subject matter and I find myself less enamoured.
The events of the story are related by the rock-warrior, Korg (voiced by Waititi), who explains that – after much time spent voyaging with the Guardians of the Galaxy (who appear briefly but don’t get much of a look-in) – Thor parts company with them and answers a call for help from the citizens of a little village back on earth. It’s under attack by the sinister Gorr, the God butcher (Christian Bale, quite the most memorable character here), a man who has acquired a powerful sword and who has the intention of killing off every god in existence. Who shouted ‘hooray?’
Thor arrives at the same time as his old flame, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now calling herself ‘The Mighty Thor.’ She’s dressing like her former beau and, annoyingly, has control of Mjolnir, Thor’s mighty hammer. This is one really weird love-triangle.
A mighty punch-up dutifully ensues – though, due to the inevitable 12A rating, it’s a curiously bloodless affair. Gorr eventually makes his escape, taking all the local children captive – and now Thor, Jane, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg must launch a rescue mission… but first they need to enlist the help of the mightiest god of all, Zeus (Russell Crowe), who might just lend them his thunderbolt and who, for reasons best know to Waititi, talks like an Italian waiter…
If the plot sounds like drivel, well, it pretty much is, but Hemsworth plays the central role with such knowing charm and swagger that he almost manages to make me overlook it. There’s lots of Guns ‘n’ Roses-style guitar noodling on the soundtrack and some neat tricks are played with the film’s colour palette (Gorr has a habit of draining everything to monochrome whenever he appears), but – for me – this lacks the sheer brio of Ragnarok and various attempts to twang at the viewers’ heartstrings feel a tad too cynical for comfort.
For those who like these things, there are, of course, a couple of post credit sequences. Whether they’re worth hanging on for is a matter of debate, but they don’t add much to what is, ultimately, a somewhat disappointing exercise.