Business is booming.

Yes, the new Thor blockbuster has some good gags writes BRIAN VINER

Thor: Love and Thunder (12A 119 min)

Verdict: now to marvel at

Rating:

Brian and Charles (PG 90 min)

Verdict: Fitful odd-couple comedy

Rating: 1659660927 646 Brad039s nightmare train journey hits the buffers BRIAN VINER reviews

Now that the remaining members of the gang are old men, no longer making movies together, no one really uses the adjective ‘Pythonesque’ anymore. Still, it was the word that came 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. Many did, as witnessed the chuckles and cheers during Tuesday night’s gala screening in Odeon Leicester Square. Heaven (and Valhalla) knows that I’ve seen plenty of superhero movies over the years that have taken themselves at least as seriously as Newsnight. So I’m generally inclined to applaud those who don’t.

That said, director and co-writer Taika Waititi, who had struck the balance right in his previous Marvel outing, 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, is leaning too far into craziness this time around. His picture positively turns on the hunt for laughter, sometimes he gets them, but when the comedy falls flat, he does it with a super thump.

Ungodly: Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love And Thunder

Ungodly: Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love And Thunder

Ungodly: Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love And Thunder

Still, there is nothing to criticize about the cast list. Almost recognizable under a Voldemort makeover, Christian Bale plays a mortal whose possession of the evil enchanted ‘necrosword’ allows him to turn his disillusionment with the gods into a murderous frenzy. He becomes Gorr the God Butcher and, like Pied Piper, steals all the children from the realm of Asgard and terrorizes them in his lair.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) vows to get them back and visits Mount Olympus in hopes of raising an army, but gets no support from Zeus (Russell Crowe, who amusingly plays the king of the gods as a sort of prudish, rather clumsy owner of a Greek Cypriot chip shop). Zeus is unimpressed by the Norse god of thunder (“isn’t thunder just the sound of lightning?” he sneezes), but the same cannot be said of his female acolytes when Thor finds himself stripped to his essence. That scene caused quite a stir in the Odeon.

Leaving ‘Omnipotence City’ without the army of immortals he hoped 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 suffers from a terrible, debilitating illness, but is usefully equipped with superpowers from his old hammer.

All of that would be as silly as it sounds, even without Portman’s character being mistakenly called Jane Fonda and then Jodie Foster—two examples of that script making an effort to laugh cheaply. In all honesty, the jokes that work work well. Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Melissa McCarthy have wacky but enjoyable cameos as an amateur Asgardian theater group, and there are other scattered delights, but the fact that the abducted Asgardian offspring are Waititi’s own children, plus Hemsworth, Portman, and Bale, tells the story. you really need to know everything you need to know about a movie that all too often plays out as a huge joke from which we, the audience, are excluded.

That, I hasten to add, is not why I added the adjective Pythonesque. I’m as big a fan as anyone of the Python masterpiece Life Of Brian (1979) – although I have to say I don’t see what is considered innately funny about the noble name Brian.

Apparently I’m in the minority, as the hero of Brian and Charles, wonderfully played by the film’s co-writer, David Earl, is a British comic archetype – an endearing social misfit who lives on his own and comes up with wacky inventions.

Brian and Charles

Brian and Charles

Brian and Charles

He has many antecedents in popular culture. When I was a kid it was a funny old bay called Professor Branestawm. Anyway, richly bearded and dressed in a pair of Deirdre Barlow glasses, Brian lives in a chaotic cottage in rural Wales, gently pampered by the locals. He spends his days perfecting necessities like the flying cuckoo clock. But a homemade robot is the scratch he’s always wanted to “itch.”

Finally, he makes one from discarded trinkets, including an old washing machine. To our surprise, if not his, he finds himself walking and talking (and has a taste for cabbage). This is Charles (Chris Hayward), and he becomes Brian’s loyal, albeit increasingly bold, companion, a mix of servant and surrogate child.

Jim Archer’s feature film debut is a strange couple comedy with a strong emphasis on strange, which takes a dark turn when Charles is stolen by the village bully. Unfortunately, there’s a definite sag in the middle, when it starts to feel like an undergraduate sketch beyond its natural life. Nevertheless, it comes together with considerable charm and humor at its best, and after a reasonable 90 minutes it never quite welcomes.

ALSO SHOW…

After a limited theatrical run, The Sea Beast (PG, 115 min, ****) is now coming to Netflix and that’s very good too. As it used to be on the board games of my childhood, it’s fun for kids of all ages, from eight to 88.

Beautifully animated, it takes place in the 18th century, in a time of galleons and cannons, although the maritime threat does not come from pirates or enemy fleets, but from ferocious sea monsters, such as the mighty ‘Red Bluster’.

New Zealand actor Karl Urban voices Jacob, a handsome swashbuckler who was shipwrecked as a boy and was rescued by the brave Captain Crow (Jared Harris), skipper of the Inevitable.

Jacob’s background explains his bond with a brave young stowaway, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), as they try to catch ‘Red’ together, intending to present him as booty to the king (voiced, unmistakably, by Jim Carter of Downton Abbey).

Adventure: Jacob and Maisie

Adventure: Jacob and Maisie

Adventure: Jacob and Maisie

Kathy Burke and another Downton alumnus, Dan Stevens, are also credited in the voice cast.

Another movie you can watch at home, though probably not in front of the kids, is How To Please A Woman (No Cert, 107 mins, ***). In this flawed but sympathetic comedy, Sally Phillips, perhaps best known as “Shazza” in the Bridget Jones films, stars as an uptight, embarrassed Australian woman who, unbeknownst to her arrogant husband, starts a male-only cleaning company and sends to clean women’s homes, as well as offering, er, a few optional extras.

However, it is not what you might call lewd. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Britcoms like The Full Monty and Calendar Girls, it’s written and played 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.

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