Yes, the new Thor blockbuster has some good gags. But its endless attempts to be zany mean it’s neither super nor heroic, writes BRIAN VINER
Thor: Love And Thunder (12A 119 mins)
Verdict: Nowt to marvel at
Brian and Charles (PG 90 mins)
Verdict: Fitful odd-couple comedy
Now that the surviving members of the gang are old men, no longer making films together, nobody really uses the adjective ‘Pythonesque’ any more. Yet it was the word that sprang to mind during the new Marvel blockbuster, Thor: Love And Thunder.
Whether anyone wants to be reminded of Monty Python while watching a superhero movie is a moot point, maybe even a Thor point. Plenty did, judging by the chuckles and cheers during Tuesday evening’s gala screening at the Odeon Leicester Square. Heaven (and Valhalla) knows, I’ve sat through enough superhero films down the years that have taken themselves at least as seriously as Newsnight. So I’m generally inclined to applaud those that don’t.
That said, director and co-writer Taika Waititi, who got the balance about right in his previous Marvel outing, 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, this time tilts too far towards zaniness. His picture positively gurns in pursuit of laughs, sometimes getting them, but when the comedy falls flat it does so with a super-thump.
Ungodly: Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love And Thunder
Still, there’s no faulting the cast list. Christian Bale, just about recognisable under a Voldemort makeover, plays a mortal whose possession of the malignly enchanted ‘necrosword’ enables him to turn his disillusion with the gods into a murderous rampage. He becomes Gorr the God Butcher and, Pied Piper-like, steals all the children from the realm of Asgard, terrorising them in his lair.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) vows to get them back, paying a visit to Mount Olympus in the hope of raising an army, but getting no support from Zeus (Russell Crowe, amusingly playing the King of the Gods as a kind of prissy, rather camp Greek-Cypriot chip-shop proprietor). Zeus is not impressed by the Norse God of Thunder (‘is not thunder just the sound of lightning?’ he sneers), but the same cannot be said of his female acolytes when Thor finds himself stripped to his bare essentials. That scene raised quite a hoopla in the Odeon.
Leaving ‘Omnipotence City’ without the army of immortals he was hoping for, Thor must instead rely on the help of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the warrior Korg (voiced by Waititi), and his human ex-girlfriend, physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is suffering from a terrible debilitating illness but has usefully been invested with super-powers by his old hammer.
All of which would be just as silly as it sounds even without Portman’s character being mistakenly referred to as Jane Fonda and then Jodie Foster — twin examples of that script straining for cheap laughs. In fairness, the gags that work, work nicely. Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Melissa McCarthy have daft but enjoyable cameos as an Asgardian amateur theatrical troupe, and there are other scattered pleasures, but the fact that the kidnapped Asgardian offspring include Waititi’s own children, plus those of Hemsworth, Portman, and Bale, really tells you all you need to know about a film that too often plays like a huge in-joke from which we, the audience, are excluded.
That, I hasten to add, is not why I attached the adjective Pythonesque. I’m as big a fan as anyone of the Python masterpiece Life Of Brian (1979)— though I must say I don’t see what’s considered innately funny about the noble name Brian.
Evidently I’m in a minority, because the hero of Brian And Charles, delightfully played by the film’s co-writer David Earl, is a British comic archetype — an endearing social misfit who lives on his own, dreaming up crackpot inventions.
Brian And Charles
He has plenty of antecedents in popular culture. When I was a child, it was a funny old cove called Professor Branestawm. Anyway, lavishly bearded and sporting a pair of Deirdre Barlow specs, Brian lives in a shambolic cottage in rural Wales, gently indulged by the locals. He spends his days perfecting such necessities as the flying cuckoo-clock. But a homemade robot is the scratch he always ‘wanted to itch’.
Finally he makes one, using discarded bits and bobs, including an old washing machine. To our astonishment, if not his, he duly finds that it walks and talks (and has a penchant for cabbages). This is Charles (Chris Hayward), and he becomes Brian’s loyal, if increasingly insolent, companion, a blend of manservant and surrogate child.
Jim Archer’s debut feature is an odd-couple comedy with the emphasis firmly on odd, which takes a dark turn when Charles is stolen by the village bully. Regrettably there is a distinct sag in the middle, when it starts to feel like an undergraduate sketch stretched beyond its natural life. Nevertheless, at its best it bowls along with considerable charm and wit, and at a sensible 90 minutes, never quite outstays its welcome.
Following a limited cinema run, The Sea Beast (PG, 115 mins, ****) now comes to Netflix and jolly good it is, too. As used to be written on the board games of my youth, it is fun for children of all ages, from eight to 88.
Superbly animated, it is set I would guess in the 18th century, at a time of galleons and cannons, though the maritime threat comes not from pirates or enemy fleets but ferocious sea monsters, such as the mighty ‘Red Bluster’.
The New Zealand actor Karl Urban gives voice to Jacob, a handsome swashbuckler who was found shipwrecked as a boy and taken in by courageous Captain Crow (Jared Harris), skipper of the Inevitable.
Jacob’s background explains his bond with a doughty young stowaway, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), as together they try to capture ‘Red’, intending to present him as booty to the King (voiced, unmistakably, by Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter).
Adventure: Jacob and Maisie
Kathy Burke and another Downton alumnus, Dan Stevens, are also credited in the voice cast.
Another film available to watch at home, though probably not in front of the children, is How To Please A Woman (No Cert, 107 mins, ***). This flawed but likeable comedy stars Sally Phillips, perhaps best known as ‘Shazza’ in the Bridget Jones films, as an uptight, put-upon Australian wife who, unbeknownst to her arrogant husband, sets up an all-male cleaning company, sending men to clean women’s houses but also offering, erm, a few optional extras.
It’s not what you might call lewd, though. Vaguely reminiscent of Britcoms such as The Full Monty and Calendar Girls, it’s written and acted with a certain panache, and Phillips makes a very plausible Aussie.
The Sea Beast is on Netflix. How To Please A Woman is on Sky Cinema.