'Thor: Love and Thunder' review: Taika Waititi blends humour and action in Marvel return

The acclaimed director injects his signature entertaining touch — and it's a delight to have him back

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Someone’s been listening to Appetite for Destruction. A lot.

Thor: Love and Thunder, Taika Waititi’s second foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rings loud and proud with the sound of Guns N’ Roses’ seminal debut album, as songs such as Paradise City, Welcome to the Jungle and, best of all, Sweet Child O' Mine blast out.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Director: Taika Waititi 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi

Rating: 4/5

There’s even a young boy who features in the story and renames himself Axl, in honour of the band's lead singer Axl Rose. Not since Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord boogied his way through the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy to Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love has music felt so integral to a Marvel movie.

Indeed, Waititi — whose previous MCU movie, Thor: Ragnarok (2017), pleasantly surprised everyone — is not unlike Guardians’ director James Gunn. Both have a unique, quirky sensibility, which they seamlessly shoehorn into these giant comic book spectacles.

The crossover continues at the beginning of Love and Thunder with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fighting alongside the Guardians crew, until there’s a problem — a “classic Thor adventure” as the returning stone creature Korg (brilliantly voiced by Waititi) dryly narrates in his usual laconic style.

As the film’s title suggests, this is going to be a love story first and foremost, with Thor still moping over Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the Earthly astrophysicist he previously split from. This “woman of science” we now learn has a life-threatening illness. Not that it stops her telling someone at the hospital, who happens to be reading her book, who she is and that to understand wormholes he should watch Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and the 1997 sci-fi Event Horizon (references drawing the MCU even closer to our own world).

Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'. Photo: Marvel Studios

With Thor’s home planet of Asgard no more, the film also takes us back to New Asgard, where Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) now rules. This tranquil Norwegian town attracts tourists in their droves, with vendors selling merchandise such as 'Infinity Conz’ and actors staging a play of Thor’s adventures (which means another cameo for Matt Damon, as the thespian taking on the role of the mischievous sibling Loki).

But when Jane arrives, picking up Thor’s broken hammer Mjolnir, she transforms into the Mighty Thor, a development direct from the comics. Soon enough, she’s projected into a battle with Thor, who seems slightly aghast she now has control of his one-time weapon while he wields the axe Stormbreaker.

“You moved on quick, didn’t you?” he nods to the hammer, just one of the charming lines bristling in the script by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Yet through all this, there’s a real enemy they’re facing, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a super-villain who has sworn to avenge himself on all gods, using a fearsome weapon, the Necrosword.

Christian Bale looks unrecognisable as Gorr the God Butcher. Photo: Marvel Studios

This leads to a lovely scene where Thor, Jane, Korg and Valkyrie appeal to the Gods of Omnipotence City, where Zeus (Russell Crowe) lords it over all who come before him.

Gorr has captured some Asgardian children, and Bale adds real menace to his first time in the MCU in a story that deep down is about parenthood, with his character having lost his own daughter in the film’s prologue. But this being a Waititi film, his appetite for humour is never far away.

“I’ll call the axe when you call the dentist,” says Thor to Gorr, when they get up close and personal.

And there’s plenty of off-kilter moments to savour, from a pair of weird goats to a talking bao bun (yes, really) to space dolphins who mate for life. Fans of Waititi's world won’t be disappointed by what he serves up here.

Russell Crowe plays Zeus in the film. Photo: Marvel Studios

By now, Hemsworth could probably perform Thor in a coma, but there’s no sense he’s sleepwalking through the role. There’s a playful enthusiasm here, particularly in the scenes with Jane/The Mighty Thor, their chemistry is alive for all to enjoy.

If this is to be his last outing as the character, as he’s already hinted, then he’s going out in fine style — in a story that’s less about world-flattening destruction than it is about growing up, getting older and finding the one you love.

Of all the new characters, the most entertaining is Crowe as Zeus. The actor uses his considerable charisma to give weight to this louche fellow forever surrounded by women; it might be the most fun the Gladiator star has had in a movie in years.

As for Waititi, he once again proves his ability to leave his personal mark on a Marvel movie. He’s set to dive into the Star Wars universe next, and on this evidence, it’ll be a delight to see him inject some much-needed levity into that galaxy far, far away.

Thor: Love and Thunder is out in cinemas on Thursday

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Updated: July 07, 2022, 1:17 PM
Thor: Love and Thunder

Director: Taika Waititi 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi

Rating: 4/5