‘Thor: Love and Thunder’: Sparks fly for Natalie Portman - review

Other than Portman’s debut as a Norse god, Thor: Love and Thunder will likely delight MCU fans.

 NATALIE PORTMAN attends a premiere of ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ in London, on Tuesday.  (photo credit: Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters)
NATALIE PORTMAN attends a premiere of ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ in London, on Tuesday.
(photo credit: Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters)

As Natalie Portman reaches out a newly muscled arm and Mjolnir, Thor’s magical hammer, zooms by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and comes to rest in her hand, the audience at the Israeli preview screening of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder burst into applause. 

It wasn’t Portman’s first appearance in the movie, which opened throughout Israel Thursday and in which she reprises her role as Dr. Jane Foster, the scientist who is Thor’s love interest, but it was the moment, which has been teased in trailers, in which she is transformed into Mighty Thor, a goddess with superpowers, who can fight villains alongside Thor.

For fans of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and of Portman, it was a triumphant scene in which a petite, Oscar-winning Israeli-American actress who had previously played a girlfriend sometimes in need of rescuing now became a heroine in her own right. Portman, a disciplined actress who always gets into character, whether it involved starving herself to play a disturbed ballerina in Black Swan or bulking up to kick villains’ butts here, made it as credible a transformation as possible.

Since her screen debut in Leon: The Professional in 1994, Portman has projected movie-star presence and poise, both on the screen and off. She has also mixed serious dramas with action movies (including the Star Wars franchise) and comedy, so the transition to superhero status seems natural, and she is engaging and credible in her action scenes. She seems to be having fun and it is fun to watch her.

At some moments, it is distracting to see her standing next to Hemsworth and almost meeting his gaze, when in reality, he towers over her. I kept wondering whether she was wearing platform boots or he was scrunching down, or maybe it was just CGI. The point is that it looked real.

Actor Natalie Portman poses at the world premiere of the film ''The Avengers: Endgame'' in Los Angeles, California, April 22, 2019 (credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)Actor Natalie Portman poses at the world premiere of the film ''The Avengers: Endgame'' in Los Angeles, California, April 22, 2019 (credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

A delight for fans

Other than Portman’s debut as a Norse god, Thor: Love and Thunder will likely delight MCU fans, who don’t seem to mind that these movies have become a formulaic blend of special effects, pop anthems and snark, and they are the target audience. They applauded even for the credits and Waititi’s name.

WAITITI, WHO provides the voice of the sweet big piece of rock that is Korg, narrates the film, which opens with a sequence showing Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale, who is great at playing bad guys), whose young daughter dies when they are lost in a desert realm. He loses faith in the god he has worshipped and, with the help of a special sword, goes on a mission to rid the world of all deities.

Made up like a Maori war god, which reflects Waititi’s paternal heritage, Gorr is a creepy villain, but he is a bit underused in the movie and his appearance in scenes does not generate the fear that it should. He fights the good guys, of course, but it seems as if Waititi is impatient to get back to Thor, Jane, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg trading barbs.

Once Gorr unleashes terror against Thor’s relocated hometown, called New Asgard, Thor is summoned back (after cameos from the Guardians of the Galaxy) and it turns out he has been on a vision quest to ease the pain of losing Jane, who broke up with him years ago. But he still cannot use Mjolnir, which was shattered, and makes due with Stormbreaker, a new weapon. There is much comedy about how it gets jealous whenever he looks at Mjolnir, which only Mighty Thor can wield.

As Gorr kidnaps a group of adorable children, whom he terrorizes in a spiky cage, Jane is fighting a serious case of cancer back on earth and realizes that reconnecting with her space Viking ex might be the way to find a cure. When she beams up to join Thor, she becomes Mighty Thor and sparks fly as she immediately takes on his mission of rescuing the children. 

This plotline will likely appeal to the many children and tweens who make up a large part of the movie’s audience and it is only they who will feel any true suspense about the outcome. For them, it will be the wild ride that the poster promises. For others, the snark and the pulsing 1980s anthems like “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns ‘N’ Roses are the real point, and a longish sequence in which Russell Crowe plays a dissolute Zeus, who is more interested in planning his next orgy than rescuing kids, will be one of their favorite parts. There are dozens of in-jokes and references to other movies, which MCU fans will appreciate, and they will likely head to theaters to make this movie one of the biggest hits of the pandemic era. The rest of us can wait for it to start streaming.