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In 'Thor: Love & Thunder,' the hammer-throwing hero takes on Gorr the God Butcher

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The movie "Thor: Love And Thunder" opens in thousands of theaters this weekend. It is the latest adventure of Marvel's hammer-throwing, axe-wielding superhero, and the movie is expected to bring millions of patrons to cinemas that have been bustling in an almost pre-pandemic way lately. We asked critic Bob Mondello whether those viewers will be Thor-oughly (ph) entertained, and here's what he told us.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Marvel movies come in all shapes and sizes. "Thor: Love And Thunder" is for the crowd that likes children's stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

TAIKA WAITITI: (As Korg) Kids, get the popcorn out. Let me tell you the story of the space viking. He was no ordinary man. He was a god.

MONDELLO: That voice is Taika Waititi, who directed and who also voices Korg, Thor's made-of-rock pal. He is speaking to what's left of Thor's home kingdom of Asgard, now reduced to a sort of Scandinavian theme park complete with Viking boat rides, kid-oriented superhero theater and tourists who presumably couldn't afford Disney World. Thor, meanwhile, is off on another planet with team Groot...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

VIN DIESEL: (As Groot) I am Groot.

MONDELLO: ...Who I'm guessing had some unbooked green screen time on the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" set and wanted to plug "Volume 3," which opens in a few months.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

BRADLEY COOPER: (As Rocket Raccoon) You said this would be a relaxing holiday.

CHRIS HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) I said it was going to be like a relaxing holiday.

MONDELLO: It's while they are relaxing in battle that Thor learns of a villain called the God Butcher. It's also where he acquires two giant, screaming goats.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) Look at those. They are wonderful.

WAITITI: (As Korg) Yes, they are. They also scream quite a lot.

MONDELLO: And that's funny for maybe 30 seconds, though they'll be screaming for the rest of the movie. Back at the theme park, the Asgardian kids get kidnapped by the God Butcher, and Thor puts together a rescue team that includes King Valkyrie, Korg - who's not quite wearing out his welcome yet - and Thor's ex...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

WAITITI: (As Korg) Jodie Foster.

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) Jane Foster.

MONDELLO: ...Who has health issues, as played by Natalie Portman, and is using his old hammer for physical Thor-apy (ph). When wielding the hammer, she's known, a bit confusingly, as the Mighty Thor. Happily, what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in enthusiasm, as when Thor says the kids are being held in the Shadow Realm.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) The atmosphere there has a darkness like no other. It's as if color fears to tread. It's unmistakable.

NATALIE PORTMAN: (As Jane Foster) Well then, if it's color we need, let's bring the rainbow.

MONDELLO: And she crashes through the roof.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) Bring the rainbow. Is that a catchphrase or something?

TESSA THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) She's only been a Thor for a minute. I mean, saving lives she's quite good at. But the rest of it - she needs work.

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) How many catchphrases have there been?

THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) A lot.

MONDELLO: And she's back.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

PORTMAN: (As Jane Foster) Yep - jumped the gun.

THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) Hang on. He moves through shadows, and he's going to the Shadow Realm. It seems like that's where he's going to be the most powerful.

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) You're right. We can't just go marching in there. It could be a trap.

THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) I'm thinking it.

PORTMAN: (As Jane Foster) What are we thinking?

WAITITI: (As Korg) Thinking what?

THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) I'm thinking it, too.

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) Omnipotence City.

THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) Omnipotence City.

MONDELLO: Tongues planted so firmly in cheek they're practically coming out ears is an approach that served Waititi well when he directed "Thor: Ragnarok." And it's still amusing, though the realms around our heroes seem vaguely second-tier this time - blue-painted other-world-ians (ph) mincing around in baby steps like superannuated Smurfs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

STEPHEN CURRY: (As King Yakan) You have finally joined our fight.

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) Well, as they say, better late than not at all.

MONDELLO: Backgrounds that are the digital equivalent of spray-painted van art, monsters that look like projections once team Thor gets to the Shadow Realm, where Christian Bale's justifiably bitter God Butcher...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Gorr the God Butcher) The only ones who gods care about is themselves.

MONDELLO: ...Might as well be one of the witches in Joel Coen's "Tragedy Of Macbeth."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

BALE: (As Gorr) So this is my vow. All gods will die.

MONDELLO: Bale gets to actually emote, which gives him a few advantages over Chris Hemsworth's amiable but emotionally adolescent himbo (ph) who's good at smashing things but should really take his cues from Tessa Thompson's understated Valkyrie...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

THOMPSON: (As Valkyrie) Am I sensing feelings?

MONDELLO: ...At least when it comes to Jane.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER")

HEMSWORTH: (As Thor) Yeah, right.

MONDELLO: The goofiness in "Thor: Love And Thunder" will doubtless be fine for fans, something Marvel can take to the bank. As for suspense or thrills, grandeur, maybe a feeling that something might be in-Thor-mountable (ph), that doesn't really seem to be the big guy's thing anymore. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL GIACCHINO'S "MAMA'S GOT A BRAND NEW HAMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.