After the climactic events of the Infinity Saga, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Natasha Romanoff are all gone, and Clint Barton appears to be returning to superhero retirement after Hawkeye. We’ll learn more about what Bruce Banner has been up to when he joins his cousin in the upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk, but out of the original group of Avengers who first teamed up to stave off Loki and his alien invasion in 2012, only Thor Odinson is still front and center in the MCU. When Thor: Love and Thunder opens on Friday, the God of Thunder will be back.
While much of the MCU’s old guard of franchise stars have moved on (for now, at least), Chris Hemsworth is returning as Thor for an unprecedented fourth solo film. Following his MCU debut with the terrific Thor: Ragnarok in 2017, director Taika Waititi is also back at the helm and lending his voice to Thor’s rock buddy Korg. Tessa Thompson likewise reprises her role as Valkyrie, and for the first time since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, Natalie Portman is back as Dr. Jane Foster.
Along with the familiar faces from past Thor films, Love and Thunder will also feature a host of new gods, including Zeus (played by Russell Crowe) and a looming threat who seeks to put an end to the gods’ near-immortal existence, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). It’s been a few years since we’ve seen the self-proclaimed strongest Avenger in action, so ahead of the release of Love and Thunder, here’s a refresher on where we left off with Thor and Jane, as well as some background on the comics that inspired the film. (Note: There won’t be any spoilers below for Love and Thunder, or at least nothing beyond what already has been revealed in the film’s trailers, but everything else that’s come before it in the MCU and in the comics it’s adapted from is fair game.)
The Adventures of Thor
Love and Thunder marks Hemsworth’s eighth (!) film appearance as the God of Thunder (not counting a Doctor Strange mid-credits scene), and a lot has happened to the Asgardian during all of that screen time. He started off as an arrogant, petulant prince whose desire for the throne was surpassed only by his thirst for war, and he became a worthy hero who realized he wasn’t suited to be king. He has saved Earth on multiple occasions after first being exiled there without his godly powers or hammer Mjolnir, and he chopped off the infamous Thanos’s head (after failing to do so the first time around).
But the story of Thor in the MCU can be defined as much by all that he has lost as it can by his achievements and how he has grown as a character. First, it was his mother in the fight against Malekith the Accursed in The Dark World. Next, it was his father, who turned to space dust in Ragnarok. Then, his mischievous brother died—for, like, the third time—in Infinity War. By now, Thor has lost pretty much everything that he started with in 2011’s Thor, as most of his closest Asgardian friends—Heimdall and the Warriors Three—were killed by either Hela, the Asgardian Goddess of Death, or Thanos. (Thor even lost his glorious head of hair for a time starting in Ragnarok, but it grew back during that dark period in Endgame where all he did was drink beer and play video games with Korg.) Asgard has likewise been destroyed, with all that’s left of its people and culture now existing in the slice of land on Earth called New Asgard.
Heading into Love and Thunder, Thor has handed over the rulership of New Asgard to King Valkyrie, and he’s decided to return to space with Korg and his new friends, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thor still wields his enchanted ax, Stormbreaker, after Hela destroyed his trusty hammer in Ragnarok, even if he was able to borrow a version of Mjolnir from a previous timeline in Endgame. (Captain America appears to have brought it back to where it came from, but the specifics of that situation are still a little hazy, as is often the case with matters of time travel.) Perhaps above all else, Thor’s next chapter now finds him without a purpose. After countless years of fighting dark elves, frost giants, and all sorts of living creatures in between, the god is ready to embrace change. “These hands were once used for battle,” he says at the opening of the first Love and Thunder trailer. “Now they’re but humble tools for peace. I need to figure out exactly who I am.”
The Return of Jane Foster
Although Dr. Foster made a brief appearance in Endgame, in which unused footage from The Dark World was recycled alongside new voice-over work from Portman, Love and Thunder marks the first time Portman has portrayed Foster in earnest in almost a decade. And this time around, she gets to play a version of the character who is much more than a damsel in distress or the one forever left waiting for the God of Thunder to return to Earth. “I’ve seen her play the scientist character in Thor 1 and 2, and it just seemed pointless to do it again,” Waititi said of Portman’s astrophysicist in a recent interview with Variety. “That character feels like just a love interest. It’s an Earthwoman who runs around being mortal and not really consequential throughout.”
Instead, Portman now takes on the role of the Mighty Thor herself.
In Phase 4, there have been several cases of either new characters or those who had been in smaller roles taking on the mantle of one of the original Avengers, such as newcomers Yelena Belova in Black Widow and Kate Bishop in Hawkeye, or Sam Wilson in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And beyond all the torch passing, the multiverse has also allowed for several versions of a character to appear on screen at the same time, including in Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. With the sole exception of Kate’s teamup with Clint Barton in Hawkeye, what separates the emergence of an all-new Thor in Love and Thunder from these other Phase 4 projects is that the original hero isn’t dead (or potentially hiding out on the moon), and Jane isn’t arriving from an alternate universe. In Love and Thunder, the son of Odin is no longer the only one worthy of carrying the hammer.
During Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s Thor run in 2014, Jane picks up Mjolnir to transform into the Goddess of Thunder after Thor temporarily cannot do so himself. There’s a bit of a learning curve for Jane in her new line of work, and an even lengthier adjustment period for some Asgardians to accept her as the new Thor; Odinson, for his part, mourns his lost weapon by getting hammered at several bars across the Nine Realms. But Foster makes the legendary title her own over time, earning the respect of her godly peers as she learns to use the famed weapon of Thor in deadly new ways.
While Jane gains the power of the Mighty Thor, the sudden gift comes at a great cost. Before she had this ability to transform into a god on a whim, she was struggling with breast cancer. Becoming Thor purges the sickness from her body every time she transforms, but it also neutralizes her chemotherapy treatment. In other words, being Thor saves Jane every time she goes to battle, but it’s slowly killing her in the process, weakening her body each time she returns to her mortal form.
To prepare for the part of the new Goddess of Thunder in Love and Thunder, Portman transformed her body into superhero shape through an intense 10-month training program, and the results are undeniable: Jane got absolutely jacked. “On Black Swan, I was asked to get as small as possible,” Portman told Variety. “Here, I was asked to get as big as possible. That’s an amazing challenge—and also state of mind as a woman.”
As for Jane’s cancer story line from the comics, fans have been wondering if the MCU’s version of Foster will face the same affliction ever since Portman’s return to the franchise was announced in 2019. Both Portman and Waititi have offered the standard guarded responses that come with any spoiler-laden question ahead of the release of a Marvel movie, though the Love and Thunder director’s answers have been slightly more revealing than those of its costar. “Part of why [Portman] wanted to play that character is that she has a dilemma in the book,” Waititi explained to Variety, before seeming to measure his next words more carefully. “Am I allowed to talk about this?”
The Butcher’s Coming
Ten years after Christian Bale put on the cowl for the final time in The Dark Knight Rises, the 48-year-old English actor is making a return to superhero movies. Since Batman didn’t die at the end of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, well, guess who lived long enough to become the villain? In Love and Thunder, Bale joins the MCU to become an all-time great Thor villain from the comics: Gorr the God Butcher.
Thor has existed within the pages of Marvel Comics since the early 1960s, facing off against villains like Loki, the Destroyer, Malekith, and Hela time and time again in the years thereafter. All four of these characters appeared in the first three Thor movies, but Gorr is a relative newcomer. The God Butcher’s comics debut occurred only a decade ago, during a stellar story line crafted by Aaron and artist Esad Ribic in 2012’s Thor: God of Thunder.
In the comics, Gorr was born on a harsh, unnamed planet, where his people suffered from starvation and an unrelenting sun from the day they were born to the day they died. Despite their thankless way of life, they still worshiped the gods and offered what little they had to them, even as their prayers went unanswered. Gorr’s faith in the divine waned with each death in his family, until he no longer believed that the gods existed at all. When he finally found out that the gods were real—and that they had allowed his people to suffer—Gorr claimed a powerful, ancient weapon called the Necrosword and vowed to kill all of the gods.
Thanks to Ribic’s stunning artwork and Aaron’s masterful storytelling, the story arc is an instant classic that spans several millennia, as multiple versions of Thor—past, present, and future—fight against the God Butcher across time and space. Even though the comics are fantastic, Waititi and Co. are thankfully making some notable changes in its adaptation to the big screen, as the Love and Thunder creative team has opted against centering the story on three ages of Thor. (While it would have been entertaining to see various versions of Hemsworth’s Thor in action, this would be the third MCU film in a row to basically bring that Spider-Man meme to life after No Way Home and Multiverse of Madness employed similar gimmicks.) Instead, Odinson will be joined by the likes of Foster, King Valkyrie, Korg, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, better fitting the context of the MCU.
Ragnarok remains one of the best MCU movies to date, largely because of Waititi’s refreshing direction and the decision to lean into Hemsworth’s sensibilities as a comedic actor. That’s a hard act to follow, but with Waititi back to direct much of the same cast alongside promising additions like Portman, Crowe, and Bale, Love and Thunder is set to be an exciting new entry in Thor’s long-running adventures.