As if Taika Waititi's sure-to-be-wondrous return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed to be more amazing, here's this: at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, the director revealed during the Marvel Studios panel that Natalie Portman is returning to the MCU as Dr. Jane Foster to take up the mantle of Thor. This is a huge deal, as Portman's absence from (and sudden, surprising return to) the MCU stirred up a bit of speculation as to the ultimate fate of her character. With a whole lot more of her on the radar, here's a quick primer on Jane Foster's wild, sometimes bumpy ride through the MCU.
Fans got perhaps a little bit of resolution in her brief appearance in this April's Avengers: Endgame, and with it, a small tease to how central Jane is to our heroes' plot against Thanos. But before we can look forward to her superhero future, we should take a look back at Jane's history in the MCU and what the comics can tell us about Jane Foster's run as Thor.
One of the first things we learn about Jane in Thor (2011) is that she's a brilliant astrophysicist researching wormholes with one of the pre-eminent scholars in the field, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). They're out in the field in New Mexico, where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) first lands on Earth after being exiled from Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Jane's research team, which also includes research assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), are the first people from Earth (or "Midgard" as it's known on Asgard) to make contact with Thor, literally — they hit him with their van as they're driving through the dust storm kicked up by Thor's arrival on Earth.
After learning that Thor is perhaps not entirely human (in the sense that he wasn't born on Earth, at least), Jane becomes interested in learning more about him, his Asgardian heritage, and even Asgard itself. She helps him acclimate to Earth customs (such as not throwing coffee mugs on the ground while asking for a refill), and over the course of the story, helps Thor achieve redemption and ultimately, passage home to Asgard. Their relationship turns romantic, and then is put in jeopardy, as at the end of the film, Thor is pressed into returning to Asgard to handle his responsibilities as the son of Odin and the god of thunder.
In the meantime, Jane, promising to wait for Thor's return, continues her research into the Einstein-Rosen bridge. She's almost successful at creating one, but it ultimately proves to be just beyond her reach. She also works closely with S.H.I.E.L.D., sharing information about Thor and what he's told her of Asgard. During 2012's Avengers, Jane is hidden away at a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility following Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) kidnapping and brainwashing of Jane's mentor, Erik. Portman doesn't actually appear in Avengers, though; Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) only tells Thor that she's being kept safe, and not to worry.
But Thor's return to Earth in Avengers proves to be a point of contention in his and Jane's (very) long-distance relationship, so much so that she's rejected the idea of being romantically linked with him by the events of Thor: The Dark World (2013) As fate would have it though, she finds she's definitely still linked to the hero, as a wormhole-related event in London (where she happened to be working) brings her in contact with something called the Aether, which we later learn is one of the forms of the Reality Stone, one of the six Infinity Gems that more or less control the entirety of existence itself (and which form the meta-plot McGuffin of the MCU straight through to Endgame).
After coming into contact with the Aether, Thor takes Jane back to Asgard, in hopes that they'll be able to help save her. It's here that Endgame's time travel heist intersects with the past, as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a future Thor are tasked with extracting the Aether to use it as the Reality Stone. There's an interesting parallel between the films here in that when Thor takes Jane back to Asgard in The Dark World, their relationship is practically non-existent, and in Endgame, Thor struggles with the same drama, having separated from Jane in what he called a "mutual dumping" back in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But back in The Dark World, the Asgardian palace comes under attack, as Malekith (the movie's big bad boss), awakened by the presence of Aether in Jane's body, fights to reacquire the Reality Stone, which he wants to use to bring darkness to the Nine Realms. Thor's mother, Frigga (Rene Russo), dies defending Jane, knowing full well that a romantic bond exists between Jane and Thor.
Odin imprisons Jane in his anger over his wife's death, and makes plans to use her as bait to draw Malekith out into a final conflict. Meanwhile, Thor and his Asgardian pals are already carrying out a plan to break Jane out of prison and, well, do the same exact thing. As Thor frees Loki ahead of their showdown with Malekith, Loki appears to betray Thor, stabbing him and throwing him down in front of Malekith along with Jane, whom Loki uses as a bargaining chip to make a deal with Malekith. He offers the Aether in her body in exchange for the chance to watch Asgard burn. This turns out to be a ruse, as after Malekith extracts the Aether, Thor attempts to destroy it before Malekith can absorb it fully.
Unfortunately, Thor's power isn't quite strong enough and it doesn't exactly work, what with it being a Reality Stone and all. Malekith ends up going to Earth to enact his master plan by using what's known as the Convergence, where all of the Nine Realms are in alignment with our planet. Jane and Thor return as well, and, after reuniting with her research team from Thor, stop Malekith by exploiting Jane's wormhole research to send Malekith back to the battleground where Malekith was first defeated, Svartalfheim. Jane's mentor, Erik Selvig, then uses a wormhole to send Malekith's ship crashing down on the planet, killing the Dark Elf and ending his war against the Nine Realms.
In the wake of all the conflict, Jane and Thor re-enter a relationship, though even that is fairly short lived, as by the time of the events of Age of Ultron, they are already broken up in the aforementioned "mutual dumping." Jane fades from the MCU's gaze here for a little bit. Meanwhile, her storyline in the comics comes to a head when she takes on the mantle of Thor.
At the time, her absence from the MCU was seen as possibly a good thing by some, as her character arc across two movies left fans feeling like she had been short-changed, and that feeling intensified as she was more or less relegated to "mentioned in conversation" status in both Avengers and Age of Ultron. As well, rumors began to spread over a supposed bit of unhappiness between Portman and Marvel Studios over director Patty Jenkins' departure from The Dark World. As it would seem, that time apart may have been just the space each party needed.
There isn't a lot of information about the adventures of the MCU's Dr. Jane Foster following The Dark World, aside from that very brief aside in Endgame, which technically isn't even new information. Moreover, it isn't exactly even new footage in that movie, but unused film from The Dark World — different angle shots on some old scenes. The only thing that was new about Portman's Endgame appearance are some short new audio recordings, where she thanks the Asgardian doctors for their care.
But through Endgame, fans learn just how closely tied Jane is to one of the MCU's biggest, most famous McGuffins. And now, with her return as Thor, we know for sure that we're only just scratching the surface of Dr. Jane Foster, and by extension, what this next phase of the MCU is going to look like. With her, Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, Shuri, and other women grabbing the spotlight, it's not a stretch to hope that maybe this next phase is going to be a heck of a lot brighter than the first three.