Five years after revitalising the character with his signature sense of laconic, absurdist humour, Māori film-maker Taika Waititi, now an Oscar-winner, returns to Thor for a victory lap.
And that's what it kinda feels like: a victory lap. Waititi's comedic sensibility is front and centre and ensures things never become boring. In fact, there are more tangible laughs to be found here than in the vast majority of films of this scale, but this ultimately feels like more of a collection of nice moments than a story that necessarily needed to be told.
Following the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, somehow bigger than ever) has been adventuring around space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. After splitting up with that team, Thor returns to Earth and is shocked to discover that his ex, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, appearing for the first time since 2013's Thor: The Dark World) has taken up his re-formed hammer Mjolnir and is now the new Thor, protecting the Earth-bound New Asgard from a variety of threats, most pertinently the one posed by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale, distractingly intense) who lives up to his name.
After Gorr kidnaps the children of New Asgard, the two Thors, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and smile-inducing rock-monster Korg (Waititi), team up to retrieve them and bring Gorr down. This sees them seek assistance from the Greek god Zeus, played by Russell Crowe, who makes a...choice...with his accent that is undeniably amusing. But you probably have to be from Australia or New Zealand to get the joke. This section of the film also features an Aotearoa-specific element that is extremely cool, but which should be experienced first-hand.
Thor and Jane's reunion creates some decent character moments, and it's fun watching Natalie Portman kick ass as the female Thor. Still, the romantic aspects of their story feel a little glossed over, and it doesn't really live up to the love story the title may have promised. That said, the finale packs a considerable emotional wallop.
If Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi's previous Thor movie) didn't exist, this film would be considerably more impressive. But it does, so it isn't. Love and Thunder ambles pleasantly along, never quite locking on to a driving thrust or even a real reason for existing. Nobody involved lets the side down, it just feels like more of something we've had no shortage of, and is fatally lacking in surprises, or indeed any stand-out action set pieces.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is going through something of a minor identity crisis at the moment, and as gratifying as it is to see Waititi once again playing in this world, this doesn't feel like the movie that's going to restore the MCU to its once lofty heights.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale
Director: Taika Waititi
Running time: 119 minutes
Rating: M (Violence)
Verdict: Taika Waititi keeps things entertaining throughout a rather superflous affair.