Thor: Love and Thunder appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Following 2017’s wildly entertaining Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi is back in charge, with Natalie Portman making her triumphant comeback to the live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe after a nine-year sabbatical and Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian Avenger having rediscovered his adorably hilarious rhythm.
Unexpectedly, the latest MCU Thor film, which opens in cinemas on July 8, falls short. Thor’s fourth solo adventure spreads itself too thin and comes across as being superficial since it tries to strike a balance between comedy and drama as well as combine several legendary comic themes into a one plot.
The movie surrounding Chris Hemsworth frequently struggles to generate excitement and chuckles, despite the fact that he has a lot of fun in the starring character as usual. Gods and plot devices that had never been mentioned before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) series, of which this is the 29th instalment, would probably have been crucial to developments in earlier movies when half the universe was wiped out, but they have been thrown into the fourth Thor-centered instalment with the understanding that nothing matters and anything goes.
As Gorr, a grieving parent on a desolate planet, Christian Bale makes a comeback to the superhero genre, opening the picture in a bleakly evocative register. Gorr’s sorrows give him a good reason to fight against the causes of his misery: He decides after regaining his power to slay every deity in the cosmos.
The only deity he appears to be particularly interested in, however, is Thor, whom he spends the whole of the film following with feverish zeal despite the fact that there is little to connect the two.
Gorr kidnaps a bunch of youngsters (in sequences that may be overly upsetting to young children) in order to lure Thor into saving them on Earth, where Thor’s followers enjoy themselves in a little fishing hamlet turned theme park themed for his home world of Asgard.
We also discover that another planet is home to a massive metropolis populated by thousands of new gods whose existence would have been relevant earlier in the MCU series. Gorr is also planning to travel to a type of intergalactic wishing well, which has the potential to be a source of astonishing power.
With the funniest film in the MCU, “Thor: Ragnarok,” written and directed by Taika Waititi, the Thor franchise was saved. Mr. Waititi changed the tone of the previous two Asgardian epics from inadvertently goofy to unabashedly comedic.
Mr. Waititi continues to wink here, as he did in “Ragnarok,” at the general absurdity of the superhero genre (noting, for example, that Loki, Thor’s wicked brother, has already been dead three times). Additionally, he presents a dryly absurd review of the events in the role of the digital figure Korg, whose voice he supplies.
The revelation that Korg, a naf with the appearance of a pile of rocks, is gay is one of several details put into the script by Mr. Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson at random. Through unexpected celebrity appearances and a recurring joke that depicts Thor’s terrifying weapons as having emotions like obedient dogs that try to win their master’s attention, Mr. Waititi manages to crack a few smiles on the spot.
Natalie Portman, who starred as Thor’s earthbound lover Jane Foster in the previous two Thor movies but was absent from the third, makes a comeback in this film to play a peculiarly contradictory role: Jane is both a dying cancer patient and a superhero with a hammer.
Like Mr. Bale, Ms. Portman is an Oscar-winning actress who presumably might have used her time more interestingly than by taking on this role, in which she alternates between a commanding presence on the battlefield and a defenseless hospital patient hooked up to ominous-looking devices.
As Gorr, the stereotypical over-the-top villain who resembles Lord Voldemort and is played by Mr. Bale, a rare outstanding actor who is also a first-rate movie star, he makes some basic mistakes of screen nefariousness like letting his captured prey go free so the director can press ahead with a blowout battle scene.
Given that Mr. Bale hasn’t portrayed a comic book villain before and hasn’t been in a superhero movie since 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” this part ought to have been a big deal. It’s beneath him instead.
Another Oscar-winning performer, albeit one you might not have recently seen, also makes a notable cameo: Russell Crowe portrays Zeus, a new deity in these parts, as a haughty, self-obsessed, Las Vegas-style master of glam.
Mr. Crowe resembles a golden sheep with his wavy gray-white hair and his rotund proportions covered in dazzling armor that appears to have been left over from “Clash of the Titans.” Given that he has never been especially humorous previously, unless you consider the way he sang Javert in “Les Misérables,” it seems odd that he was cast in this overtly comedic role.