Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Director: Taika Waititi

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Certification: 12a

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Natalie Portman, Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn

Before 2017, Thor was considered one of the less-popular series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Thor: Ragnarok reinvigorated the character. As the Asgardian corner of this franchise took a more comedic tone while delivering excellent action to Led Zepplin, this success understandably saw director Taika Waititi returning for the sequel. It appears lightning doesn't strike twice, as what felt fresh and hilarious unfortunately now feels tired.

After travelling with the Guardians of the Galaxy in an all-too brief sequence, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself battling a murderer known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Meanwhile, Thor's ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) reappears, now wielding Mjolnir as 'The Mighty Thor'.

Co-written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the screenplay adapts two excellent storylines from Jason Aaron's run on The Mighty Thor comic-book. The ingredients are there for something impactful, although the story feels suffocated while struggling to balance tones. Take a scene where Jane grapples with a drastic change, what should be an affecting moment feels quickly sidelined to show off a music-player that resembles a grenade.

What's unfortunate is how the film appears to be straining for gags. A recurring gag involving a love-triangle between Thor's weapons is enjoyable, yet it feels rare amidst repeatedly screaming goats which quickly gets old. The fresh gags which made Ragnarok such a joy are sorely missed, particularly when Waititi reuses elements that worked to less-effective degrees. The Asgardian play and use of rock music during action scenes try to replicate what worked five-years ago, and ultimately feel disappointing.

Returning to the title role, Chris Hemsworth is having a blast showing Thor's tender side. Struggling to find a purpose while longing for love, Thor's character arc is an interesting one that leaves the character in a curious place. Hemsworth shares the screen with Natalie Portman for the first time since 2013, who returns to the franchise as Jane readies herself to fight with her newly-acquired abilities while trying to escape more human problems. While this is the character's most interesting role in the MCU, as she tries distracting herself from her struggles by embracing superhero clichés, the result leaves such struggles without the weight they deserve.

From the opening moments depicting Gorr's journey to butchering gods, audiences are reassured that this wouldn't be another Malekith style misstep. Christian Bale is an unsettling highlight with his feral performance, masking his hurt with murderous intentions. Tonally opposite is Russell Crowe, delivering a suspect accent within a fun portrayal as Zeus, a god that embraces playing to the crowd with the air of a wrestler. From the moment he arrives, the character is the standout in a segment which feels unnecessary to the plot.

There's excellent directorial flourishes in play, with a particular highlight being a colour-drained trip to the Shadow Realm (not that one, Yu-Gi-Oh! fans), although the unfortunate visual-effects takes one out of the scenes. Green-screen backgrounds are distracting, while some effects offer the nuance of Snapchat filters, leaving some embarrassing visuals to have in a finished $250 million blockbuster. Whatever the reason, there's a feeling of papering over cracks throughout which includes Korg's narration. By the end, the main thing butchered was a sense of enjoyment.

Thor: Love and Thunder is available in cinemas now