Let's get right to it: Thor: Love and Thunder is outstanding. More than anything else, it's a gorgeous, offbeat, and intensely comedic follow-up that feels like an escalation of everything that made Ragnarok such a hit. It works, too! Where Ragnarok felt emotionally hollow and restrained with its humour, Love and Thunder is more fun, more sincere, and less interested in how anyone feels about how bonkers it is. And good GODS this movie is wild.
Ragnarok had more to prove. Taika Waititi's first foray into the MCU needed to overcome two movies' worth of weak writing, underwhelming villains, and rampant self-seriousness. And as a tonal pivot from stodgy action flick to lively superhero comedy, it did just that - with aplomb. Love and Thunder doesn't have that burden. It can frolic unfettered, and frolic it does.
The plot is whatever: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hitched a ride with the Guardians of the Galaxy after Avengers: Endgame and has been wandering the galaxy since. Meanwhile, his ex-squeeze, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), is back in the game - this time wielding Mjolnir. Together with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the ex-lovers team up to fight the aptly named Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) before he... yeah, that's all we'll say.
But the story itself isn't what stands out. It's Waititi's writing and direction. One of his gifts as a storyteller is his ability to reshape established characters into caricatures that align with his comedic tastes. With Thor, this was necessary. Gone is the God of Smashing Coffee Mugs at Diners. Banished is the exhausting machismo of the self-proclaimed Strongest Avenger. Here, we see a God of Thunder who's lost, insecure, and vulnerable. He still doesn't have dimension, but he is given more relatable things to do and feel.
“Brevity is the soul of wit” is not a rule Waititi is particularly interested in following. There's nothing elegant, profound, or even overtly smart about Love and Thunder. At least not in the spaces most would look. But Waititi makes small creative choices that reflect his emotional intelligence. A simple but subtle example: Thor's interactions with Stormbreaker are hilarious redirects from what could have been a toxic reaction to Jane wielding Mjolnir. But Waititi knows better and instead frames this dynamic as fertile comedic soil from which bizarre new jokes and ideas can spring.
Portman and Bale are the standouts, the latter flirting with twisted silliness before embracing a much scarier performance. Portman commands the screen in such a way that rightfully sidelines Hemsworth's floundering Avenger. This is, by nearly every account, her movie. She's a better conduit for the film's themes than Hemsworth, partly because the script maintains that Thor is a quippy, well-meaning man-child.
But as strange as it so often is, Thor: Love and Thunder isn't interested in your forgiveness or your permission. Waititi took Ragnarok's runaway success as a greenlight for him to go bigger, funnier, and weirder, resulting in a movie that's more 'trademark Taika' than just about anything he’s put out so far!
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is released in cinemas on July 8th