We’re introduced to Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster in 2011’s Thor. After behaving in a manner less than desired, Thor is sent to Midgard, or Earth, to learn humility. Here he meets astrophysicist Jane Foster, who’s area of study seems to line up with everything Thor is. Fascinated by him, she attempts to help him while he tries to find a way home. Through Jane and her friends, Thor learns to become kinder, selfless, and wise. He earns the cape and hammer back. When Thor’s brother, Loki, attacks the town Jane & co. live in, Thor must return home to deal with Loki, and hopefully set things right. Jane Foster is left on Midgard. As he cannot stay with her, she searches for a way to get to him. And so… she waits.
She’s briefly mentioned in 2012’s The Avengers, during the new havoc Loki has wreaked upon Earth. When Thor returns to find his troublesome brother, Agent Coulson informs him that they’ve moved Jane to a secure facility so Loki cannot find her. And that’s it. Unfortunately, the nine realms fall into chaos following the the events of The Avengers, and Thor spends the next two years dealing with the fallout, going back to glorious (and tiresome) war. Jane stays on Midgard, and without the ability to find Thor, well, she waits. And waits. And waits, and waits.
We pick up with Jane Foster again in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World shortly after she’s decided to stop waiting. She’s still in love with Thor, still teased by this greater adventure she almost went on, and supremely bored with a regular life. She’s casually dating nice guys who don’t do anything for her, because she’s locked lips with the God of Thunder, and nearly had the Nine Realms at her fingertips. A strange anomaly sends Jane to an abandoned factory, where things seem eerily familiar. It’s here that Jane accidentally steps into an alternate world and is possessed by a powerful force known as the Aether. While in this other world, Asgard’s watchful Heimdall is unable to see her, and alerting Thor to this finally sends him back to Midgard to find Jane Foster. She’s in danger, and so he’ll be there.
Jane is taken to Asgard for her safety, where the advanced medicine can determine what the problem is. While Jane seems to have no physical signs of ill health, she has so much energy and power surging through her that she’ll die if it’s not removed. Thor, with the help of his imprisoned brother Loki, comes up with a plan to get the Aether out of Jane. They travel to the other world Jane visited before, which is really Svartalfheim. The film’s antagonist Malekith pulls the Aether from Jane to harness it for his own power, freeing her. After discovering a nearby portal back to Earth, Jane and Thor take the fight to him. Thor distracts Malekith, as Jane sends them through various portals and worlds, until Malekith is stopped, and he’s stranded on Svartalfheim, to be crushed by his own ship. Thor returns to Asgard once more, leaving Jane behind. Paralleling the first film, Jane is waiting again, making half-convinced arguments to her friends about how Thor will most definitely come back this time. And he does, and the two embrace. Thor has decided to stay on Midgard with Jane.
Jane is next briefly mentioned in 2015’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. During an early scene in which the Avengers are throwing a party, Maria Hill asks where Jane is (as well as Tony’s longtime girlfriend, Pepper Potts, also missing). Thor says he’s not quite sure where she is, as she’s traveling around speaking about her famous discoveries, being talked about for a Nobel Peace Prize. He’s proud of her, and happy for her. After the events of the film lead Thor to believe not all is as it seems on Asgard, he once again ventures home to figure out what’s going on, as he did in his first outing four years before. And while Jane is successful, praised, and renowned, here again–she waits. And she’ll have to keep waiting.
While speaking to the Empire Film Podcast, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was asked about whether Natalie Portman will appear in Thor’s final solo outing, 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. After a long (and uncomfortable) silence, he finally admitted to what rumors have been suggesting for weeks: Jane Foster will not appear for “many, many reasons, which are in the film.” He added that the majority of the film will take place in the Cosmos, leaving only about five percent of it on Midgard, where Jane usually comes in.
The reasoning isn’t entirely without merit. The Ragnarok storyline is very Asgard-centric, and as it’s a dangerous time in the Nine Realms, it makes sense that Thor would leave someone so dear to him on Midgard, where she’s safer. He wouldn’t unnecessarily involve her in his conflict, but it stills brings up several questions. Notably, when will we see Jane Foster again? And in the greater context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, why are women and female characters still seen as optional, when their male counterparts are seen as mandatory?
Setting aside for a moment the fact that Marvel has yet to make a female stand alone film, of course Thor is going to be the most important character in every Thor film. Just like Iron Man is going to be the lead of every Iron Man film, and Cap is going to be the focus of every Captain America film. They’re the main character, and the story as a whole is their story. But why is Loki seen as necessary to every Thor outing, while Jane can so easily be left out? Why has Tony Stark’s best friend, Rhodey, now appeared in not only every Iron Man film, but both Age of Ultron and Civil War, when the “one thing he can’t live without” Pepper Potts, hasn’t been seen since 2013? Why was General Ross brought back into the fold this year, while his daughter, Betty Ross, hasn’t been seen since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk?
My beef here stems from the way Marvel Studios seems to make decisions. General Ross appeared in this year’s Captain America: Civil War, because Marvel needed a familiar face to represent the government and the law. As SHIELD has been disbanded (because all of its possible agents either died, turned HYDRA, or got their own TV spinoffs) and somewhat re-banded unaffiliated with the government, who else was there to use? Well… perhaps Maria Hill could have been given that role. She’s someone personally familiar with the Avengers, who could’ve possibly gotten them on her side. Sure, maybe Marvel wanted someone higher up, and General Ross is now Secretary of State Ross. I get it. The problem comes from the fact that male characters always seem to conveniently line up with the logic and planning of each film. There’s a natural fit. Whereas, whenever asked why a female character isn’t around, or why Black Widow hasn’t gotten her stand alone yet, Marvel seems to suggest that the timing just isn’t right. That it just didn’t work out. There’s some big, logical explanation for it, that nobody seems to actually know.
When asked on the Ant-Man press tour about Black Widow, Feige seemed to imply it wasn’t entirely necessary for Natasha to have her own movie, because of the large parts she’s played in most of their MCU films, as a character to tie all of it together. That makes enough sense. Following that, he went as far as saying that even though Marvel doesn’t have lead women (yet), they do have great women, stating: “If you go back to look at our movies – whether it’s Natalie Portman in the Thor films, Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers – our films have been full of smart, intelligent, powerful women.” And while I undoubtedly concur, ‘go back’ is what you’ll have to do if you want to see most of these characters, because Marvel doesn’t seem to have plans for them to be back anytime soon. On the same podcast Feige broke the news Natalie Portman won’t return for the next Thor movie, Civil War directors Joe and Anthony Russo said that there was never any intention or plan to include Gwyneth Paltrow in their movie, despite her character factoring in an awful lot offscreen. We, as an audience, got to miss the entire end of Tony and Pepper’s relationship, which had been built over five films. And now we’ll get to miss not only the end of Thor and Jane’s relationship but… the entire actual relationship, that was just started at the end of Jane’s last appearance. I’m sure the “many reasons” for Jane’s absence in Ragnarok will be more of the same. It just didn’t work out. Thor didn’t want to inconvenience her life anymore. Thor wasn’t good enough for her. But, the only thing that’s not good enough are these excuses.
Marvel doesn’t get to garner credit for being female friendly, pro-woman, feminist, etc. if it doesn’t work for it. It doesn’t get to fall back on its planned Captain Marvel film as a way of excusing poor treatment of its other female characters. And if it does eventually make a Black Widow movie, that shouldn’t excuse the 10+ years it took them to get there. I want to think the best of people, and certainly I wouldn’t say Marvel thinks less of women, but there’s certainly an imbalance, that’s gotten ignored or pushed aside for a few too many Marvel movies now. When Ant-Man came out, and people argued that it didn’t make much sense to sideline Evangeline Lilly’s capable, smart Hope van Dyne for Paul Rudd’s bumbling, inexperienced Scott Lang, it was promised that Hope will get her due next time. Sometime, in the future. One day. When the timing is right. When Marvel’s got enough sure bets in their slate that they can risk a movie about a woman. Hope’s poor treatment was even explained by some as charming meta about how poorly Marvel treats their own female characters. (Thanks to Andrew in the break room for that one). Wow.
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. After all, Marvel has made a few good decisions lately in regards to its women. Wanda Maximoff’s treatment has been impeccable. Her experiences in Age of Ultron were never dismissed, but embraced by both Steve Rogers and Clint Barton. That continued in Civil War, where many have joked Wanda went from having no dads to five dads. She’s been cared for, respected, and protected. Sharon Carter’s role was also notably important. She was integral to the plot, giving Steve information and help that made his actions possible. She was empathetic, strong, and shown to be resourceful and kind. She not only facilitated Steve finding Bucky, but also allowed him to listen to Bucky’s interrogation. She admitted to not telling Steve about her relation to Peggy Carter because she wanted to stand on her own, without her family name casting a shadow over her. She also didn’t want Steve to have to keep secrets from Peggy. While she had a small part in the film, it managed to move her story forward.
And one can’t ignore Claire Temple in Netflix’s Marvel series Daredevil. Netflix has populated its programming with more than a few great women, from Claire, to Karen Page, to Trish Walker, and of course–Jessica Jones herself. Claire Temple is one of the most level-headed characters in anything that’s come out of Marvel, being frequently put in less than desired situations and finding her way out of them. She regularly gives Matt Murdock a piece of her mind, and in the late of season two, went as far as reminding him he’s not the only one who wants to help people, even if he’s the only one wearing a mask. Karen Page got her own subplot in the second season of Daredevil, and was encouraged to find her voice and her sense of self. Jessica Jones told one of the most beautiful character stories I’ve ever seen, with Jessica going from someone who hated herself and everything about her life, to someone capable of love, who could be loved in return. She found her self worth, and it was beautiful.
And then there’s Peggy Carter, who’s been a pillar of the MCU, appearing in more of its franchises than almost anyone else. After a lead role in the first Captain America film, she went on to not only pop up in its sequel, The Winter Soldier, but also Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She had her own critically acclaimed series on ABC for two seasons, Agent Carter. Maybe, in a way, it’s fitting that Peggy passed away in Captain America: Civil War, concluding not only an arc for Cap, but her own story. We know she lived a full, adventurous, dangerous life, where she challenged gender roles and made people rethink what a woman could do…
Now it’s time for Marvel to live up to that. If they want to be seen as forward thinking, progressive, and as a leader in changing the way the world sees women, they’ve got to act on it. Instead of falling back on excuses every time they disappoint, they should do better. They should include more female characters, not only as “love interests” for their leading men, but as politicians, scientists, doctors, or heroes in their own right. Captain Marvel is a start, but it’s barely a start. They need to do more, and they need to do it now.
A second season of Jessica Jones has been ordered, and there are talks about a Black Widow film finally happening. Lupita Nyong’o is in negotiations to appear in 2018’s Black Panther. Tessa Thompson was recently cast in Thor: Ragnarok, and there have been rumors of Cate Blanchett appearing as the primary antagonist–no doubt to refill the “woman quota” previously filled by Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Rene Russo. Ant-Man and the Wasp hits theaters in 2018, and Wanda is expected to appear in The Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 1 and 2. Still, the amount of men still far outnumber the amount of women. And while these little victories are victories, Marvel will use each and every one of them to try and make audiences forget about Jane Foster. So here’s my plea.
Please don’t forget about Jane Foster. Please don’t forget about the way she fought for her research and her knowledge. How she endangered herself to find the truth. How she risked her life for so many people, for the sake of science, and goodness, and learning. Please don’t forget about Jane Foster. She shouldn’t have to wait any longer, and neither should we.
Beyond that, all I’ve got left to say is…
I hope Betty Ross stocked up on batteries, because she’s going to be staring at her digital camera for an awful long time.