Tony Stark made the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame. Steve Rodgers went back in time, found his happy ending with Peggy Carter, and gave up his Captain America mantle. One of the remaining original heroes from the first Marvel phases of projects is Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Audiences have seen the character go through a pantheon of emotions — from being not so worthy, gaining Mjölnir (then Stormbreaker), losing his mom, dad, and mischievous brother Loki, losing his way, and rising again. Love and Thunder continues Thor’s in the lighthearted, jokey tone of Ragnarök. Our returning champion has found some inner peace (briefly) and is jumping around with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Director/co-writer Taika Waititi infuses this world with 80s metal and enormous bursts of color. The cinematography of Barry Idoine is almost like its own character — playing with the vibrance of the worlds surrounding these characters. Korg (played by Waititi) narrates the story like a campfire legend. The film feels like you’re moving through a living canvas of retro superhero films of the past. Hemsworth has even more fun with this festive take on the character. But while Love and Thunder is filled to the brim with smiles and punchlines, an undercurrent of darkness lies underneath. Within the opening minutes, the audience is introduced to Gorr (Christian Bale), who lives on a desolate desert planet just minutes before his daughter Love (India Hemsworth) dies. He prays to the gods for salvation, but they never come — one even mocks his devotion, and, in that instance, the necrosword becomes his tool of destruction.

How does someone like Gorr become radicalized to kill? Marvel has introduced villains like Killmonger from Black Panther, who do terrible things from a traumatic experience where they’ve been wronged. Gorr’s path of vengeance inside the quirkiness of Love and Thunder has weight because of the nonchalant nature that the gods flaunt to mortals (and even to other gods). Zeus (Russell Crowe), with the short screen time he has, is the embodiment of how these deities look at everyone with their noses held up high. While Gorr’s character comes off naturally menacing, his storyline is a staunch contrast to the tone the film is trying to establish. What doesn’t help is the switches between Thor, his comrades, and wherever Gorr lives until they clash.

There’s almost a whiplash element where it’s hard to latch onto the stakes Love and Thunder tries to build. Another theme that permeates throughout the runtime is one is fate concerning destiny. A returning Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is unfortunately struck with cancer until the pieces of Mjölnir call out to her. She is ordained Mighty Thor and is soon to be reunited with her ex-boyfriend in battle. Hemsworth and Portman play off each other well, with the typical “have you’ve been seeing anyone lately” banter that previous lovers sometimes have. A funny ongoing gag between Thor, Stormbreaker, and Mjölnir shows how natural humor works in this film.

The key word is natural. Some moments happen that telegraph jokes are coming. Ragnarök excelled because the comedic bits were a tool sprinkled in the story — but not the main attraction itself. What do you do when you have another chance at love when time is running out? How does one get over losing the love of their life? Here are questions that the film asks, but speeds through where they don’t have the intended impact they should. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) deals with New Asgard’s commercial, bureaucratic nature and wants to relive her battlefield days. While Thompson gets time to shine during battle scenes and while the group is together, Valkyrie’s storyline is forgotten to serve these other masters.

Love and Thunder takes on the energy of the relative you know who is going through a mid-life crisis. They latch on to many exciting things, but ultimately most of the activities don’t stay. The spur-of-the-moment motorcycle either stays in the garage or returns to the showroom floor. Thor, as a character, is continuing down the path of giving the MCU a jolt of happiness anytime we need it. His character arc provided a blueprint on how to dive into different genres. Love and Thunder will remind you of fantastical adventure films like The Neverending Story, where the impossible can happen. At the same time, it may get in its own way trying to tackle as much as it does.

Photo Credit: Marvel/Disney