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Here's why Natalie Portman decided to return to the MCU

One of the most surprising things to come out of 2019's San Diego Comic-Con was the news of Natalie Portman returning to the Marvel fold. It's no secret she was unhappy with the studio after her involvement in Thor: The Dark World. Sure, she appeared in Avengers: Endgame, but it was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene — and according to Endgame directors the Russo brothers, that scene was taken from unused Dark World footage anyway. Portman's actual involvement in Endgame was limited to doing some voice work. 

Eyebrows were raised when Portman showed up on the red carpet at the Endgame premiere in April 2019. Everyone thought she'd written Marvel off, never to return again. It's doubtful anyone thought her appearance at that premiere would lead to the stunning announcement in San Diego when we learned that not only has she returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she's going to be the Mighty Thor. Say what?

Why did Natalie Portman decide to return to the MCU? Let's take a look…

Why did Natalie Portman leave the MCU in the first place?

Natalie Portman was widely reported to be unhappy with Marvel while filming Thor: The Dark WorldAccording to the Hollywood Reporter, Portman had championed director Patty Jenkins (still best known for Monster during her pre-Wonder Woman period) to helm the movie and was shocked when Jenkins was fired from the project. Portman wanted Jenkins to be the first female director in the MCU and was blindsided by Jenkins' termination as she was allegedly not told ahead of time and only learned of it through the media. 

Unable to leave the project due to contractual obligations, Portman stuck it out and completed The Dark World, but behind the scenes, she may not have been shy about her feelings regarding the whole ordeal. Still, in public, she never badmouthed Marvel; when asked about her relationship with the company in interviews, she was always expertly vague with her answers.

Jane Foster: It's complicated, part one

Who is Jane Foster? The character in the MCU films is vastly different from her comics counterpart. Created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber, Jane Nelson (later changed to Foster) was introduced in issue #84 of Journey Into Mystery, published in 1962. As originally introduced, Foster was a nurse for one Dr. Donald Blake — who just happened to be Thor's human alter ego. Odin, Thor's father, felt his young Thunder God was getting too big for his britches and sent him to Earth to inhabit a frail body. 

Blake ultimately discovers he's able to turn into Thor after finding a walking stick (a disguised form of his magic hammer, Mjolnir) in a cave. He bangs it on a rock, and bam! He's Thor. Jane is in love with Dr. Blake, and he with her, but they keep their true feelings secret, much like the relationship between DC's Lois Lane and Superman. 

Jane Foster has been through a lot over the decades. In later years, she becomes a medical doctor and is diagnosed with cancer. While in treatment, she discovers she can wield Mjolnir (at this point, Thor has been deemed unworthy — comics get complicated) and becomes the Mighty Thor. She pays a heavy price for all that power, however — although she doesn't suffer from the effects of her cancer while she's wielding the hammer, her condition worsens whenever she returns to her human form.

Jane Foster: It's complicated, part two

In the MCU, Jane Foster has doctorates of her own. Responsible for the Foster Theory and widely regarded as one of the world's most brilliant astrophysicists, she combines scientific discipline — she was in the running for a Nobel Prize — with a risk-taking adventurous spirit. Although fiercely independent, she was more than a little miffed to find out that after she and Thor connected in his first solo outing, he come back to Earth in The Avengers and didn't even bother to get in contact with her, as witnessed in a scene in Thor: The Dark World

In Thor: Love and Thunder, slated to open in November 2021, the MCU's Jane Foster will follow in her comics counterpart's armored footsteps, becoming the Mighty Thor. Although it's not known exactly how it'll happen onscreen, there's naturally speculation that Natalie Portman's portrayal of the Mighty Thor will draw inspiration from the comics — although whether Love and Thunder's story will involve unworthiness and a terminal illness still remains to be seen.

How director Taika Waititi helped bring Natalie Portman back to the MCU

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok is wildly different from the first two Thor movies, which can't help but seem stuffy and downright dour compared to the visually splendid comedy feast Waititi gave us. Let's face it, Thor inherently is kind of a boring dude, not unlike like DC's Superman. Sure, he's the God of Thunder, but he's also been a kind of stick in the mud. Waititi, along with screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost, managed to keep the sweet innocence of Thor's character but made him much more fun-loving and and less stiff. Thor comes into his own in Ragnarok, played perfectly by Hemsworth, whose comedic chops are on full display. 

Natalie Portman wasn't going to come back to the Marvel fold for just anyone. Waititi's idea for a female Thor had to be very attractive for Portman, and she must trust Waititi's vision to want to sign back up with the company she said she was "done" with just a few years ago. According to studio chief Kevin Feige, the director won his new star over very quickly: "We'd been in touch with Natalie. She's part of the MCU family and we put she and Taika together. It took one meeting and she agreed to do it."

Doctor Jane Foster, thank you very much

Natalie Portman is a major believer in getting more girls involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes. Portman herself graduated from Harvard University with a degree in psychology, and once partnered with Marvel on a mentoring program called Ultimate Mentor Adventure that partnered high school girls with STEM professionals and facilitated their joint work on scientific projects. Portman believes strongly that girls should be more involved in the sciences, and it seems safe to assume that's part of the reason she signed on to play Jane Foster in the first place. By portraying the astrophysicist on such a large platform, she was able to bring a brilliant female scientist to the big screen — and now that she's returned to the MCU, what better way to continue inspiring girls around the world than by coming back to play Foster in the biggest film franchise ever?

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth: Reunited and it feels so good

Thor: Love and Thunder will be a double reunion for Natalie Portman. She obviously worked with Chris Hemsworth in the first two Thor films, but she also shares a screen past with her Love and Thunder co-star Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie — both actors appeared in Alex Garland's 2018 film Annihilation. Hemsworth, meanwhile, worked with Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok before co-starring with her in 2019's Men in Black: International. While the chemistry between Jane and Thor may not have set the screen on fire in those first couple of movies, Thor is a totally different guy now. He's been through Hela and back, and it'll be interesting to see the two former lovebirds share the screen again. If Thor is deemed unworthy and Jane becomes Mighty Thor, how will they both handle it, especially if they're back together? And where does Valkyrie fit in all this as the King of New Asgard?

Will Jane Foster be Valkyrie's queen?

Tessa Thompson has been anything but shy about her own bisexuality — something she shares with Valkyrie. While on the red carpet for Endgame, Thompson mused about her character ending up in a potential "thruple" relationship with Thor and Captain Marvel. We'll be seeing Thompson as the King of New Asgard in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, and with studio chief Kevin Feige previously announcing Valkyrie will be "canonically queer," we can have fun speculating who she might have a relationship with. When the new movie was announced, Thompson said "As new king, she needs to find her queen … That will be her first order of business. She has some ideas. Keep you posted." 

The possibilities are endless. In Thor: Ragnarok, Valkyrie had major chemistry with just about everyone she came in contact with, including Thor, Bruce Banner, the Grandmaster, and Loki. This time around, will Valkyrie entertain thoughts of a coupling with Dr. Foster?

Natalie Portman returned to the MCU just in time for Jane Foster's evolution

Jane Foster is a world-renowned astrophysicist, but she's come off as a damsel in distress in the MCU, so it's not a surprise Natalie Portman spent years publicly ambivalent about returning to the character. That, combined with the fallout from Marvel firing Patty Jenkins, was more than enough to keep her away, but being offered the chance to play Jane Foster as the Mighty Thor provides Portman with so much more than just being regarded as Thor's ex-girlfriend. She gets to portray another female superhero in the MCU. She won't be seen as merely a love interest for Thor, she will be an equal to Thor. Portman has used her previous appearances as Dr. Jane Foster to inspire young women around the world to get involved in the sciences, so the thought of bringing Dr. Foster back and being Thor must have been very appealing.

Natalie Portman has a new look for Jane Foster now that she's returned to the MCU

Natalie Portman's Jane Foster has long been one of the most powerful intellects in the MCU, but it'd be tough to play a character dubbed the Mighty Thor without adding some brawn to that brainpower — and Portman is already planning to buff up for her role in Thor: Love and Thunder. Shortly after Marvel's surprise Comic-Con announcement, she took to social media to express her enthusiasm for the project, posting an Instagram update in which she pronounced herself "thrilled" to share the news — and promised to hit the gym for all that hammer-wielding action. "Remember this as the 'before' picture," she quipped, "for when I get jacked."

Will Portman be taking workout tips from Chris Hemsworth? Only time will tell, but in the comics, Jane Foster spent her time as the Mighty Thor wiping the floor with a laundry list of powerful adversaries that included such heavyweights as Mangog, Malekith, the Phoenix Force, and even Odin himself — it'll take one heck of a gym regimen to prepare her for whatever she's due to face in Thor: Love and Thunder.

And now... we wait

Tom Petty warned us that the waiting is the hardest part — and, boy was he right. Thor: Love and Thunder hasn't even started shooting yet. According to Movieweb, the film, which is slated for release in November 2021, won't begin production until the completion of Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in 2020. This means we've got a very long wait ahead of us before we get to see Natalie Portman and the rest of the cast in the fourth Thor movie. 

Marvel is very good at keeping secrets, so don't expect to hear much from the set even after it does finally start filming. But don't feel too bad, Marvel fans — the studio will serve up a few movies to keep us entertained until Thor: Love and Thunder comes out, including Black Widow, The Eternals, the aforementioned Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Marvel also has plenty of upcoming television shows slated to air on the new Disney+ streaming channel, including Loki starring Tom Hiddleston. Let the countdown to November 2021 begin!