Fans of Natalie Portman had plenty to cheer about with the teaser trailer reveal of her Thor: Love & Thunder role as the god of thunder, and for close followers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thor franchise, there was no doubt about who was behind that shiny helm. For anyone else, it might have been harder to guess.
Beyond her “appearance” in Avengers: Endgame (a cameo comprising some brief voice work and repurposed footage), Portman hasn’t had a major role in the MCU since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. She was nowhere to be found in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, the Taika Waititi film that gave the MCU’s Asgardian setting its first unabashed critical success.
So why did she leave? And why return? It may be more that Marvel left her behind, and is now playing a bit of catch-up.
Reportedly, Portman’s first attempts to extricate herself from the Marvel Cinematic Universe began during the first stages of producing a sequel to Thor, when she was considering a several-year break from acting to spend more time with her first child, born in 2011. According to industry reporting at the time, Marvel sweetened the deal by including Portman — already a director with aspirations to do more — in the process of choosing the film’s director.
That year, Marvel entered into talks with Patty Jenkins, and closed on a deal that would have made the Monster director the first woman to direct a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. And Portman — an activist, an advocate for increased diversity in Hollywood, and a woman who had spoken publicly and eloquently on the ways in which female characters are boxed in by male-dominated cinema — was energized by helping bring about that first.
But only a few months later, Marvel and Jenkins parted ways, citing “creative differences” even though the project had yet to settle on a script. Marvel replaced Jenkins — who would go on to plant her flag in the realm of cinematic superheroes with the hugely successful Wonder Woman — with Alan Taylor (Terminator Genisys).
It would take another six years for Anna Boden to become the first woman to co-direct an MCU film (Captain Marvel) and eight for Cate Shortland to become the first woman to be the sole director on a MCU film with Black Widow. If Jenkins had gotten the job, she would still — and for the foreseeable future — be the only woman to direct a Marvel Cinematic Universe film about a male superhero.
In 2016, with Thor: Ragnarok a couple months into principle photography, Portman told the Wall Street Journal that Marvel had no plans that she was aware of to use her character again. “As far as I know I’m done. 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.”
Which is precisely what made Portman’s appearance in Marvel’s Hall H presentation during San Diego Comic-Con 2019 so surprising: There had been absolutely no indication that either she or Marvel Studios was interested in renewing their relationship to that degree.
Her return appears to be due to the deliberate work of director Taika Waititi. Unlike Ragnarok, which was scripted by a trio of Marvel Studios’ stable writers before it entered its directorial search, Love & Thunder’s story comes straight from Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Sweet/Vicious, Hawkeye). It was that story, and its expanded role for Jane Foster, that Waititi credits in getting the actress onboard.
“I just said to her, ‘Are you interested in coming back to this thing, but doing something really different?’” he told Variety in 2019. “No one wants to keep repeating themselves [...] In most of these films, if you’re not a superhero — do you really want to keep doing that? I mean, I wouldn’t. I would want to come back and change things up.”
Portman seems to concur, telling ET Online that “upon seeing the script and new role for Jane: I was like ‘This is very exciting!’ And also with Taika [attached], and I love Tessa and Chris so much, so it’s exciting to get to work with them again.”
With the response to Thor: Love & Thunder’s teaser, it’s safe to say a lot of other people find it exciting too.