You'd be hard pushed to figure out where Taika Waititi gets the time to do everything he does. Producing, directing, acting, writing all on various projects. From appearing in Our Flag Means Death and Free Guy to working on forthcoming film Next Goal Wins which he has also written, to now pulling triple duty helming, scribbling and even appearing in the next chapter in the epic Marvel saga.
Thor: Love and Thunder is an interesting feat, in weaving a story about discovering of oneself and love Waititi appears to have listened to those who found Ragnarok's reliance on jokes over emotion too much. This time he appears to be more confident, perhaps buoyed by his oscar winning Jojo Rabbit to allow for the emotional moments to sit. He opens in a terrifically confident manner introducing us to the film's villain, Christian Bale's Gorr. It's a long, serious sequence punctuated by fully understanding why he will be known as The God Butcher. Bale actually eats up his role as the villain with a theatricality and genuine terror at times that allows the film to be inflected by horror.
The first act that follows is a little ropey, all too quickly relying on Waititi's Korg to dump exposition, but even here Waititi manages to show a visual flair. A sequence showing Thor and Jane's relationship between Avenging is interesting for how Waititi manages to ape the style of his debut film Eagle vs Shark, at times mimicking the mumblecore indie style for a montage. A trip to the world of the Gods provides a more comedic touch, replete with Russell Crowe's over the top Zeus.
What ultimately works is that clearly Natalie Portman feels more energised as Jane. Her story, having become the foremost speaker on astrophysics, and now in the later stages of cancer is treated with respect. Her move from someone in poor health to embracing super heroism could have been fumbled and perhaps if this was Ragnarok it would have been, but Waititi seems so much more confident that it becomes integral to the themes of the film, which is about love.
It sounds ridiculous that a mega franchise film would explore different types of love. But from Thor and Jane's rekindling, to the effect loss has on people like Valkyrie and Gorr, to smaller moments where Waititi actually tries to represent the spectrum of sexuality – not as out and proud as a film that features flying on a rainbow bridge might have gone for but still – it's thrilling to see a film that is so unashamed of it's aspirations for romance.
There is a sense that a lot has been left on the cutting room floor. Not just reports of Goldblum, Dinklage and Lena Headey but also more for Valkyrie to do. You get the feeling that perhaps the first act has been trimmed to get to the meat of the story. Meaning that until New Asgard is beset by shadow monsters Waititi is struggling to get his pieces into place.
Even so, the evocation of New Asgard as both a haven for the once mighty people and a tourist trap is a nice touch, and the way in which people explore their desires is commendable. Perhaps most excitingly it teases what might be a new chapter for the Gods of the Marvel universe, and another fascinating direction for the mightiest Avenger to go into.
Thor: Love and Thunder is released in cinemas on July 7th.