Why Jane Foster has always been my favourite Marvel superhero
And a wider argument for the most underrated aspects of the entire Thor franchise.
P. S. at the time of first writing this I have not yet seen the latest, Thor: Love & Thunder (dir. Taika Waititi, 2022).
It likely comes as no surprise to y'all that Thor has always been my favourite Avenger, but I think the two greatest draws to his corner of the MCU for me have been:
1) The perfect coalescing of the Sci-fi and Fantasy genres, not mostly one or the other, truly both in a thoroughly stirred concoction.
2) Jane Foster, as portrayed by Natalie Portman.
Now don't get me wrong. I adore this...
I'm sorry, I know some disagree, but this just never gets old :')
In all seriousness, the Thor films really are so much more than muscle, battles and mystical powers. And while plenty of that is in thanks to Chris Hemsworth's performances and the writing and direction that guided those performances, so much of these films' unique appeal I think is also majorly owed to the character of Jane Foster.
This scene from the first Thor film, and this line in particular were the most poignant summation of how I personally wanted to view the world and the mindset I had when drawing, painting, writing, directing or creating just about anything.
The mystic underpinning in the sci-fi context of Starseed + Her Psychic Warriors is deeply influenced by this paraphrasing of Arthur C. Clarke delivered by Portman. The first time I watched her deliver this line I found the "it-girl" actress that I would become as enamoured with as women everywhere were of Audrey Hepburn at the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood (or at least those who were frustrated with the imposition of the bombshell,
"[Marilyn] Monroe" ideal).
Without this line of dialogue: "Magic is just science we don't understand yet," there would be no opening for the mystic and mythical into the already fantastical but earthly world of Phase One MCU.
In other words, the brilliant astronomer, Jane Foster and her colleagues had to be waiting in the New Mexico desert with her jeep decked out in all those scientific apparatuses for Thor to come falling from the sky and into her lap.
I'd like to take a brief moment to appreciate the superfluous use of
Dutch Angles in the first Thor movie.
Someone on YouTube made a two minute compilation of almost all the shots that are on a dutch angle and it effectively summarizes the entire feature-length film! That video can be found: HERE.
I always got immense delight out of how Thor's arrival reversed the typically misogynistic "Born Sexy Yesterday" trope that is so prevalent in both the Sci-fi and Fantasy genres. The video below from
Pop Culture Detective coins the term and gives an awesome breakdown of the phenomenon.
In short: there is a recurring narrative in which a fully grown, unsocialized woman arrives from a foreign world and seeks solace with a nice guy who by all accounts is completely average, but she thinks the world of because she's met nobody else
and has zero point of reference.
An example of an older film that also reverses the gender roles of this trope is David Bowie's The Man Who Fell to Earth (dir. Nicolas Roeg, 1976). Of course, by the end of the film Bowie's titular character terrorizes the very nice and average woman, Mary Lou that has offered to care for him. The utter disrespect :( such is the way of a patriarchal world order.
As is the way of every it-girl, Portman's Jane Foster is anything but average. Besides being a curious, brilliant and driven scientist she is also an incredibly beautiful person with graceful or quirky mannerisms depending on her mood, an infectious laugh and delightful smile. Thor has no chance of out-witting her, even if he wished to.
I would've gotten additional glee out of this being an outright misandrist script but it's definitely not that either. The reason for that is because she does not isolate him, keep him reliant upon her or withhold him from leaving. He is free to be socialized however with whomever he pleases and she is not afraid that comparison with other women or men will make her appear less worthy of his affection.
Imagine my dismay when I discovered
that Jane Foster would not be making an appearance in Thor: Ragnarok (dir. Taika Waititi, 2017)! As a fan and follower of the wider MCU at large I was not all that shocked by this news and was certain that when it was more suitable that Jane Foster would return with glorious purpose ;)
The aesthetic and tonal shift that Thor: Ragnarok made away from the high regality of Thor: The Dark World (dir. Alan Taylor, 2013) and its less ironic dramatic tone are what is commended most in popular criticism. I deeply enjoyed that change of pace as well, as much as I do still miss the older, more "Shakespearean" style of the first two films. The joy that this interpretation of Thor brings to Chris Hemsworth and his fellow screen partners is unmistakable and infectious.
Silliness abounds not in spite of the mythological source material but in honour of the inherent ridiculousness of that material. I don't mean "ridiculous" in a derogatory way. I mean as seriously as I possibly can that the Nordic mythos is deliberately illogical and uses oxymorons and inconsistencies to communicate metaphorical and spiritual truths. The same can be said for most mythologies across the globe.
The tonal shift in the Thor franchise came in sync with the shift from the Earth-centricity of the first Thor film to the (mostly) other-worldly script of Ragnarok. That micro-to-macrocosmic shift and it's tonal transition had to go through a "weird in-between phase" which the second film, Thor: The Dark World was tasked with conveying.
The natural choice for this was the convergence storyline which would have been impossible to tell without Jane Foster. As she was the portal into our world for Thor, so she takes us across the rainbow bridge to his world.
Quick sidebar to appreciate how sexy it is when Thor
is explaining space stuff to Jane:
Jane Foster played an incredibly important role in the formation of the cosmic MCU with her wit, determination and faith alone. I'm stoked to see how she continues to push the boundaries of the MCU in Thor: Love & Thunder with the addition of Thor's powers to the power she already possesses.