This post contains spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder
Whatever your feelings about Thor: Love and Thunder, no one can deny that Natalie Portman’s performance as Dr. Jane Foster aka the Mighty Thor lights up the screen like a flash of lightning. After an absence of nine years, Portman returns to the MCU with an energy and lightness not always seen by the cerebral actor. With a meaty role that lets her play both the cancer-stricken Foster and the Mjolnir-wielding Mighty Thor, Portman goes all-in with the performance, adding vibrancy to a movie that sometimes feels like a retread of its predecessor. But after Jane sacrifices her life to become the Mighty Thor one last time and stop the evil Gorr the God-Butcher, an end-credit sequence shows her entering Valhalla, the afterlife for Norse warriors. Does that mean her electric performance will only strike once in the MCU?
Although Foster is hardly the most popular MCU character, it’s hard to underestimate Portman’s importance to the franchise when she joined the cast of 2011’s Thor. Iron Man had been a surprise hit, building off of the pure charisma of Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, making the heretofore niche superhero genre palatable to a larger audience. But after the less-successful The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, Marvel tried a more regal approach for the introduction of a new hero. Putting the respected Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair, Kevin Feige pinned his hopes on Portman, fresh off an Academy Award as a troubled dancer in Black Swan, and the legendary Anthony Hopkins to lend credibility to a movie anchored by the largely unknown Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
Several elements contributed to Portman’s return for Thor: Love and Thunder, but one of the most important was a worthy comic book story. Considered by many to be the best Thor run since Walt Simonson’s legendary 80s stint, writer Jason Aaron revitalized the character, first with an epic that pit Gorr the God-Butcher against three generations of Thors, and then with an ambitious tale that saw the Son of Odin deemed unworthy to carry Mjolnir, and Jane Foster become the next Thor.
Like her movie equivalent, Jane Foster has been part of the Thor story since Jack Kirby brought the Norse god to Marvel Comics in 1962. Initially a love interest to Thor and his alter-ego, the mortal Dr. Donald Blake, Jane soon fell away to a background character over the years, less important in a supporting cast that included the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. When a company crossover determined that Thor become unworthy, Aaron found the perfect opportunity to bring Jane back in his meditation on mortality and power.
Even as it takes a more comedic approach, Love and Thunder follows the broad outline of Aaron’s plot for The Mighty Thor. Jane gains the ability to carry Mjolnir after her cancer diagnosis, and while the transformations give her great power, they also weaken her mortal form, specifically by counteracting her chemotherapy. Eventually, Jane sacrifices herself by becoming the Mighty Thor one last time, dying to save Asgard from the monstrous Mangog.
The fact that Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson follow the Aaron run so closely gives us hope that we haven’t seen the last of Jane Foster. The movie ends with Foster arriving in Valhalla to be greeted by Idris Elba’s Heimdall, another actor/character who seemed unlikely to return to the franchise, which confirms her death. Something very similar happened in the comics, with Odin immediately resurrecting Jane and returning her to Earth, where she doubled her focus on chemotherapy. After serving Asgard during the War of the Realms launched by Maliketh the Dark Elf, Jane is rewarded for valor by becoming the new Valkyrie. As Valkyrie, Jane gets an upgrade from Mjolnir, carrying Undrajarn the All-Weapon. Jane can change Undrajarn into any weapon she requires, transforming it into a sword, a spear, or any other tool to defeat her enemy.
Aaron’s story provides a clear path for Jane’s new heroic role, should Portman decide to return. While Tessa Thompson’s King Valkyrie currently uses the title, Love and Thunder proved that Portman can share a superhero name without distracting from the lead hero. And given the chemistry between Portman and Thompson, fans would certainly be happy to see them partner up as Asgard’s protectors.