A 200 million dollar all-star summer blockbuster based on Norse mythology sounds like a hoot, and the best thing about Taita Waititi’s film is that it’s a out-and-out comedy; sure, it cycles through some of the increasingly tedious tropes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the intent is more often to generate laughs than thrills or drama, and that’s welcome. The first two films establishing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) were fairly drab, worthless affairs, but that all changed with Ragnarok, which was such fun that even MCU deniers like myself had to put up, shut up and just sit back and enjoy the colourful result.
Waititi is a mercurial, if overexposed talent; from Flight of the Conchords and Boy, he’s expanded his range to What We Do In The Shadows and JoJo Rabbit, and now finds himself directing a forthcoming Star Wars movie. Ragnarok was a surprise hit, and saw Waititi put his gift for projecting everyday conversations into the pompous, self-important work of the MCU. Fans who want their action straight may feel that Waititi’s style is too silly, but for casual, mainstream audiences mystified by the likes of The Eternals, it’s good to feel we’re in safe hands.
Thor: Love and Thunder starts with two crowd-pleasing blasts of Guns and Roses; this isn’t a summer blockbuster as per David Mamet’s description of a pageant, it’s more like a pantomime. Thor (Hemsworth) is fighting alongside the annoying Guardians of the Galaxy for reasons I wasn’t interested enough to discern, but fortunately they wander off after 30 mins. Thor returns to the haven of New Asgard where he meets up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Jane (Natalie Portman) before the arrival of Gorr The God Killer (Christian Bale) upsets things. Gorr isn’t killing gods, he’s kidnapping children in the style of Robert Helpmann in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Thor and his gang face their demons by attempting to rescue the stolen children…
Thor: Love and Thunder has plenty going for it; there’s giant space goats, Bale is a terrific baddie, Russell Crowe is mad AF in an extended comic-cameo as Zeus, the description of New Asgard as a commercialised tourist village is inspired, and there’s some amusing needle-drops from Enya to Abba’s One Last Summer; you just knew that this goofy Thor would turn out to be an Abba fan. Less successful are the deviations into bathos when it’s revealed that one of the characters has cancer, and the dark imagery surrounding Gorr may be a bit much even for pre-teen survivors of Endgame.
What’s missing here is the jolting surprise of Ragnarok; Waititi goes through some of the same routines, even including the community theatre dumb-show that roped in Matt Damon and Sam Neill, this time with added Melissa McCarthy. That gag gets developed further this time, but the freshness is fading; it’s about time Waititi created some comic characters of his own rather than putting a spin on existing IP. Thor: Love and Thunder is a better-than-average summer blockbuster, and even if it feels like a creative dead end, it’s still a relief to see the Hollywood machine firing on most, if not all, cylinders.