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Thor 4: Natalie Portman will play Thor! Wow! Wait. What?

In the comic books, Portman’s Jane Foster has already wielded the Mjolnir.

Jane Foster as Thor in The Mighty Thor.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Marvel took over San Diego Comic-Con this year with a glimpse into what’s called Phase 4 of its gigantic Marvel Cinematic Universe enterprise, the studio’s upcoming slate of movies and television shows for the next few years. The studio revealed during its lengthy panel that new characters will enter the MCU (including a vampire-slaying daywalker), and familiar ones will be return for new adventures. But arguably the biggest surprise involved how one returning character will tilt the axis of power in the MCU.

Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, last properly featured in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, will return in 2021’s Thor: Love and Thunder, and will have the thunder god’s powers.

While Foster never technically left the universe there are a few lines about how she’s off being a scientist (Avengers: Age of Ultron), or that she and Thor broke up (Thor: Ragnarok), to explain why she didn’t appear. It was thought that Portman was done with the MCU, making this news a huge surprise. Add to that the reveal that Foster is going to lift Mjölnir (Portman posed with the mythical hammer at SDCC) and wield the powers of the Asgardian stormcaller, and it raises even more questions as to what Portman will be doing in Love and Thunder, along with Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and director Taika Waititi.

What we do know is that Marvel’s comic books have set a precedent for a woman taking up the Thor title, and it could help give us clues about what Love and Thunder will hold for Jane Foster and the rest of the cast.

How Jane Foster became Mighty Thor in Marvel’s comic books

The question at the heart of this story: How can Jane Foster be Thor if Thor already exists?

Unlike in the movies, Marvel comics have played with the idea of multiple beings being able to wield Thor’s hammer Mjölnir; meanwhile, only Captain America and Vision have been able to lift Mjölnir onscreen. But on the page, characters as diverse as the Silver Surfer (a character primarily known in the Fantastic Four universe), Storm (X-Men), and Beta Ray Bill (Omega Flight) have all wielded the weapon.

Being able to lift Thor’s magic hammer means then that those characters have been deemed “worthy” enough to harness the power of a god, and trusted to not abuse that power. The gist of that is more or less captured by the inscription (the pronouns sometimes change based on its possessor) on Mjölnir, which reads: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if (s)he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor”:

The inscription on Mjolnir when Jane picks up the magic hammer

Thor himself being worthy — brave, selfless, noble, kind — enough to wield the Mjölnir has long been a recurring story for the Asgardian, like in 2011’s Fear Itself comic book event, when the fate of humanity hinges upon Thor’s sacrificing himself to save Earth. In Fear Itself, Odin wants to ravage Earth to save the universe from a villainous force known as The Serpent but Thor believes in humanity and, with the help of the Avengers, leads a last-ditch effort to protect the world (which proves his worthiness).

The same themes are present in the 2014 crossover event Original Sin. That storyline is about the murder of the Watcher named Uatu, who just so happens to have observed entire history of Earth and all of its valuable secrets. In Original Sin, issue 7, Nick Fury whispers something to Thor which makes him Thor unworthy to wield his hammer.

We find out later that Fury tells Thor a soul-shattering revelation: that mankind is better without gods. This immediately makes Thor realize that gods do not deserve the worship or adoration of from humans, changes his worldview about wanting to be a god, and becomes “unworthy.” Thor — a.k.a. Odinson — chooses to live as a normal Asgardgian.

This sets into motion the ascension of a woman into the role of Thor, picking up the Mjölnir to defend Asgard.

At first, the new Thor’s identity is a mystery. It isn’t until Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s Thor No. 8, published in 2015, that we find out who this woman is. And they introduce her through a nifty bit of storytelling, in a story about female heroes, mainly Avengers, teaming up to defeat the Destroyer.

One by one, female superheroes appear alongside Thor. Since they appear with her, they can’t be her, so it becomes a process of elimination:

Thor No. 8

And that brings us down to one candidate: Jane Foster, the love of Odinson’s life.

Jane Foster is Thor!

Jane becomes known as the Mighty Thor as opposed to just bearing the name Thor, as the original Asgardian still wields that name — albeit he becomes known as the Unworthy Thor for a bit. But her ascension into godhood and becoming a superhero, detailed in Aaron and Dauterman’s Mighty Thor comic, comes with a twist.

She’s dying of breast cancer, as shown in the panel above, and wielding the powers of the Thunder God inhibits the chemotherapy treatments she needs to defend her body against the disease. In order to live, she needs to stop swinging Mjölnir. But if she doesn’t become Thor and defend the world, then who will?

Natalie Portman will portray Jane Foster and continue Mighty Thor’s legacy in the movies

The details surrounding Thor: Love and Thunder are pretty scant. Understandably so, considering the movie isn’t coming out until 2021, and we found out that Ragnarok director Taika Waititi had signed back onto the project on July 16, just one week ago. But Waititi tweeted after San Diego Comic-Con that Foster would be referred to as Mighty Thor, signaling that Aaron and Dauterman’s comic, which follows Jane’s adventures as Thor, may serve as the source material for the film:

The other thing we know is that the idea of Thor reconciling his own worthiness first came up in Avengers: Endgame, and in a major way. After killing Thanos, Thor falls into a deep depression and begins drinking and eating heavily. It takes a toll on his psyche, and it’s not until he time travels back to the Thor: The Dark World era and talks to his mother that he is able to look into his soul and remember why he is the wielder of Mjölnir.

But at the conclusion of Endgame, Thor makes a major life change. He departs with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a bit of soul-searching and self-discovery. He leaves New Asgard in the hands of Valkyrie, shirking off the responsibility of defending his kingdom and perhaps, too, his godliness.

The curious thing about Portman’s Foster assuming the title of Thor is that Foster has been a non-entity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for more than six years. Even in Endgame, which allows Thor to travel back to the day the dark elves attack Asgard in The Dark World, Portman’s Foster just barely appears.

Most surprising is that in 2016, Portman said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that she thought she was done with the franchise. “As far as I know, I’m done,” she said. “I mean, I don’t know if maybe one day they’ll ask for an Avengers 7, or whatever.”

But with Foster now having a meatier role in Love and Thunder, Waititi reinvigorating the franchise with Thor: Ragnarok, the winsome Tessa Thompson as “king” of New Asgard Valkyrie, and Hemsworth playing a Thor that’s more self-actualized and grounded than before, Portman returning as Jane Fos-Thor feels like a new start for the character and a new adventure for Thor. Both of them.