Hemsworth, Portman and Waititi- Still Ragnarokin’ in a Dork World
DIRECTED BY TAIKA WAITITI/2022
The special relationship between a man and his favorite tool is often best left between said parties. In the case of Marvel’s Thor, however, the tool brings the party. Indeed, when we catch up with him, Chris Hemsworth’s jovially dense Viking god is something of a tool in his own right in this, his newest adventure. His trusty hammer, Mjölnir, has been smashed to bits by his deposed evil sister, Hela during the Asgard-destroying events of Thor: Ragnarok. By virtue of necessity, Thor moved on, forging a new special relationship with the Grooty space axe, Strombreaker. But what storms brew when his previous love returns… broken?
Oscar-winning actress and essential Star Wars alum Natalie Portman has been somehow lured back to her role of mythophysicist Dr. Jane Foster. Once Thor’s greatest love, he and Foster went their separate ways following their big post-credits smooch in Thor: The Dark World. Thor: Love and Thunder fills us in on the details of the breakup as the pair must reconcile with that painful past… and the painful present. You see, somehow, Mjölnir and Jane are now together. Jane herself, in a none-to-creative re-naming, subsequently becomes “The Mighty Thor”.
Infamously, Portman was done, done, done with all this MCU nonsense after the grim, hackneyed mess of The Dark World. She claimed to only have signed onto her part to work with Thor (2011) director Kenneth Branagh. With him one-and-done, why should she hang around? Whatever her reasons, Portman has returned to literally take up the mantle of Thor. The film, directed, co-starring, and co-written (along with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) by Busiest Man In Show Business Taika Waititi, finds this series in a wildly different place tonally and aesthetically.
Allowing Hemsworth to double down on his effortless comedic chops is one of the best decisions Kevin Feige and company ever made. Between the major jolt of clownish comedy that this move enabled as well as the comedically unique favors Waititi brings, Marvel Studios caught lightning in a bottle. Unfortunately, as game as Portman is, said lightning eludes her. She is clearly bottled in by the newfangled humorous aspects of her character (though she seems otherwise at home in the latter day crazy cosmic world of the Thor movies). An Oscar she may have, and great she may be, but when it comes to Marvel Studios’ trademark quippy humor, she can’t quite soar like those she’s surrounded by. These returning players also include Tessa Thompson as King Valkyrie and Waititi as Korg, as well as a show-stealing Russell Crowe. (His several humorous mentions of orgies are probably the most kid-unfriendly aspect of this less-intense MCU outing).
But here’s the thing… Thor: Love and Thunder isn’t a passing of the baton, but a resolution of previous chapters. All has not been well for Jane in the meantime. Catching up to her is tragically easy, in that the character’s been afflicted with stage 4 cancer. Thor, having once tasked Mjölnir to always protect Jane, literally pulls itself together to grant her the mother of all infusions. Suddenly, she’s a superhero- quite the upgrade from her rapidly ailing state. (Portman absolutely sells the sickly aspect, as gaunt in those scenes as she is impressively buff and blonde-ish in her many Mighty Thor scenes). As noble, smart, and valiant as Dr. Foster is, this transformation is a survival mechanism, an escape. (But isn’t every superhero…?) Perhaps Portman’s awkwardness with the humor is actually the character’s awkwardness with her godly new role?
All the cancer talk does feel somewhat incongruous amid all the saturated space adventure, goofy gods, and Waititi absolutely unleashed in terms of the kind of Millennial/Gen Z ironic non-irony that dominates every other aspect of Love and Thunder. But then again, Waititi is the filmmaker who managed to communicate the horrors of Nazi Germany while embodying an imaginary Hitler in 2019’s great Jojo Rabbit. As they say these days on Midgard, he’s got this.
Thor: Love and Thunder marks the first time any individual MCU character has achieved a fourth movie of their own. Refreshingly, and fully earned, this chapter is largely independent of service to the larger mega-franchise, content to be its own rolling stone from that particular Mount Olympus. Yes, Thor, newly slimmed but unreasonably dense, is dorking around with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the beginning of the story, and yes, there’s at least one post-credits scene paving the way for future merry Marvel forward marching. And yes, there’s an unmemorable villain, Gorr the god butcher, played sternly by Christian Bale (giving what he can in blistering alien makeup). But quite largely, this is the Waititi and Hemsworth Show, a laser-light spectacle bursting with color, cameos, hair metal, WTF moments, and ten-year-old YouTube callbacks. (Screaming goats, anyone?)
At times, Thor: Love and Thunder is every bit the ramshackle romp that Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is, though it resists that film’s overcooked heft. When the film is good it’s very good, and it’s always at its very best when it opts to simply have fun. At times it goes the other direction, dipping earnestly into pathos that seem more at home elsewhere. It all adds up, however rickety, to a thematically successful entertainment, radiating the kind of zing people seem to want from a Marvel movie. There’s no denying that Hemsworth and Waititi go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Coffee and poptarts. Han and Leia. Tarzan and Jane. Guns and Roses. Rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong. Love and thunder.