★★☆☆☆ Taika Waititi returns to direct his second instalment of the Thor saga. Leaning even further into the comedy that made Ragnarok such a riot, upping the visual ante and raising the emotional stakes, Waititi's follow-up has all the makings of the God of Thunder's best adventure yet. Sadly, Love and Thunder proves that it is possible to have too much of a good Thor.

★★☆☆☆

Taika Waititi returns to direct his second instalment (and the fourth overall) of the Thor saga. Leaning even further into the comedy that made Ragnarok such a riot, upping the visual ante and raising the emotional stakes, Waititi’s follow-up has all the makings of the God of Thunder’s best adventure yet. Sadly, Love and Thunder proves that it is possible to have too much of a good Thor.

Picking up where Avengers: Endgame left off, Asgard’s mightiest hero is galavanting about space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Via sidekick Korg’s (Waititi) voiceover, we’re treated to a fun montage in which Thor (Chris Hemsworth) transforms himself back “from Dad Bod to God Bod”, now rocking a cut-off red leather jacket and a sweet metal soundtrack courtesy of Guns N’ Roses. It’s a strong opener, confidently announcing the return of fun, comedy Thor, which is always where Hemsworth has been most at ease.

This first sequence represents all of Love and Thunder’s virtues and vices in microcosm. The comedy and colour are great, but fidgety editing and Marvel’s dull insistence on shooting dialogue in static medium-shots pulls the rug out from the visual gags and comic performances. And for all the visual flair, there’s a cheapness to much of the imagery: not so much with the CGI, but rather the inert, weightless blocking of shots that make it obvious we’re watching actors perform on a phony set.

And so to the plot, a frustrating, undisciplined mess of half-finished ideas, interminable exposition and narrative contrivance, all in search of a story that never finds thematic synthesis. A prologue neatly sets up the film’s villain, Gorr (Christian Bale), a grieving father betrayed by his deity, now on a mission to destroy all gods. It’s a decent set up and in the film’s early stages one wonders if Gorr doesn’t have a point. Sadly, Love and Thunder is nowhere near enough in control of its ideas to offer anything that nuanced, so instead we’re left with an unengaging monster that Must Be Stopped At All Costs™.

Still, it gives Thor something straightforward to do, badly needed in a screenplay as messy as this. But Waititi’s insistence on stopping the film every five minutes for wacky banter stalls its momentum every time it seems like it’s finally about to take off. A trip to Olympus culminates in a fun bout between team Thor and Zeus’ (Russell Crowe, attempting a deeply questionable Greek accent) legions, building a head of steam that should sustain for at least another act. But it’s almost immediately punctured in the next scene with yet more exposition and confused emotional beats.

Warning: Plot spoilers from this point.

Love and Thunder’s worst sin, however, is its treatment of women. Two of the series’ most wasted characters – Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) – are reintroduced and then immediately written out (Sif is especially done dirty this time), while Thompson’s Valkyrie receives an unfulfilled gesture at an arc before being needlessly excluded from the climactic smackdown. But the worst treated is Jane, much touted by the trailers suited and booted as the new Mighty Thor, yet essentially reduced to a foil for OG Thor to deal with his issues around loss.

Without unpicking the knots here, the subplot is as confused as it is confusing, but the worst of it is the implicit discourse that powerful women are doomed. Waititi’s film is fundamentally a series of moments, strung together by a lot of sound and fury, signifying little. This alone could be pardoned given that those moments are often fun, entertaining and even exciting. Instead, what does for Love and Thunder is the lingering misogynistic taste that it leaves in the mouth, like so much sweet confectionary turned sour. And no amount of post-credit reversals can wash away the taste.

Christopher Machell