As summertime starts to hit full stride in the wake of 4th of July, Marvel Studios' "Thor: Love and Thunder" stumbled into multiplexes this weekend, dragging along both scathing reviews and confused MCU acolytes trying to unravel this chaotic blend of tone and style that is simply all over the map story-wise.
Remember when the God of Thunder was a noble, semi-serious Asgardian rebelling against Odin, his overbearing father, and constantly dodging nefarious plots from his trickster step-brother, Loki? Well those days of old are perhaps gone forever as Marvel has made the questionable decision to reduce the valiant hammer-handling hero into a goofy, lovesick clown minus the red nose and oversized honking shoes.
Marvel President Kevin Feige's Phase 4 has been met with a combination of puzzlement and disappointment with hit-or-miss offerings such as "Black Widow," "WandaVision," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," "Moon Knight", and "Ms. Marvel" all suffering from the same misguided deconstructionism that lacks any unifying coherence or internal logic.
Directed By Taika Waititi like a wacky Saturday morning cartoon, "Thor: Love and Thunder" is a brash, uneven sequel to his 2019 hit "Thor: Ragnarok." Instead of "Ragnarok's" neon-splashed '80s fun-fest, here Waititi seems to be applying more of a frantic "kitchen sink" approach to his comedic tentpole feature.
It's a major mishandling of one Marvel Comics' greatest characters. Like the annoying class jester whose jokes wear painfully thin after one semester, this ambitious entry feels tired of itself and that weariness extends directly to the eager summer audience.
The screenplay here is written by Waititi and "Sweet/Vicious" screenwriter Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and that might be part of the problem. "Thor: Love and Thunder" rolls out its sitcom-like narrative following the events of "Avengers: Endgame," where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) passed Asgard's torch over to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and embarked on a quest with the crazy Guardians of the Galaxy clan.
As the saga starts, Gorr (Christian Bale) and his daughter (India Rose Hemsworth) are battling for survival in the open desert. Gorr's child perishes in the harsh conditions despite his lamentations to his god, Rapu (Jonny Brugh), whom he beheads with the Necrosword for allowing his daughter to die and begins a bloody quest of vengeance against all gods.
After a silly adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Korg (Waititi), and two giant screaming goats head back to New Asgard to offer protection, but they're too late to stop Gorr from kidnapping all the children. Thor gathers a rescue team made up of his dying ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who's now the Mjolnir-wielding Mighty Thor, Valkyrie, and Korg to seek out Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) and take the kids safely back home.
All the while, Thor tries to reignite the embers between him and Jane. The absolute lack of chemistry between the two feels forced, and at times it seems like we're watching a middle-school drama pageant about heroic gods and their fragile human emotions. Boiled down to its bare bones, there's a heavy-handed message shoved throughout the story that one must choose love, and while that's certainly a nice sentiment, it's not exactly the most original theme to hang an entire movie on.
In the actual acting department, Hemsworth, Portman, Bale, and Thompson do their very best to deliver flat jokes and imitate the semblance of well-choreographed fight scenes. However, Waititi's direction this time is devoid of the same magic that made "Thor: Ragnarok" such a hoot. The corporate machinations and robotic assemblies of Marvel's recent plots feel absent of heart, inspiration or sheer joy. Everyone involved appears to be in some somnambulistic trance, content to go through all the motions without leaving any resonating moments for us to ingest.
Christian Bale, one of this generation's most gifted actors, has very little screen time and his Gorr the God Butcher is treated as a generic vaudevillian villain whose superficial motivations place him somewhere between Oscar Isaac's immortal Apocalypse character from "X-Men: Apocalypse" and Jared Leto's seething lunatic Joker in 2016's "Suicide Squad."
There are some bright spots, however, in this $250 million Hollywood quagmire. Those of note include Russell Crowe's amusing portrayal of a chubby Italian-accented Zeus and the brilliant eye candy of wondrous alien worlds sprinkled throughout the disjointed storyline.
Finally, if you're a headbanging fan of vintage Guns N' Roses, your ears will be pleased as Waititi's film is wall-to-wall with Axl Rose and company. Sadly, these are not some of their more interesting tunes pulled from the band's expansive catalog, but every song you've heard 1,001 times over the decades.
As briskly-paced escapist summer entertainment, "Thor: Love and Thunder" does deliver a few flashy doses of fun if you leave your brain at home with classical music playing, but overall it's a mediocre, scattershot entry in Marvel Studios' convoluted and rapidly crumbling Phase 4 lineup.
And yes there are post-credit scenes that hint at Marvel's Phase 5, but we'll leave those surprises spoiler-free!
For more Marvel magic, check out our guide to the Best Marvel Movies, Ranked.