It’s hammer time as Chris Hemsworth returns to his iconic superhero role in Thor: Love and Thunder, but has he still got what it takes?

Thor: Love and Thunder sees Chris Hemsworth’s hammer-wielding hero become the first MCU character to reach four solo films. After the huge success of Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi has returned to co-write and direct this new instalment. But will lightning strike twice for the marmite director?

The film picks up after the events of Avengers: Endgame and sees Thor fighting alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy. Hemsworth effortlessly embodies the role once more, easily balancing the humour, heart and heroism that has come to define the character. Thor and the Guardians travel the galaxy answering the distress singles of planets and races in need of their help. When they receive a message from the Asgardian warrior Sif, Thor parts ways with Star-Lord and co, in order to assist his friend. It’s here that he discovers a new threat to the galaxy, Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale. His quest to defeat Gorr sees Thor return to New Asgard, reuniting him with Tessa Thompson’s King Valkyrie and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster.

This isn’t any old reunion though, as Jane now wields the power of Mjolner as Mighty Thor. It’s brilliant to see Portman back in the MCU in a more substantial manner. However, her return, especially considering the narrative progression, feels a little underwhelming. To add to the disappointment so does Thompson’s. The fault lies not with Portman or Thompson though, as they’re by no means poor, the film’s writing just fails to give them the development or spectacle that they both so deserve. Perhaps they should have been given their own film to really chart the progression of their characters. With the number of movies and TV shows Marvel churns out, why not one more!? It definitely comes down to a writing issue though, and Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson could have been more generous with both of these characters.

Waititi certainly worked wonders for Ragnarok. He showed audiences a different side to the popular hero and delivered a Thor solo outing that could compete with the best of the MCU. That’s more than can be said for the first two Thor movies. However, whilst he certainly deserves credit for developing this character and the style of his films, where Love and Thunder is concerned, he comes dangerously close to derailing the whole film on numerous occasions. 

Arguably, the character he voices, Korg, didn’t need to exist past Ragnarok. His involvement in Avengers: Endgame was tolerable, however his presence here is a constant source of annoyance. Korg feels like nothing more than a vessel for Waititi’s tired sense of humour, and his involvement here reeks of the director feeling the need to overbearingly insert himself into his own film. Korg has overstayed his welcome and shows Waititi’s failure to restrain his comedic energy when needed. Everything doesn’t need to be undercut by a joke. So despite the humour of Ragnarok being one of that film’s most valuable strengths, here it is without a doubt the film’s most noticeable weakness. 

Another area that somewhat lets the film down is the visuals. Although the VFX isn’t entirely terrible, there are moments when it’s jarring and it’s the inconsistency of its quality that becomes most distracting. However, for such a colourful film it’s somewhat ironic that Love and Thunder’s most visually appealing section is when the narrative moves to the monochromatic Shadow Realm. The creative use of colour in this section almost makes the previous inconsistencies forgivable. The film’s shift from bright comic book colours to this darker setting, in both tone and appearance, is executed with much skill. Not completely devoid of colour, the sequence set here instead is more selective about how it uses its palette, the orange of Gorr’s eyes being the most striking.

©Marvel Studios

For a worryingly long time, one of the MCU’s less flattering defining traits was its weak villains. Thankfully, Love and Thunder has no such issue, as Christain Bale’s Gorr is the best MCU villain since Thanos. His motivations are clear and understandable, his design is genuinely menacing and his performance is both eccentric and emotional. He steals every scene he’s in, which is why it’s a shame that he isn’t used slightly more. Nonetheless, he’s a refreshing adversary and the film’s subsequent exploration of gods that arises from his motivation is a really interesting addition to the script.

Much like the visuals, the film’s action is also slightly inconsistent, with the two often directly affecting each other. It feels lacking in some of the iconic Thor moments that stand out from his previous solo films, as well as in the Avengers adventures. Nevertheless, the continued trend of setting his action sequences to popular rock songs hasn’t lost its edge. Here the combination of Thor’s thunderous strength and the power of Guns N’ Roses’ biggest hits supercharge these sequences, making it impossible not to embrace their electric energy. Whilst they may fail to make a lasting impact amongst the impressive backlog of Thor MCU action moments, it’s hard not to relish in the ferocious fun they create in the moment. 

This critique is somewhat characteristic of the film as a whole: flawed, but a lot of fun. The film’s strengths always seem to battle with its weaknesses. In turn, this creates a conflicting tone and quality that gives Love and Thunder a messy and unsettled feeling to it. The progression of the overall narrative could be to blame, or the varying levels of the VFX effectiveness, but most guilty of all is Waititi’s particular brand of humour that’s run almost entirely thin. The combination of the three will certainly be too much for some audiences.

©Marvel Studios

However, the charisma of the central character, a cracking villain and the entertaining action complemented by the rock-infused soundtrack make it too difficult to dismiss entirely. So although Thor: Love and Thunder is in many ways at war with itself, and as a result may struggle to become iconic among the wider MCU, it remains infectious fun at the moment and far more entertaining than a number of its Phase Four counterparts. Maybe most importantly though, it feels like its own story. Not a sequel, a prequel or a stepping stone to a bigger film down the line. And right now, this is the direction the MCU desperately needs to take.

Rating – ★★★

Thor: Love and Thunder is now in cinemas.