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The good guys (and gals) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just can’t win in love.
Natalie Portman, who played the brilliant physicist Jane Foster (and love interest to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor) in two films, made headlines this week by saying she is done with the MCU, as far as she knows.
It’s not a total surprise — the Oscar-winning actress isn’t among the cast for the upcoming Thor: Ragnarock. On a professional note, it also might make sense that Portman is ready to move on from the MCU. In 2011, sources told The Hollywood Reporter that she was unhappy over the departure of director Patty Jenkins, who had been set to helm Thor: Dark World before leaving over creative differences with Marvel. Jenkins, who has since moved on to direct Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman, would have broken ground as the first woman to direct a Marvel movie, and Portman had lobbied Marvel to hire the director.
All told, Jane and Thor’s relationship was arguably the least compelling of the romantic pairings in the MCU. In Thor (2011), the two spent just a weekend together, during half of which she suspected Thor had mental health issues before realizing he was an alien with a justifiable god complex. She received a perfunctory mention in The Avengers (2012), and a year later showed up again in Thor: Dark World — where it was revealed the pair hadn’t actually seen each other in nearly two years.
The couple had been together as recently as Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor playfully argued over whose girlfriend was superior. (Thor insisted Jane was.)
In honor of Jane’s exit from the MCU, let’s examine the state of the universe’s big relationships.
Tony Stark and Pepper Potts
Pepper has gotten the most screen time of any of the MCU’s love interests, appearing in Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2013). Her character grew throughout the franchise, going from Tony’s minder to running one of the biggest corporations in the world. In Iron Man 3, it seemed Tony and Pepper would find their happy ending, with Tony getting rid of his Iron Man suits and Pepper gaining super powers. But the promise of peace didn’t last. Tony was back in action with Avengers: Age of Ultron. And Captain America: Civil War (2016) gave one of the finest moments of any MCU romantic relationship, with a regretful Tony explaining that he and Pepper were no longer together — she unable to accept him going back on his promise to give up the superhero life. It’s apparent that his irresponsible actions in Ultron (and his subsequent guilt) put a strain on the relationship.
Bruce Banner and Betty Ross
The Incredible Hulk (2008) is the MCU movie time forgot, and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) is the love interest the MCU forgot. She’s the only love interest (so far) not to be mentioned again in the MCU movies, which may make sense as her Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) rarely comes up in discussions about the universe after he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Prior to the events of Incredible Hulk she had not seen Bruce in years and had moved on with her life, having a successful career and pursuing a new relationship, so it does make some sense that she hasn’t reappeared, even though her father, General Ross (William Hurt), played a role in Civil War.
Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter
This is the undeniable fan favorite couple of the MCU, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) pairing helped inspire some of the universe’s most emotional scenes. (Cap’s unrequited dance! Peggy as an old woman!) Peggy is also the clear breakout star of the MCU. Though her ABC show Agent Carter was canceled, many fans considered it superior to Agents of SHIELD (sorry, Coulson). Peggy’s death was portrayed in Civil War, with Steve moving on to her great niece, Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). (Peggy Carter does not approve.)
Black Widow and Bruce Banner
The love story between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) was among the most controversial aspects of Age of Ultron. Some fans complained that the conversation (see above) in which Natasha Romanov revealed she cannot physically have children was offensive, because she refers to herself as a “monster” — though other fans argued writer-director Joss Whedon intended the monster line to refer to the fact that she had been turned into a trained killer by the people who sterilized her. Luckily for fans who didn’t enjoy the storyline, Banner decided no one was safe if he was around, and jetted off … never to be seen again (until Thor: Ragnarok, at least).
Scott Lang and Hope Pym
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) have chemistry that is unrivaled in the MCU. They are set to team up with their own movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp, in 2018. Though Pepper got to play the hero at the end of Iron Man 3, having a proper team-up movie with two MCU love interests is a promising prospect. Add that to the fact that the previous Ant-Man (Michael Douglas) and Wasp (Hope’s mother Janet van Dyne) saw their partnership end in tragedy — with Janet van Dyne lost in the quantum realm — only ups the emotional stakes.
Back to the Thor movies: Jane’s exit from the MCU isn’t really a negative. One thing the MCU has gotten very right is that it has eschewed the “will they, won’t they” formula that has permeated much of superhero movie history. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films are fantastic — but by Spider-Man 3 (2007), the question of whether Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) would end up together was beyond stale. Superman II (1980) perfected the “will they, won’t they” … only to have it all taken back with Superman (Christopher Reeve) erasing Lois Lane’s (Margot Kidder) memory. And though Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) unrequited love for Jean (Famke Janssen) made for great drama all the way through 2003’s X2: X-Men United, its emotional payoff in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand was widely mocked.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) featured no love interests — and was one of the freshest superhero movies ever. Tessa Thompson is joining Thor: Ragnarok as Valkyrie, who at times has been a love interest to Thor in the comics. But perhaps Thor can stand on his own without a love interest plotline.
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