The impressive mix of tones and styles that director TaikaWaititi pulled off in “Thor: Ragnarok” largely fizzles in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which isn’t as funny as it wants to be, as stirring as it needs to be or romantic as it ought to be. Although well paced at just under two hours, instead of the hoped-for fireworks this comes a little too close to feeling like a post-Fourth of July dud. Marvel’s enviable track record of creative as well as commercial darlings dating back to “Iron Man” has begun looking less invincible, with the mythic “Eternals” and some of its lesser Disney+ efforts (see “Knight, Moon”) exhibiting signs of vulnerability. While reuniting Waititi and star Chris Hemsworth sounded like a can’t-miss proposition and should provoke considerable enthusiasm.
Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale share the same initials, but her Hela is far more powerful than his Gorr the God Butcher, a character whose tragic backstory takes a grim turn when he acquires the Necrosword, vowing to use the mystical artifact to kill all gods, including Thor and his Asgardian pals. As for Thor, his carefree existence becomes much more complicated as he leaves the Guardians of the Galaxy behind right before the love of his long life, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), unexpectedly flies back into it — literally, it turns out, since Jane has acquired Thor-like powers by means of a bond with his old hammer Mjolnir, while harboring a secret that explains her sudden interest in magic. Waititi injects humor into scenes that are funny enough on their own — like Thor’s odd relationship with his axe Stormbreaker — but is also able to create tension where needed; indicative of an eclectic resume that ranges from quirky TV comedies to a planned Star Wars movie
The movie again includes cameos from a wide range of actors, including Russell Crowe as a very eccentric Zeus. Waititi (who shares script credit with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) has sought to foster a playful tone, down to a recap of Thor’s story thus far and well-chosen Guns N’ Roses songs after Led Zeppelin’s contribution to “Ragnarok.” Yet despite genuinely striking visual flourishes and Hemsworth’s gameness in portraying Thor as a swaggering oaf — including a naked bit already overexposed in the marketing that should still elicit big laughs — too often the gags in “Love and Thunder” fall flat. There’s also something almost lazy about the way kids get incorporated into the plot.
Although the most encouraging moment in “Thor: Love and Thunder” comes during a mid-credit sequence, which hints at a more promising plot for a fifth movie to come, with the standard pledge that “Thor will return,” it’s disappointing having to pin one’s hopes on the next phase. Still, this movie sets up that scenario, with a film that’s muscular and handsome but at its best sporadically likeable, and even harder to love.