★★★★ - STUFF
- It's no Endgame, but Taika's likeable, engaging and daft tale is still a Marvel -
At this point, post Endgame – and with Chloe Zhao's Eternals having proved the audience's appetite for a “serious” Marvel movie has been satisfied and is maybe ready for the dessert trolley, Taika Waititi's irreverence might now represent the best way forward for Marvel.
Don't get me wrong. The more I re-watch Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame – and you would be surprised at how often I do – the more I am struck by the audacity and ambition of the storytelling and the near-perfection that Kevin Feige and his directors brought to the task. Bringing home a franchise that had been building for over a decade, across 20 or so films – and then landing every arc in a way that was both narratively satisfying and hellaciously entertaining in a couple of three-hour extravaganzas, was one of the greatest feats of scriptwriting I know of.
But that era is over. And that's as it should be. Iron Man and Captain America have had their storylines brought to an end – and now it is up to the support acts to pick up what they can and have some fun, maybe on the way toward kickstarting another grand arc that will one day require its own Endgame.
Thor: Love and Thunder exists separately to the Spider-Man and Doctor Strange storylines that have featured in the last couple of Marvel outings. It opens in an unfamiliar place, with a character we have never met before. And it quickly sets up a conflict for Thor – and the creative tension that will typify the film.
The figure we meet is the unambiguously named Gorr the God-Butcher. He is a man who has been driven to insanity by the death of his family and the vast disinterest of his own god in their fate. An encounter with a mystical sword transforms Gorr (as played by Christian Bale) into a super-being with enough ability to go toe-to-toe with any random god he happens to meet on his travels. Gorr has made it his mission to rid the universe of gods – and Thor is next on his list.
With the villain in place, Taika's screenplay has one other major bit of business to attend to, which is to resurrect the much missed Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), but as more than just a returning love interest for Thor. This time around, Foster might be becoming Thor herself.
The balancing act that Taika has to make work here, is to create a movie in which the monochromatic nightmare of the God Butcher can exist alongside the candy-coloured stylings of the near rom-com of the rest of the film. And then to find a way to transport the cast – including Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie and Taika's own Korg – between the storylines, while keeping both strands taut.
Helping immeasurably is a support cast that includes a very sporting Russell Crowe as Zeus, with an accent straight out of a Courtenay Place kebab shop and a lace mini-skirt ensemble that was worth the biggest laugh of the night.
Oh, actually, scratch that. The lunatic love-triangle between Thor, his hammer and his axe is still the best gag in Love and Thunder. But Crowe's curtsey in that skirt is a close second.
Thor: Love and Thunder walks a fine line between a comedic parody of a superhero movie and actually paying the rent as the real thing. So while the first 30 minutes or so – after the Gorr reveal – are almost entirely played for laughs, the last act of the film, as Gorr moves towards his prize and the two Thors look powerless to stop him, or to save the lives of the children of New Asgard, are as enthralling and eventually moving as anything the Marvel franchise has ever put on a screen.
It doesn't all work, but even the moments of lunacy are well thought through, while the drama and the action have got more depth to them than you might immediately notice. There are also so many references and in-jokes here, you could write a separate story just on them.
There might never be another Endgame, or even another Winter Soldier in this series. But as long as there are films as likeable, engaging and daft as Love and Thunder, I'll keep on watching them.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Thor: Love and Thunder is now playing at Light House Cinema!