Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster was a major part of the Asgardian god’s first two standalone films. But Thor: Love and Thunder didn’t pay tribute to the astrophysicist by merely making her part of “ another classic Thor adventure.” It paid tribute to Jane Foster by making her the hero of her own story in a moving film that elevated the character’s standing in the MCU to the mighty position she always deserved.
It would have been easy for Taika Waititi to bring Jane Foster back to the Thor franchise for purely comedic reasons. That element of the film certainly worked. Watching a literal god pine over his human ex-girlfriend provided plenty of laughs. It also would have been easy enough for the writer-director to have Dr. Foster return to add a romantic element. Waititi found success with that premise, too. You’d have to be Hela not to have been touched by the pair rediscovering their shared love, an emotional arc beautifully captured by the tender holding of fingers.
But neither of those Love and Thunder aspects are the reason that—for the first time in the Thor series—this was Jane’s movie far more than it was his.
Jane Foster’s battle with cancer comes straight out of Marvel Comics. But regardless of source material, suddenly giving a young character a fatal disease is a tricky proposition. There’s a delicate balance between making their illness feel like a legitimate part of the story versus having it feel like a cheap ploy to garner sympathy. And initially it was easy to think the latter might prove true in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Was Jane’s celebrated return—first announced to great fanfare in 2019 with a rousing surprise appearance by Portman carrying Mjolnir into San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H—-going to end with the popular character dying? They were bringing her back just to kill her? That seemed so emotionally manipulative there was no way she’d actually die, right? And if she wasn’t dying, wasn’t her cancer diagnosis just a lazy way to make the film more dramatic?
That was not the case, though. Ultimately Jane’s diagnosis showed why she was worthy of carrying Thor’s hammer, all while centering her in the story. Mjolnir didn’t keep Jane safe. At least not in the way Thor meant when he made that wish long ago. Mjolnir was killing her every time she used it, and it ultimately took her sooner than the cancer would have on its own. But she knew that. She could see and feel herself getting sicker each time she picked up the hammer. But she also knew that Mjolnir was keeping her safe in another way. It was letting her live out her final days in a way that was true to her character.
Rather than slowly fade away, Mjolnir allowed Jane to continue serving others as she always had. Where once she shared wisdom with the world, though, that hammer allowed her to physically protect innocent people instead. And once she had them she eagerly and without hesitation went running into battle, as though she had spent hundreds of years training to fight. Then, when the time came for her to make the ultimate sacrifice, she didn’t hesitate. She, and she alone, decided her own fate instead of some superhero. Jane picked up Mjolnir once more even though she knew it would mean her death. She did exactly what some of the MCU’s greatest heroes—Avengers like Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Natasha Romanoff—did when they also gave their lives for others.
And Jane Foster did it all with a smile. She was not bitter about her diagnosis, or how that hammer was killing her. Nor was she bitter that she sacrificed herself to save gods who live longer than she ever could have. She was grateful to have lived at all. Just as she was grateful to have loved and known love.
It’s hard to imagine a more fitting end for someone that had in her own way already saved the world and even universe before. Because, without Thor, the Avengers never would have stopped Loki, Ultron, or Thanos. But Thor was only Thor because of her. He was lost when he first arrived in Earth. Odin had banished Thor from his home, his family, his friends, his people, his powers, and his purpose. The God of Thunder was weak in body, mind, and spirit. It was Jane who helped him find himself. He found strength in her, because unlike him she never wavered in being the best person she could be. It’s why he said to her, in the film’s most beautiful tribute to Jane Foster, “You made me worthy.”
For that reason alone Jane was always one of the MCU’s most important characters. Her bravery, her unwavering moral compass, and her kind heart helped a god find his. Thor found what he needed not in a hammer but in her. Unfortunately, they don’t erect statues to famous hero’s own personal heroes, the people who made them who they are. Especially when they’ve only ever been a part of someone else’s story.
That was the case for Jane Foster until Thor: Love and Thunder, but it won’t be ever again. The movie didn’t bring her back to tell another chapter in Thor’s story. It brought Jane back to let her finish telling her own story, a tale that was always mighty.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.