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Natalie Portman Put on a Cape for This?

Photo: Marvel Entertainment/YouTube

Spoilers follow for Thor: Love and Thunder. 

Thor: Love and Thunder was meant to be a kind of redemption for Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist Jane Foster. After her absence in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok, Portman and her newly swole biceps would be stepping into an expanded role as the superpowered Mighty Thor. Surely she wouldn’t have reconciled with and returned to Marvel if Love and Thunder didn’t buoy Jane with meaningful development and a sizable narrative arc after so much time away! But between a frustratingly undermining flashback and a distracting present-day love triangle among Thor and two suddenly sentient weapons, Love and Thunder sabotages the vindication for Jane it was supposed to provide.

“In the battle for love, Thor lost,” Korg (director Taika Waititi, pulling double duty again) reminds us via narration, rehashing Thor’s breakup with Jane and catching up with her back on Earth. Jane now has stage-four breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, but she’s still deeply in love with her work. In one of the film’s few charming moments, she finds a fellow patient reading her book The Foster Theory and chats with him about the nature of the universe and sci-fi movies such as Event Horizon and Interstellar. This feels like a missed opportunity to mention the masterpiece that is Contact, but Portman’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the scene is genuinely affecting.

As Jane in Thor and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, Portman’s self-assuredness and bemused reactions were a useful counter to Thor’s himboish haughtiness. Her wonder at Thor’s appearance on Earth mirrored our own, but she also showed curiosity, moral fortitude, and a little bit of giggly silliness at the sight of Thor’s hotness — a relatable spin on the MCU “strong female character” archetype otherwise personified at the time by Scarlett Johansson’s droll, sexualized Natasha. Portman brings all of that back to Love and Thunder, leaning into Jane’s determination to find a cure. She becomes intrigued by the idea that Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, could rejuvenate her by providing stamina and health. (Mjölnir was shattered in Ragnarok, and its pieces now reside in New Asgard as a sort of memento-cum-tourist-attraction.) Theoretically, it should still respond to whoever is worthy of wielding it — and Love and Thunder initially lets us believe Jane is that person.

Cut to Jane in Norway with thunder gathering as she stands at the Mjölnir exhibit, where the pieces of the hammer glow and vibrate in response to her presence. Then, even more abruptly, she’s fighting alongside Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in full Thor regalia, winged helmet and all, and going by the moniker Mighty Thor. There is no scene in which Jane first discovers she has the right mix of Mjölnir-approved qualities and assumes her powers. Instead, the Mighty Thor is introduced by way of the other Thor’s confusion and irritation. “That’s my hammer you’ve got there, and that’s my look,” he gripes before realizing it’s his ex-girlfriend wielding his ex-weapon and sporting a version of his red-caped outfit. Love and Thunder never shakes off the idea that Jane is a superhero only because Thor has allowed it. Instead, it explicitly suggests that!

In another Korg-narrated montage reliving the crumbling of the couple’s relationship, one scene tells us that Mjölnir, in a departure from the comics, is not just responsive to those who wield it but also sentient and able to follow commands. So when Thor realizes his relationship with Jane is ending and he commands Mjölnir to “always protect her,” what Love and Thunder is actually suggesting is not that Jane is deserving of the hammer but that she’s gotten it only because Thor permitted it. If Mjölnir is bound by that oath to Thor, then it must allow Jane to use it as a respite from her illness rather than in response to her capabilities. And because it’s been so long since we’ve seen Jane in the MCU, ignoring what makes the astrophysicist “worthy,” like previous hammer wielders (Thor, whose godliness allows him to channel his powers through the weapon, and the selfless Captain America, who summons Mjölnir in Avengers: Endgame), creates a narrative gap. That isn’t to say that a woman shouldn’t be able to kick ass with Mjölnir. It’s that, until just before her death, the film doesn’t bother making the case for why Foster should be able to beyond the fact that her ex-boyfriend used to.

That relationship becomes Foster’s primary mode of characterization, especially because once Love and Thunder makes Mjölnir sentient, it does the same thing for Thor’s new weapon, Stormbreaker. After Thor and Mjölnir meet again, Stormbreaker begins creeping into the frame, spying on what Thor is doing or hovering alongside him as if jealously glaring. Waititi positions Thor, Mjölnir, and Stormbreaker as a love triangle in which Thor is offended by Mjölnir reforming itself for Jane (“You moved on quick, didn’t you? You are some piece of work”) and Stormbreaker resents Thor’s lingering attachment to Mjölnir, even going so far as to briefly align itself with the film’s villain, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), to get revenge in the film’s final act.

But the odd character out is Jane herself, whose relationship with Mjölnir fails to solidify. All of her defining qualities — in particular her astrophysics genius — fade away by film’s end, once Love and Thunder collapses into another CGI-heavy battle scene in which everything looks and feels immaterial, and we know the cancer has weakened Jane too much for her to survive this last fight. Her plucky rejection of Gorr calling her “Lady Thor” (“My name is Mighty Thor! And if that’s still too hard for you, you can call me Dr. Jane Foster!”) rings hollow because Love and Thunder does indeed limit Jane to a Hemsworth-like wig in a Thor-centric story. Was there another motivation, separate from curing her cancer, that inspired Jane to take up Mjölnir? In a post-Thanos world, what does wanting to be a superhero look like? How did her early training and experimentation with her powers go? What excites her about the gig, and what disappoints her? Did she hear from any other superheroes after taking up the Thor mantle? Doesn’t she want to see Darcy lose her mind over all this “Viking space magic” stuff? Where is the interiority!

“You made me worthy,” Thor says to Jane after she reveals her cancer diagnosis to him, but she isn’t given the same opportunity before her death to explore who Mighty Thor is past her search for the perfect catchphrase. She wields Mjölnir because Thor makes it happen, and she dies so Thor can learn the meaning of love and “keep your heart open,” as Jane instructs him with her dying breath. Thor: Love and Thunder may end with Jane in Valhalla, but it never gives her a chance to be anything but Lady Thor.


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Natalie Portman Put on a Cape for This?