Regular readers know I’m a fan of popcorn movies in general and Marvel movies in particular. Having grown up reading and collecting comics, I still remember the days before digital effects when my friends and I would imagine a future when someone would finally make a decent movie based on a Marvel property.

The early days of superhero movies, starting with X-Men in 2000 or Blade in 1998 if you prefer, were definitely a mixed bag. If you’ve seen Daredevil, Elektra, any of the Fantastic Four films, the later X-Men films, etc. then you already know that getting the tone right wasn’t easy. But from the start, Marvel studios mostly got it right. Some of the films, Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, were undeniably great entertainment and several that didn’t quite fit in that category were still close to reaching that mark. I’d put Captain America the First Avenger, Black Panther, Civil War and Iron Man 3 in that category. Even the ones that weren’t great could still be fun.

And of course there have been a few clunkers along the way. Thor: The Dark World, Captain Marvel and the Eternals come to mind. These aren’t unwatchable they’re just not very good. Still, generally speaking Marvel’s stumbles only seemed to emphasize how many of the movies were better than average. Alas, it sounds as if Marvel may have made another film that goes in this latter category. Reviews for Thor: Love and Thunder (which opens Friday) are now being published and the consensus is that it’s really not very good.

“Thor 4” feels like a Disney experiment in just how bad Marvel movies can get before someone points out the emperor has no clothes. It feels like a Marvel movie that secretly thinks you’re stupid for liking Marvel movies…

“Love and Thunder” is deeply cynical. It doesn’t pretend to enjoy doing this yet again. When Bale is corrupted by an evil god-killing sword in an alien Garden of Eden, it’s ho-hum (although Bale is OK). When Natalie Portman picks up Thor’s broken hammer Mjolnir and it transfers the god’s power to her, there’s no sense of wonder (and Portman’s not even pretending to enjoy this). Worse, Waititi’s babbling satirical screenplay makes it feel like he’s mocking you for believing another Thor movie could be good.

“Thor 4” is the worst Marvel movie, because it’s not a movie — it’s content.

“Love and Thunder” wraps itself up in progressive trappings, hoping that if you’re distracted by ribbons of representation — a woman getting Thor’s powers or multiple queer people existing — you won’t notice that it treats that woman as a plot device and those queer people as punchlines or, at best, window-dressing.

The LA Times was similarly unimpressed:

It’s a battle of axes and exes, one that seeks to put Thor’s massive ego in check, give the franchise a gender-parity upgrade and renew some long-dormant romantic-comedy sparks.

Unfortunately those aims are lost, or at least frustratingly under-realized, in a blur of flat-footed jokes and lazily schematic plot turns, plus the general sense of a franchise spinning its creative wheels. These issues smack of run-of-the-mill Marvel fatigue, but they also bear the fingerprints of New Zealand-born director Taika Waititi (who co-wrote the script with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson). Having set Thor on a looser, goofier trajectory in “Ragnarok,” Waititi tries to extend that movie’s breezy comic tone into an adventure that strives to be both sillier and sadder. He wants to treat Thor as a figure of fun but also to restore to him a dimension of the pop-cultural grandeur that no Avenger, even a retired Avenger, can do without for long.

The AP review isn’t all bad but still doesn’t think much of the script:

The whipsaw from death and suffering to idiocy is staggering, with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson credited alongside Waititi for a script that seems like it was pasted together after gerbils ripped up a bag of words. You go from a hospital room on Earth dealing with a terminal illness to Thor dressed as a hot dog to a shadow realm in low gravity where the film goes completely black and white. There is very little logic and the connections between scenes are tenuous, giving the film a feeling of not building to anything clear.

Rolling Stone says it’s a mess:

A collision of competing tones, subplots, conceptual big swings and chaos masquerading as pathos, this new addition to the Asgardian-gods-and-monsters corner of Marvel Cinematic Universe is a holy mess. You can still feel Waititi’s sensibility pulsing underneath it all. But there’s a definite lack of focus to this entry, and the sense that you’re merely watching a timekiller until the next grand Phase Whatever storyline of the Marvel soap opera kicks into gear. We may have pitched our expectations a little too high, or put too much responsibility on one filmmaker’s well-tailored shoulders in regards to saving pop moviegoers’ contemporary religion from being too somber for its own good. That doesn’t make this misadventure come off like any less of a major letdown.

As does CNN:

The impressive mix of tones and styles that director Taika Waititi pulled off in “Thor: Ragnarok” largely fizzles in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which isn’t as funny as it wants to be, as stirring as it needs to be or romantic as it ought to be. Although well paced at just under two hours, instead of the hoped-for fireworks this comes a little too close to feeling like a post-Fourth of July dud.

Despite all of these reviews suggesting it just doesn’t work, the film is currently at 72% on Rotten Tomatoes (audience reviews aren’t available yet). So I’ll close with one of the more upbeat reviews:

“Thor: Love and Thunder” may not define a high point in the MCU’s ongoing mission of world domination, but it’s not a low point either. It gets the job done, with a smile, a tear and the promise — or is it a threat? — that this story is far from over.

Of course I’ll have to go see it anyway because sometimes the critics are wrong and I’d rather make up my own mind anyway. Who knows, now that my expectations are sufficiently low, maybe I’ll enjoy it.

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