Director Taika Waititi
Screenplay Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jamie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, Natalie Portman, Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillian, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Natalie Portman is the least appealing aspect of the first two Thor films. When she was not in on the third film, the series completely hit its stride for the first time. Now she’s back. Will it kill the vibe in the room that Taika Waititi brought with him for Ragnorok? When it was revealed that not only would Jane be back in this film, but she was also going to hold the refashioned Mjolnir, one could not help the feeling that Portman forced her way back to a party after finding out it got better in her absence.

Alas, not only is Jane not a hinderance to the proceedings of Thor: Love and Thunder, but she is actually one of the best parts of this film.

The story has three tracks. Track number one is Bale as Gorr, who is one of the last of a population of penatant beings worshipping a God who essentially lets his entire league of followers perish. The hardest hit is when Gorr loses his daughter. Upon finding out how disappointing his God is, he finds the means to kill him, and he decides he will not stop there.

Meanwhile, Thor (Hemsworth) is travelling with the Guardians of the Galaxy. He doesn’t quite fit with them and he is listless and without purpose.

“You need someone to make you feel like shit,” he is told by Pratt’s Star Lord.

Back on earth, Dr. Jane Foster (Portman) is revelling in her popularity for her book on astrophysics at the same time she slogs through chemo for Stage 4 cancer. She’s almost without hope when a promise Thor made helps rejuvinate her.

The rampage of Gorr – now called the God Butcher – allows for the Guardians to separate from Thor and Korg (Waititi). The latter two head back to New Asgard to help Valkyrie (Thompson) when their civilization is under attack. It is there that Thor meets up with Dr. Jane, who is also Thor.

The spirit of this film is incredible. There is not one performance that feels forced in any way. Portman has never been better, and her Thor feels like a dose of natural fun. Hemsworth is worth his weight in comedy gold, as Waititi continues to mine incredibly nuanced, yet fluidly hilarious energy from his Thor. It’s like the first two films were part of a completely different universe. Neither were horrible (though many accuse The Dark World of bordering that description), but neither of these films have much going for them outside of Hiddleston.

The amazing thing about this first Thor without Loki is that this viewer did not notice his absence. There is a continual flow of storyline and comedy that helps push the viewer through its nearly two hour runtime while feeling like its half that long. Supporting characters feel fresh and relevant, but like the original Guardians as well as Ragnorok, they all have journeys of their own to endeavor.

The best thing about Love and Thunder is the journey of Dr. Jane Foster and the live wire acting of Portman. She’s seriously not been this good since The Professional. She has an easy charm, but clearly carries the weight of her illness behind it all. She’s not the vapid plot point love interest she portrays in the first two films. She brings every amount of her heretofore latent acting skill to present a rounded character worthy of so much more than the right to carry Thor’s hammer.

This film definetly shows that Waititi’s storytelling and comic ability is no fluke. He may well be the best director the MCU has seen not named Russo. Each of the movies he has made has felt like an amusement ride, but secretly carries you along to a relevance worthy of the deepest emotional response. His skill is matched only by his instincts. Thank the gods he helps bring out the best in Hemsworth and Portman. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is all of the better for it.

(***** out of *****)

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