After playing Chris Hemsworth’s love interest, Jane Foster, in 2011’s Thor and its 2013 sequel, Thor: The Dark World, Natalie Portman all but disappeared from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (We can hardly count that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Avengers: Endgame.) However, after her glaring absence from the 2017 blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, the Oscar winner is back, with enchanted hammer in hand, in Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder.
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But what brought Portman back to the MCU, six years after she said, “As far as I know, I’m done”? And how does her character, a scientist from Earth, come to wield Mjolnir?
Why Did Natalie Portman Leave the MCU?
Put simply, Portman left Marvel movies to focus on her new baby son and budding family, and because of a change in director for her then upcoming Marvel project, Thor 2.
Natalie Portman debuted as astrophysicist Jane Foster, opposite Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder, in 2011’s Thor. An Academy Award nominee with geek cred for her role as Padme Amidala in the Star Wars prequels, Portman was attracted to the Marvel film because of director Kenneth Branagh’s involvement. “I just thought it sounded like a really weird idea, ’cause Kenneth Branagh’s directing it,” she told E! News in 2009. “And Ken Branagh doing Thor is super-weird.”
Thor was a box-office success, confirming the viability of the fledgling MCU following The Incredible Hulk‘s lackluster performance three years earlier. But, as Marvel quickly turned its attention to a sequel, Portman reportedly considered taking a break from acting to spend time with her newborn son. That changed in October 2011 when, at Portman’s urging, Marvel hired Monster director Patty Jenkins to helm the Thor sequel.
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Portman’s excitement was short-lived, as, just two months later, Jenkins and Marvel Studios parted ways due to “creative differences.” (Jenkins went on to direct Warner Bros.’ 2017 blockbuster, Wonder Woman.) Portman was “deeply unhappy” about the split, according to reports at the time. She was, nevertheless, contractually obligated to return interest in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.
Why Did Natalie Portman Return to Marvel for Thor: Love & Thunder?
However, Portman was nowhere to be seen in director Taika Waititi’s 2017 follow-up, Thor: Ragnarok. The blockbuster played Jane’s absence for laughs, with Thor insisting their widely publicized breakup was “a mutual dumping.” The real story is more complicated, though. Sure, Ragnarok‘s primary settings — Asgard and the trash planet Sakaar — left little room for Jane Foster, back on Earth. But Portman’s comments in 2016 indicated the split was something more.
“As far as I know, I’m done,” she explained to The Wall Street Journal. “I mean, I don’t know if maybe one day they’ll ask for an Avengers 7. I have no idea. But as far as I know, I’m done; it was a great thing to be a part of.” (Portman’s fleeting cameo in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame employed unused footage from Thor: The Dark World. However, she did record a bit of new dialogue for the sequence.)
So, what brought Portman roaring back into the MCU, not just as Jane Foster, but as the goddess of thunder, in Thor: Love and Thunder? Two words: Taika Waititi.
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“I just said to her, ‘Are you interested in coming back to this thing, but doing something really different?’” the director explained to Variety in 2019. “No one wants to keep repeating themselves; no one wants to play the same character all the time. […] In most of these films, if you’re not a superhero, do you really want to keep doing that?”
Portman was convinced after just one meeting. “They came to me with the idea and said, ‘We have this idea for you that was a storyline in some of the comics where Jane becomes Lady Thor,’” she told Entertainment Tonight, “and I was like, ‘This is very exciting!’
How Jane Foster Becomes Mighty Thor in Marvel Comics
Multiple Thors may be a bit confusing to fans only familiar with the Marvel movies. But in the comics, there have been multiple gods (and goddesses) of thunder — including the horse-faced alien Beta Ray Bill. Long a supporting character, Jane Foster stepped into the spotlight in 2015, after Thor was deemed unworthy to wield his magic hammer, Mjolnir.
The enchanted hammer called out to Jane, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Brought by Heimdall to Mjolnir’s location (on the Moon), Jane was granted the power of Thor. Her magical transformation into the goddess of thunder came at a price, however: Each time she called upon the power of Thor, the chemotherapy was purged from her body. After years of transformations, Jane was warned by Doctor Strange that one more would cause her death.
However, when Asgardia, the rebuilt City of Asgard, was threatened by the monster Mangog, Jane transformed into the Mighty Thor one final time. Forced to use Mjolnir to hurl Mangog into the sun, Jane reverted to her human form before dying. But death is rarely the end in superhero comics. As such, Jane was restored to life by the combined efforts of Thor Odinson (the Thor everyone knows) and Odin.
Jane subsequently continued her chemotherapy treatments before becoming a Valkyrie during Marvel’s “War of the Realms” event. As Valkyrie, Jane is currently a member of the Avengers — in the comics, at least. It’s unclear how Portman’s Jane Foster will come to wield Mjolnir in Thor: Love and Thunder, or what her MCU future may hold.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale and Natalie Portman, Thor: Love and Thunder, opens July 8, 2022.