The career of the New Zealand director, writer and actor Taika Waititi is beginning to resemble an especially demented fairground attraction. An Oscar winner for his screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, a Nazi-themed black comedy that will make people fight in bars over perceptions of its quality (or lack thereof), he has since gone and taken the Marvel dollar.

Unlike so many of his fellow Marvel directors, however, Waititi has fought to keep his work personal and distinctive. In the case of 2017’s riotous Thor: Ragnarok, this worked superbly well. Despite his working as a director-for-hire with...

The career of the New Zealand director, writer and actor Taika Waititi is beginning to resemble an especially demented fairground attraction. An Oscar winner for his screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, a Nazi-themed black comedy that will make people fight in bars over perceptions of its quality (or lack thereof), he has since gone and taken the Marvel dollar.

Unlike so many of his fellow Marvel directors, however, Waititi has fought to keep his work personal and distinctive. In the case of 2017’s riotous Thor: Ragnarok, this worked superbly well. Despite his working as a director-for-hire with no screenwriting credit, it was a hilarious and hugely entertaining space adventure that remembered to be fun, unlike so many other Marvel pictures.

Yet although Waititi is now a big deal in his own right, the lure of the sequel in Hollywood is strong. And so, half a decade later, Waititi has returned with Thor: Love and Thunder. It is a barking mad exercise in cheery excess that features Russell Crowe with a thick-as-yogurt Greek accent as Zeus, Christian Bale in a villainous performance apparently stolen from a Nineties Aphex Twin video and some of the most bizarre plot developments imaginable. It says much that a brief opening cameo from the legendary Shakespearean actor Sir Simon Russell Beale as the god Dionysus is nowhere near the top of the list of the movie’s oddities.

Waititi is a cheerful and likable presence both on and off screen. He recently managed to skillfully sidestep a controversy after he and his girlfriend, the English singer Rita Ora, were photographed in what looked like a three-way make-out session with the actress Tessa Thompson, who plays the character Valkyrie in the film. Although Waititi was reportedly disciplined by Marvel’s owner Disney for “conduct unbecoming,” he happily said in an interview that “I think in the world of the internet, everything goes away pretty quick. And also, ‘Is it that big a deal?’ No, not really. I was doing nothing wrong. It’s fine.”

It served as a sly reminder that the film’s focus is not simply on gods and hammers, but also on that most voguish of topics, queer representation. Over the past few years, Marvel has been increasingly keen to feature openly gay and bisexual characters in its films — mindful, perhaps, that its increasingly diverse audience is now openly demanding such things.

Yet many are dissatisfied with what’s been seen as tokenism. As one angry Twitter user put it, “getting queerbaited by the Marvel Cinematic Universe is like losing at chess to a dog.” Although Waititi has called Thor: Love and Thunder “super gay,” in practice this means there’s a rock monster with a Freddie Mercury mustache, another rock monster (voiced by the director) who refers to having two fathers and a Valkyrie character who wears a suit and kisses a woman’s hand in a meaningful fashion. It’s hardly Blue is the Warmest Color.

To criticize a mainstream summer blockbuster for hedging its bets in this fashion seems churlish. Waititi has attracted plaudits for his involvement in the LGBTQ-friendly pirate series Our Flag Means Death, signifying his status as An Ally. But it’s hard not to feel that, whatever his intentions, the sheer mad chaos of the latest Thor film has meant that any queer undertones have become lost under a heap of CGI excess and very strange instances of fan service.

Ultimately Love and Thunder‘s existence resembles yet another Marvel bait-and-switch. Lure the audience in with the promise of representation and progress, then offer them the same as usual in brand new drag and send them away deafened and disappointed. Will there be another Thor film in a couple of years, half-heartedly reflecting whatever modish development has happened in society since? I’d bet my hammer on it.