Marvel Cinematic Universe profile: A look at Natalie Portman’s career

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 20: Natalie Portman of Marvel Studios' 'Thor: Love and Thunder' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 20: Natalie Portman of Marvel Studios' 'Thor: Love and Thunder' at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney) /

Natalie Portman portrayed Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, in the first two Thor solo films. Despite her absence in Thor: Ragnarok, she will continue as Jane in the upcoming Thor feature.

When Thor was first released in 2011, Natalie Portman was fresh off an Academy Award victory and was unquestionably the biggest star in the movie at that time. Anthony Hopkins may be rightfully recognized worldwide as acting royalty, yet Portman appealed to a wider audience in the 2010s. And it was a wise move for Marvel to try to snatch up another Oscar caliber leading lady looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s short history, where they hit the jackpot lining up Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow opposite Robert Downey Jr., while falling short when matching Liv Tyler with Edward Norton.

The union of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman was somewhere in between the MCU’s previous romantic pairings. The big surprise for moviegoers who were not yet familiar with Hemsworth was how his charisma outshined Portman. Thor being a star making role for Hemsworth is exactly what the studio was hoping for and Portman consequentially flies under the radar as Jane Foster. Part of the reason is that Thor himself is such an attention-grabbing character, while Jane, despite being an intelligent and motivated astrophysicist, merely revolves around the sun that is the God of Thunder.

In the first movie, even when Jane isn’t interrogating, analyzing, or fawning over Thor, she is chatting about him with her colleagues. She is important mainly as a representation of Thor’s strong connection to Earth, making his defense of the planet more significant in The Avengers. Jane’s role expands from one who watches the action from the sidelines in Thor to being thrust right in the middle of it in Thor: The Dark World. When the Aether infiltrates Jane’s body, Thor brings her to Asgard and protects her from Malekith.

Even with the upgrade in activity in The Dark World, the script does not call for Portman to evolve too much beyond a damsel in distress. A feisty side emerges from time to time, yet sometimes comes off as a bit of a façade; when she slaps Loki and exclaims “That was for New York”, does anyone believe that she can do any real harm to the God of Mischief?

Following that sequel, Jane was reduced to mentions in side conversations. Thor explains that she was too busy to join a party in Avengers: Age of Ultron and then Thor argues with Loki about whether he or Jane broke off their relationship in Thor: Ragnarok. That is why her unexpected cameo in Avengers: Endgame was so surprising, as was the news that she will star in Thor: Love and Thunder.

So how did Natalie Portman gain her Hollywood prowess, which in turn led to her pivotal placement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It all started when she was just 13 years old in Luc Besson’s The Professional – not only was it her first film role, it was also one of the most memorable child acting performances of the 1990s. And unlike many other young actors, Portman did not slow down; the following year she played Al Pacino’s daughter in the crime epic Heat.

It wasn’t long before Portman landed the role that would bring her to international widespread recognition as Padme Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. She was the female star in that slice of the saga and was still a teenager in The Phantom Menace, where she had a smaller role yet her auspiciousness was apparent because of her confident demeanor. Attack of the Clones is notorious for Padme and Anakin’s objectionably mushy love story, however George Lucas’ odd script choices along with Hayden Christensen’s uncomfortable handling of the material is mostly to blame.

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Portman catapults Padme into legendary heroine status with Attack of the Clones’ climactic final battle and works wonders in Revenge of the Sith. In the third film, her dramatic tools are utilized most effectively, especially during the scene where she confronts Anakin about his treacherous transition to the dark side. Less than a year after Revenge of the Sith, the release of V for Vendetta features Portman in a very different type of sci-fi film. Portman displays proficient range as Evey, a seemingly ordinary woman who escalates from helpless victim to a willing participant in the fight against fascism.

During her Star Wars tenure, Portman also expanded her talents in other areas of cinema. Her singular scene in Anthony Minghella’s Civil War drama Cold Mountain is outstanding. Then her role in Zach Braff’s Garden State was her most eccentric yet. But the movie that truly started to separate Portman from her peers was Mike Nichol’s Closer, where she delivers a delicately multidimensional turn that is serious, seductive, and romantically tragic.

In the years since Revenge of the Sith, Portman’s part in the Thor movies was among her highest profile gigs, but one would have to look to her films outside of the MCU for her many incredible performances. In Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts, she plays the fantastic dual role of a victim of the Spanish Inquisition and her daughter, a product of rape by the former’s captor. She essentially pulls off three great performances; the young prostitute daughter being one, while the mother goes into prison as a smart and respected member of society and comes out of prison, years later, as a physically and psychologically shattered individual.

Portman is exceptional in other films such as The Other Boleyn Girl (as a superior version of Anne Boleyn), The Other Woman (struggling to cope with familial tragedy), and Brothers (caught in a love triangle with a war veteran and an ex-con).

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is Natalie Portman’s magnum opus, where she truly gets under her character’s skin like few can only ever aspire to. She frighteningly devolves into madness as her ultra-obsessiveness for her craft takes her down a rabbit hole of a dizzying metamorphosis into a vicious, feral creature. During the Black Swan finale, Portman miraculously conveys determination, torment, anxiety, terror, and pride all in mere moments.

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More recently, she has been stunning in Jackie and Vox Lux. In the former, her mannerisms and vocal transformation is the best recreation of the former first lady, Jackie Kennedy, ever committed to film or television. In the latter, her character’s catastrophic history casts a dark shadow that is pervasively alluded to through her self-loathing and self-destructive tendencies.

Even in Portman’s movies that aren’t particularly high caliber, she manages a consistent level of quality, such as in the western Jane Got a Gun, the indie drama Hesher, and directing herself in A Tale of Love and Darkness. Alex Garland’s Annihilation is pretty far out there in both concept and some of its visuals, yet Portman is a solid rock for viewers to latch onto. Lucy in the Sky is another oddball of a film, curiously pieced together by Noah Hawley, but Portman’s crazed jealousy is well worth watching. In fact, the Thor movies are astoundingly a rare exception where Natalie Portman is a not a highlight.

Natalie Portman’s Top 10 Movie Roles

1. Nina Sayers in Black Swan
2. Alice in Closer
3. Jackie Kennedy in Jackie
4. Ines and Alicia in Goya’s Ghosts
5. Mathilda in The Professional
6. Grace Cahill in Brothers
7. Padme Amidala in the Star Wars series
8. Celeste in Vox Lux
9. Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl
10. Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta

With Natalie Portman set to take on a paramount role in Thor: Love and Thunder, potentially even taking over for Chris Hemsworth as the franchise lead, perhaps her Jane Foster will one day make it into her Top 10. Yet with so many phenomenal works already in her career and with more sure to come, she would have to strike gold with Taika Waititi on the set of Love and Thunder for Jane Foster to ever be considered one of her best movie roles.

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Thor: Love and Thunder is currently scheduled to be released on November 5, 2021. Are you looking forward to the film’s release? Will Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster make a memorable comeback? Let us know in the comments below!