The last time director Taika Waititi stepped into the God of Thunder’s universe for Thor: Ragnarok, he, much like many a Marvel storyline, threatened to upset the very equilibrium on which the stories of the gods are built. Not that the celluloid Thor was above cracking a smile before Waititi’s sublime touch, but at his hands a new Marvel ecosystem opened up more goofy highs and gloomy lows, the finely-tuned action scenes abutted by absurdity and the deadpan delivery of gods who couldn’t conceive of their worlds spinning wildly out of control. It felt truly magical.
In this, his latest journey into Thor’s story, we find our once proud hero down at heel, contemplative and forlorn, hung on the horns of dismay and heartache, his introspection turning the once proud, flaxen-haired warrior into a cuddly naval-gazer. Meanwhile, far across the universe, Gorr (a grotesque and menacing Christian Bale) is setting the heavens aflame as the God Butcher, riven with revenge and hellbent on the extinction of Thor and his kind.
To combat the threat, Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who now, inexplicably, wields his magical hammer, Mjolnir, as the Mighty Thor. Throw in an extended cameo from The Guardians of the Galaxy, delightfully irked by the ever-present, blissfully unaware God of Thunder, and two giant, screaming goats who come along for the ride, and you’re all set for a free-fall through the sky and stars of a dozen other worlds.
So far, so hammy panto, alongside some glibly funny throwaway lines and some excellent use of the Guns N’ Roses catalogue to highlight and heighten varying battle scenes. Which would be fine, but there’s something deeper going on here; there’s the death of a child (as well as other children in real dread and peril), the palpable sense of grief and loss in love, as well as the death of a daughter, and the very real question of faith and want. What do you do when your god fails and you’re forced to confront the idea that your belief system is broken, that the one thing you always relied on is gone? No wonder some go insane.
It's a tricky balancing act, but one Thor: Love And Thunder pulls off with aplomb. Russell Crowe as a corpulent and craven Zeus is uproariously funny, as is the scene when he accidentally denudes Thor while still maintaining his veneer as the corrupt and narcissistic king of the gods, obsessed by orgies, gluttony and wanting only to sate his endless desires. Slapstick aside, you can see why mere men might want to unseat a god like Zeus from his place in the heavens.
Satisfyingly, too, this feels like a real hero’s journey, one that ends with epiphany, valour, and not some little loss. The unrestrained and ever ongoing narrative of life and death, even amongst the gods.
Thor: Love And Thunder is released in cinemas this week - and for all other Marvel content, check out Disney+ (opens in new tab).