A giddy script tackles sickness and mortality with commendable soul, with comedy the prevailing mood
Thor: Love and Thunder (12A, 119mins) ***
If you ask me (I notice you didn’t), there are about 20 Marvel films too many, and more arrive every minute as the never-ending franchise endlessly multiplies. They’re not all bad, however, and I do have a favourite. That would be Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi’s exuberant 2017 adventure which rescued the God of Thunder from the doldrums by turning him into a stand-up comic. In Ragnarok, Thor was forced to subsist on humble pie, a dish he could never eat too much of, after being banished to a junk planet and forced to engage in gladiatorial combat.
Ragnarok was terrific fun, free of the pomposity that so often afflicts superhero capers, and one of the funniest films I’ve seen in the last five years. How to follow it? With great difficulty, but in fairness Love and Thunder gives it a good old try.
Taika Waititi is back, and with him his affable stone warrior Korg, whom Marvel scholars will recall thumbed a ride off the Guardians of the Galaxy along with Thor at the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame. Thor has had to make do with a substitute hammer since his mad sister Hela destroyed his beloved Mjolnir, but when he returns to Earth he finds Mjolnir miraculously restored, and attached to a very familiar person.
It’s Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s ex-girlfriend, brilliant scientist, great beauty, and now miraculously able to summon Mjolnir and use its power. Thor is confused, conflicted even by this new development, but as he and Jane rebuild their relationship, there are more pressing issues to worry about. Jane is sick, for one thing, having been diagnosed with cancer. Oh and a kind of intergalactic wraith has appeared with a compellingly simple agenda — death to all deities.
He has a catchy nickname too — Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) — and arrives in Thor’s Norwegian hideaway with an army of ghouls intent on laying waste to it. With great difficulty, Thor and Jane repel them, but in the confusion Gorr has managed to steal all the village’s children, and so an expedition is mounted to save them, and defeat Gorr for good.
Christian Bale has said that the classic German horror Nosferatu was among his inspirations for Gorr, and he’s not kidding: lean and anguished, shaven-headed, he grins and grimaces through every appearance, nursing a grievance we can sympathise with. In a stylish opening sequence, Gorr wanders through a parched desert with his young daughter, stares towards the heavens and asks his people’s god to save her. When she dies, he finds that god, runs him through, and vows vengeance on the whole sorry lot of them.
Frightening yes, funny no, Gorr gets none of the one-liners, and most of the comic heavy-lifting here is done by Thor. In Ragnarok, Thor and Loki revealed themselves as the Morecambe and Wise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but as Loki is no longer available for bookings, Jane Foster must step in as the straight-person. She does a pretty good job overall, as does Natalie Portman, who is asked to oscillate between comedy and tragedy as Jane battles her illness.
The script, by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, is giddy but ambitious, and while not the first Marvel film to tackle sickness and mortality, does so with commendable soul. The prevailing mood in Love and Thunder, though, is comical: Waititi’s Korg is as glumly quotable as ever, Chris Hemsworth misses no opportunity to take the rise out of himself, and Russell Crowe makes a hilarious cameo as Zeus, whom he plays as a grumpy and entitled Greek waiter.
It’s all very enjoyable, but inferior to Ragnarok in two respects. The plot here is a little too thin to carry all the pyrotechnics, and while the humour flowed with giddy ease in Ragnarok, in this likeable sequel it sometimes seems a little forced.
Also reviewed this week:
Directed by Jim Archer, and created by David Earl and Chris Hayward, Brian and Charles could not be more British if it tried. In deepest Wales, Brian, an amateur inventor, lives alone in splendid squalor. Amid his junk, he finds the face of a mannequin, which inspires him to create a robot out of spare parts and the body of a washing machine. Miraculously, the machine comes to life and, in tones a member of the royal family would be proud of, asks to be called Charles Petrescu.
Brian and Charles rub along pretty well to begin with, bonding over TV shows and Charles’ inexplicable enthusiasm for cabbage. But tensions arise as Charles enters an obstreperous adolescence, and Brian strikes up a tentative romance with Hazel (Louise Brealey). Meanwhile, a local hooligan has his eye on Charles. This is gentle stuff, absurdist whimsy, but not without a certain charm. It trades at times on the comedy of embarrassment, and the innate stiffness of English social interactions, but David Earl is a winning comic actor, and the romance between Brian and Hazel is touching.
(No Cert, IFI, 105mins)
Made by a trio of directors - Alice Rohrwacher, Francesco Munzi and Pietro Marcello - Futura is a thoughtful, freewheeling documentary that aims to take the pulse of Italy’s youth. Started in 2019, it was quickly overtaken by the pandemic, which hit Italy harder than anywhere else in Europe. This adds a poignancy to the film, as participants’ concerns about the future are given a sharp and worrying focus.
Spoken to in groups, the young people are sometimes shy in their answers, but unafraid to take on the big issues. A group of trainee beauticians argue heatedly about whether or not a woman should be financially independent from their husbands. In the countryside, a young man wonders whether or not to follow his father into farming. Money, or the lack of it, is a recurring theme: near Turin, a trio of horse-riding girls seem quite content with the status quo; but in Palermo, a group of poor kids hardly have the confidence to speak. And at a residential unit for refugees, one boy hankers for an ordinary life. “I don’t want to go to the moon,” he says.