Thor: Love & Thunder serves up heady cocktail of action-packed spectacle and raucous humour

Thor: Love And Thunder: Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Damon Smith

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (12A, 118 mins) Comedy/Adventure/Fantasy/Romance. Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff and the voices of Taika Waititi, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Director: Taika Waititi.

Released: July 7

FIVE years ago, the strapping Norse god of thunder, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth with laid-back Antipodean charm, got his mojo back in Thor: Ragnarok.

The deliriously entertaining romp directed by Oscar winner Taika Waititi was perfect light relief before the devastating losses of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, which concluded phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by temporarily severing Thor's ties to New Asgard to allow the heartbroken hunk to explore new worlds with the sharp-shooting Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Thor: Love And Thunder welcomes back Waititi to the director's chair to serve up a similarly heady cocktail of action-packed spectacle and raucous humour including cheeky cameos for Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Melissa McCarthy to poke fun at the rampant commercialisation of the Marvel brand.

A script co-written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson careens wildly between light and dark, addressing grief, terminal illness and self-sacrifice in one gut-wrenching breath before Hemsworth casually loses all of his clothes and female co-stars faint on-screen at his artfully concealed magnificence.

Tonal shifts can be jarring and Christian Bale's all-guns-blazing performance as a vengeful villain is on a different plane to everyone else in the gung-ho odyssey.

As messy as this fourth solo outing gets, replete with screaming goats and an army of pint-sized helpers pithily referred to as Team Kids In A Cage, Waititi retains focus on the emotional bonds between characters destined to ascend to the hallowed pantheon of Valhalla.

Separated from magical hammer Mjolnir, which was shattered in Thor: Ragnarok, the strapping Norse god of thunder (Hemsworth) has a new weapon – a mighty axe called Stormbreaker – as he answers cries for help alongside Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel).

These gung-ho heroics with the Guardians Of The Galaxy are a welcome distraction from the pain of losing his one true love, pre-eminent astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

A distressing vision ushers Thor and rock-like warrior buddy Korg (Waititi) back to New Asgard, ruled by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), where accursed Gorr the God Butcher (Bale) lays a diabolical trap as part of his plan to slaughter all deities with the fabled Necrosword.

Thor offers a robust defence alongside Jane, who has taken on the guise of the Mighty Thor with Mjolnir at her side.

However, Thor, Mighty Thor and Valkyrie are no match for Gorr and his relentless army of shadow creatures, which can snatch screaming children from their beds.

The heroes seek reinforcements and head to Omnipotence City where thunderbolt-wielding Zeus (Russell Crowe) reigns supreme.

Thor: Love And Thunder feels disjointed compared to its predecessor and there are noticeably fewer laughs, but the pleasures comfortably outweigh the pain.

Hemsworth flexes dramatic muscles in key scenes with Portman and Waititi's sidekick provides effervescent comic relief, predominantly in voiceover.

Action sequences are briskly choreographed with a heavy reliance on digital effects.

Thor Will Return teases the end credits. Oh gods.