How Natalie Portman’s Mighty Thor brings us a new physical reality for female superheroes

Thor: Love and Thunder, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has just been released in Australian cinemas. Following Thor’s adventure following Avengers: Endgame, the film reintroduces Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, now as Mighty Thor. The introduction of Mighty Thor adds to the growing roster of female superheroes in the Marvel Universe, which includes characters such as […]

Thor: Love and Thunder, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has just been released in Australian cinemas. Following Thor’s adventure following Avengers: Endgame, the film reintroduces Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, now as Mighty Thor.

The introduction of Mighty Thor adds to the growing roster of female superheroes in the Marvel Universe, which includes characters such as Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel.

But, more than just a name on the list, the Mighty Thor represents a different type of female superhero: one who is physically strong and with the biceps to show it.

Become the mighty Thor

Jane Foster first appeared in Marvel Comics’ Journey into Mystery #84 as a nurse employed by Dr. Donald Blake, Thor’s alter-ego. In her earliest appearances, she serves as Thor’s love interest, often the damsel in distress in Thor’s daring exploits.

The Marvel Universe presents Jane Foster in Thor as an accomplished astrophysicist. But, much like his counterpart in the comics, Foster’s arc revolves around Thor’s love interest.

In the comics, Foster takes over the mantle of Thor after picking up the enchanted hammer Mjolnir after the original Thor lost his “dignity”. And although Stan Lee and John Buschema point out that female superheroes in Marvel comics should be drawn “to look smooth and gentle as opposed to the muscular, angular interpretation of a man”, Foster’s Thor is anything but that. As Mighty Thor, Foster’s weak body, stricken with terminal cancer, transforms into a strong, statuesque body fit for a warrior goddess.

The mighty Thor from Marvel Comics. Marvel Comics

Thor: Love and Thunder is loosely based on Foster’s character arc in the comics. Natalie Portman’s Foster first appears in the film as she undergoes treatment for her stage four cancer. Having learned that Mjolnir gives its wielder excellent health, she travels to New Asgard in search of the hammer. Sensing Foster’s presence, the shattered pieces of Mjolnir recover and choose Foster as their new wielder, transforming her into Mighty Thor.

Portman, whose past roles often capitalize on her petite frame, spent 10 months training to “get as tall as possible.” Fans got their first glimpse of Portman’s portrayal of the Goddess of Thunder in the movie’s trailer.

Like his comic book counterpart, Marvel’s Mighty Thor cutscene sports a well-muscled physique. When set photos of Portman in full Thor gear surfaced, the internet lost its collective mind over his upraised arms.

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth as Thors. marvel studios

Another incarnation of the female superhero

The hyper-sexualization of superheroines in cinema is not new. Characters such as Catwoman, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman have all suffered this fate. They are sexualized through their dialogue and mannerisms, not to mention the exposing costumes showcasing their butts and breasts, often with exposed cleavage. In the Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster, for example, Black Widow is posed and positioned to align viewers with a sexualizing gaze.

Scarlett Johansson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster. IMDB

Movies such as Black Panther and Captain Marvel took a better approach to portraying their female characters. The women in these films are neither visually objectified nor defined by their roles as love interests. Instead, they shamelessly flaunt their agency, skills, and powers. Thor: Love and Thunder takes another step forward in depicting the embodiment of female heroism and power.

The portrayal of the Mighty Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder is not without its problems, including its function in the narrative as a love interest and a tool for Thor’s character development. But, the character opens up the possibility of a more diverse and inclusive representation of women’s bodies in mainstream superhero movies.

Along with the more practical superhero costume, the Mighty Thor isn’t shy about showing off his muscles. That’s why the character is a refreshing departure from the hyper-sexualization of female superheroes before her.

Representations of female superpowers are often limited by gender stereotypes. This is exemplified by the “hands-off” power sets of most female superheroes, such as Scarlet Witch’s magic, Jean Grey’s telekinesis, and Emma Frost’s telepathy. The Mighty Thor is one of the few examples where a female superhero is characterized by explicitly physical powers.

In a recent interview, Portman noted that her physical transformation to portray the character gave her an empowering “woman state of mind.” For female audiences, too, the Mighty Thor’s physical stature is a powerful visual representation.

Additionally, representations of women’s bodies in popular culture reflect gender conventions that associate femininity with slender, soft bodies. With the rare appearances of muscular women on the big screen, the Mighty Thor introduces a different physical representation that challenges traditional gender expectations of what femininity looks like.

As cultural products, superheroes not only reflect our culture, but also inform our understanding of it, including gender discourse. Thus, the representation of diversity – in terms of race, sex, gender, economics, sexual orientation and form – is important. We need greater representation of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We also need more representative women of all shapes – tall, short, short or tall. For this reason, the Mighty Thor is a valuable addition to the new wave of powerful female superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Through The Conversation.

About Susan Dailey

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