Even if "Thor: Love and Thunder," now in theaters, is only half as funny, fierce, romantic and thrilling as 2017's incomparable "Thor: Ragnarok," director Taika Waititi and star Chris Hemsworth as the Norse Avenger god still deliver their fair share of summer fireworks.
But is that enough? Amid the bloat of Marvel epics, "Thor: Ragnarock" had the air of a tossed-off cosmic romp that made light of the millions it took to produce it. Now grandiosity has snuck in, swerving Thor's fourth solo outing from silliness into scenes as serious as cancer (for real).
In a search to find himself, Thor has lost his hammer, Mjolnir, to his ex, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), now muscled up herself as Mighty Thor. King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who became ruler of New Asgard at the end of "Avengers: Endgame," also means business.
The children of the New Asgard (Thor's old planet was destroyed at the end of "Ragnarok"), meanwhile, have been kidnapped by Gorr the God Butcher, an electrifying Christian Bale looking as zombie-pale as Voldemort, with the intention of luring a Mt. Olympus of deities to the rescue so Gorr can kill them for letting his daughter die. Dire matters, indeed.
We get the dish on Thor from his buddy Korg, that talking pile of rocks again voiced by Waititi. Korg is not a reliable narrator. He keeps calling Jane Foster, Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster. Korg tells us that Thor now wields an axe named Stormbreaker and has been tooling around with the Guardians of the Galaxy and other surprise guest stars (I'll never tell).
In the role he was born to play, Hemsworth embraces giggles with no loss of gravity. He's sensational. Jane gets Thor's heart thumping, allowing Hemsworth and Portman to trade romcom banter only dimmed by the chemotherapy Jane is undergoing for breast cancer.
Jane gets weaker the more strength she expends. Couple that with children cowering in fear when Gorr locks them in spiked cages and parents might rightly worry about taking impressionable kids to this PG-13 party.
Tonal chaos has always been the way with Waititi, the gonzo New Zealander whose films (the Oscar-winning "JoJo Rabbit") and TV series ("What We Do in the Shadows") never met a genre they couldn't mash-up. If whiplash is the price you pay for Waititi's wacko magic, count me in.
Where is the plot heading? I don't think even Waititi knows. To the sound of Guns N' Roses needle drops, two scene-stealing goats (you'll love them) whisk Thor off to a convention of the gods in Omnipotence City, with more gold and glitter than a Trump penthouse. There's a campy cameo you'll have to see to believe from Russell Crowe as top god Zeus.
As team Thor heads into climactic battle with Gorr and his shadow monsters, it's a visual miracle of color and light that Waititi suddenly moves into stark black-and-white as we enter Gorr's sinister lair. Too much? You bet, but Waititi fans love his tilt-a-whirl approach.
Still, it's a letdown that "Thor: Love and Thunder" lacks the fresh pow of "Thor: Ragnarock." And it hurts that Thor doesn't have dangerous half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the raging Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to spar with. But at its best, Waititi's slapstick tragedy hits the sweet spot that makes you want to hang on for Thor's next adventure.