Taika Waititi’s second Thor film gives us action, comedy, and emotion – and still feels really well balanced.

After falling into a pit of despair in Avengers: Endgame, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is back on track in director Taika Waititi’s colourful new sequel for the character. In many ways, Thor: Love And Thunder is a study in contrast – one moment it’s an outright comedy, the next it’s dead serious – creepy, even. Its colour palette looks most of the time like it jumped straight out of a comic book, yet it’s also unafraid to sap all of that colour out of the screen when it’s needed. It sounds on paper like it’d give viewers some fairly serious whiplash from how much it mixes things up, but surprisingly these elements balance each other out quite perfectly.

It’s a movie that gives you a little bit of everything, and one that’s also incredible fun.

During his (brief) time with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor regains his strength and his will to fight. It’s just as well, as he soon hears of a menacing foe – Gorr, the God Butcher (Christian Bale) – who is, well, butchering gods. His aim is simple, all gods must die, and he has a cursed sword with the power to make that happen. In order to stop him, Thor must team up with familiar allies Korg (Waititi), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who’s somehow gained the ability to wield Mjolnir, and with it earned the power of Thor.

There are various storylines at play here, from Jane’s personal journey, to Gorr and his motivations and Thor having to find himself again. Despite the film’s breezy two hour runtime this is all very well written; handled in a way that’s succinct without feeling rushed. Hemsworth seems to be having more fun with the character than the last two Avengers movies allowed. Thor has, delightfully, returned to his loveable-but-slightly-dim himbo self. His battle plans never go exactly how he envisions them, to highly amusing results, and he endearingly speaks to his axe as though it’s a person.

But Love And Thunder is as action-packed as it is funny, and it switches tone with ease. If you like seeing Thor leaping into the air, Stormbreaker in hand, ready to obliterate any enemy to the tune of classic rock soundtrack, you’ll be very happy. With his hammer Mjolnir in the hands of Jane, we also get to see some exciting new powers and abilities that enliven all the scenes they feature in.

Taika Waititi has subverted expectations, though. He hasn’t just made fluffy franchise fare reliant purely on action and comedy. There are some serious and sad stories that are treated with the sincerity they deserve. This goes both for Jane, who has a very important role to play, and with regards to Gorr. He may be a simple villain with an even simpler motivation, but it’s a completely understandable one that both makes perfect sense and allows us to sympathise.

This is helped along by Bale’s performance. It’s impossible to overstate just how good he is in this. He skulks in the shadows, his eyes wild and his grin menacing. Most of his line deliveries are serious and threatening, but in one instance, where he has an audience of children, he allows himself to go full pantomime villain – and it’s excellent. He’s also genuinely one of the creepiest antagonists we’ve seen so far in the entire Marvel cinematic universe. Much of this is down to the costume and makeup departments. From a distance, in the shadows, Bale looks like an emaciated skeleton clinging to some unholy form of life. Up close we see his eyes and the madness that lurks in them. He controls the shadows, forming them into unsettling shapes and vicious creatures, another reason the film’s action scenes are incredibly entertaining.

Bale’s not the only one who steals the spotlight. Russell Crowe’s Zeus makes a memorable, albeit brief, appearance as Thor consults with other gods. He has a lot of fun trying to upstage Hemsworth (both in and out of character) and absolutely succeeds in terms of the latter.

The part of Love And Thunder that will split opinion is its conclusion. As the MCU continues its fourth phase of films, we’ve become accustomed to Marvel and Disney changing things up. The climax of the film is interesting, and divisive, in the way that it both shifts and maintains the status quo. Parts of it are entirely unexpected, and in many ways it’s an unconventional ending for a superhero film. In other ways it doesn’t shake things up quite as much as it could have dared to – as though the writers were pulling their punches.

Regardless of any debate the conclusion may cause, Thor Love And Thunder doesn’t – for this reviewer at least – have a single dull moment in it and the cast are clearly having the time of their lives. It’s a colourful burst of energy that’s fun from start to finish.

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