In the opening moments of Taika Waititi's Thor: Love and Thunder, we experience two scenes tonally at odds with each other. The first scene is one of the most affecting origin stories a Marvel villain has ever received. Chrisitan Bale is Gorr, a devout man traveling in the desert with his daughter. It is clear they are going to die out in the vast, arid land. He watches his daughter take her last breath and cries out to his god. In a vision, he meets his god, who doesn't give a damn about him or his daughter. Fuelled by hate and pain, Gorr becomes the God Butcher.
In the next scene, we catch up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Guardians of the Galaxy. They are saving a race of aliens from an attack. The scene is light, silly, and full of quips that one would expect from the Guardians. It culminates with an over-the-top, campy fight scene set to Guns and Roses' Welcome to the Jungle, perhaps the most overused rock song in cinema. The scene is weightless and is in stark contrast to the touching opening. These two tones are always at odds in Thor: Love and Thunder. Director Waititi can't ever seem to find the balance here.
What does remain is some of the zippy humor that made Thor: Ragnarok a fun experience. It is just that this campy and zany tone is often put right next to a character with terminal cancer and a supervillain whose mission to kill all gods is driven by a loss of faith. Those are heady themes for a film with a bumbling rock creature as a main character.
After the opening scenes, we catch up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who has stage-four cancer. She thinks all hope is lost when she hears Mjölnir, Thor's broken hammer, calls to her. She finds it and soon becomes The Mighty Thor. This results in one of the film's best jokes as Thor is unsure if he is more jealous of Jane or that his hammer chose her. We also catch up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is running New Asgard. Everyone comes together when Gorr kidnaps the children of New Asgard in order to force Thor to follow him to his shadow realm.
Along the way, Thor and company travel to Omnipotence City, where the gods of the universe convene. Led by a campy performance by Russell Crowe as Zeus, the film is at its most wacky here before settling into a more serious tone for the final act. Before that, Waititi sneaks a queer sensibility throughout the film. There are Valkyrie's non-binary comments, the explanation by Korg of how babies are made by two men holding hands, and a pair of New Asgardian moms that are highlighted. It is a refreshing quality to the film.
While the tonal shifts of the film cause it to be a very bumpy ride, Love and Thunder still has highlights. Hemsworth and Portman still have chemistry together and their relationship plays out satisfying here. The true highlight of the film is Bale, who brings such intensity to his villain here that I wanted him to get a film of his own. His performance has none of the winking that the rest of the film has and is better for it. Bale creates one of the most intriguing and interesting villains in all of the MCU. Visually the film is uninspired aside from the scenes in Gorr's realm.
Comedy and tragedy can go together beautifully and Waititi has created films that balance these tones wonderfully, see Jojo Rabbit. However, Thor: Love and Thunder can't seem to find sure-footing here. Perhaps the MCU has peaked.