"Ragnarok," according to Taika Waititi, means, "the stripping down of the establishment, of what's already there, and then building it up in a new way." That's exactly what the director is aiming to do to his titular hero and the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok.
The director and his cast and crew of the massive upcoming Marvel Studios flick opened up to press on their Australian set nearly a year ago, with Waititi promising, "what comes out the other end is way more exciting and interesting and in a way you can never go back from that."
Thor: Ragnarok, the third in a series of Thor-centric films and fifth Marvel Cinematic Universe film to feature the God of Thunder, has a feel unlike any film before it from the moment the doors to the set are opened. In fact, for most sets, that is a metaphor because the worlds are built in a vibrant outdoor form with no standard sound stage doors being opened to step into the scenes. This isn't what makes Ragnarok feel most unique, though.
Thor: Ragnarok is fully embracing the cosmic elements and the comics which inspired them.
"It really is, to my mind, probably the craziest of the Marvel films in a good way," Waititi said, adding his focus is "getting away from the other two films" which came before it in the Thor trilogy. This, for Waititi, is the first Thor movie.
Some spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok follow!
While Waititi points out he enjoys looking at comics and saying, "we should have that," to various moments or places, the film takes a "cherry-picking" approach to adapting some key story lines into live-action.
Executive producer Brad Winderbaum says the film will "lean heavily" into Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Journey Into Mystery stories, and the latter name is one which would be tossed around frequently while on set.
“We’re definitely looking at the Walter Simonson Ragnarok arc," Winderbaum said. The executive producer does note, however, it would take "five seasons of a TV show to tell that entire story," which is why the film will be influenced "both stylistically and narratively" by the books.
"We’re also looking at God of Thunder, the Jason Aaron book," Winderbaum points out, citing the book's villain Gorr as a large inspiration for Cate Blanchett's Hela. "A lot of the design of Hela is a combination of the early stuff from Jack [Kirby] but also the stuff that came out of that book and especially the villain Gorr’s power set," Winderbaum said. "We’ve drafted that idea and are doing a version of that, not exactly that, but a version of that for our movie.”
Waititi stresses the influence of "Planet Hulk" which is quite evident. Though Jeff Goldblum is in place as the Grandmaster, he bares a strikingly similar role to the Red King of the Marvel Comics arc. Such a swap may be part of Waititi's aim to avoid sticking too closely to the source material as a means to keep the film fresh, even for the experts.
God of Thunder, "Planet Hulk", "Ragnarok", and Journey Into Mystery tell vastly different stories, but they remain linked by one common thread: they take place in the cosmic world of the Marvel Universe. It's a world which may have lost audiences if not for Ragnarok's approach of building several of them. "Every set has practical elements to it," production designer Dan Hennah (The Hobbit trilogy, Alice Through the Looking Glass) said while standing in a fully built Asgardian plaza, complete with shops, homes, and a canal running through it. "The ground level and the interactive level is real. Everything up there is digital. Pretty much everywhere we go, we'll do that same thing."prevnext
Eyes laid upon the massive sets, it's clear Thor: Ragnarok has pulled inspiration from the pages of Marvel Comics and is sparing no expense in creating a convincing, living, breathing world.
To start the film, Odin's son finds himself trapped on Muspelheim while on a journey inspired by the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The concept art for Muspelheim displayed a treacherous, dark location which would be a trying time even for someone with the might of Thor.
"Muspelheim is essentially a Dyson sphere which is an enormous structure around a star," Hennah said. "The premise is this has been here for a long time, and it's coated in the residue of a dying star and it's drawing energy from a dying star. It's populated by demons and dragons and all sorts of creatures. It has internal spaces which are vast."
From here, the "puddle-jumping" adventure crosses worlds such Hel, Asgard, Midgard, and Sakaar, opening the door for characters such as Doctor Strange to appear in the film -- if only for a brief sequence. The Sanctum Santorum's role in the film was largely kept under wraps despite being displayed in concept art form, which may serve to emphasize Ragnarok never losing focus on its titular hero. By the sound of it, the Sorcerer Supreme will help Thor and Loki on a quest to find Odin and return to their home after an accident involving the Bifrost terminates their ability to use it for travel.
Spending any amount of time in a fully built Asgardian plaza is a blissful and awe-inspiring experience, but it is the colors and unpredictable architecture of the Sakaar marketplace which truly capture Thor: Ragnarok's erratic tone.
The Sakaar set, equipped with vending machines, booths with food and items for sale, and cosmic exercise equipment is "mostly about Thor being chased by the Hulk through the streets" and "things being knocked over," according to Hennah. "That will take place in different-colored streets, but in here you can see a lot Kirby symbology. A lot of colors from those early comics, those comics of the '60s that reflect colors."
"1960s Jack Kirby is Sakaar," Hennah declared. He would know, after all. Hennah grew up reading Kirby's work and put a hefty amount of time into analyzing and translating the style into an acceptable, albeit different live-action form.prevnext
A New Thor
With new locations and new adventures comes a brand new Thor. Not only will the hero have a drastically different physical appearance, but who he is and how he carries himself is unlike any previous version.
This "grubbier" version, as Waititi refers to him, will be on a journey toward "being the rightful king" and "earning that right to take that position of power," according to Chris Hemsworth. Still, he will be having more light-hearted fun than before despite encountering serious threats along the way. It's a balance which is important to Waititi, who originally envisioned an even darker version of the movie.
"We find Thor in a drastically different place," executive producer Winderbaum said. "He's got a really quick wit and great sense of humor. He understands sarcasm in a way he didn't in the first film. From a character perspective, we're bringing all of that personality into space with him. It is a flip on the fish out of water in way. He's not the butt of the joke."
For Thor, the adventure began during his bizarre dream sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron. "Basically, that one quest, that universe-ending peril that he was trying to figure out dovetailed or branched off into any number of universe-ending perils that he’s been adventuring on for two years leading up to this film," Winderbaum said. "We find him as a lone gunslinger, a guy who has been adventuring around the cosmos for two years leading up to this movie. He’s a more savvy version of the character. In Dark World, he has trouble navigating that Dark Elf space ship. That’s the Thor of the past. Now, he can do any number of things."
Waititi, however, wants to emphasize the humor to be expected out of Hemsworth's character -- something the actor proved to be capable of in Ghostbusters. This time, Thor will be "funny when he needs to be" and "heroic when he needs to be," but his story will also have "a certain degree of pathos and emotionality to it, as well," Waititi said.
The new sense of humor comes from time spent with the same Earthlings who helped launch the journey at the beginning of Ragnarok. "Thor spent two years on Earth hanging out with Robert Downey Jr, so he's got some sass," Waititi said. "He's like a rich kid from outer space who spent some time slumming it for a bit, so he's instantly become more interesting!"
The actor, like his Thor character, also got to experience something brand new with this movie: improv. With Waititi often tossing wild new ideas out to Hemsworth and other cast members in their delivery on a moments notice, the actor participated in "more improv than ever."
As for the physical changes, Thor undergoes several before Ragnarok comes to an end. Chief among them revealed thus far is the haircut, but his costume also loses sleeves and his weapon of choice changes from his Mjolnir hammer to a pair of swords.
"I think everyone is a bit too shiny and clean in the other films," Waititi said. It won't be the case this time around.
"He gets completely torn out of anything familiar," Hemsworth said.prevnext
The Hulk & Valkyrie
While the movie only has Thor's name in its title, Ragnarok is very much an ensemble film.
Beneath a tarp which blocked the sun for the massive outdoor Stonearch Bridge set on this day of production, Hemsworth stood beside Tom Hiddleston's Loki, a stand-in for Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, and newcomer Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie. The characters united, preparing for a showdown with Cate Blanchett's villainous Hela.
What appeared to be the culmination of the film was certainly several cosmic paths aligning.
"Last time we saw Hulk, he was flying away in the Quinjet," Hennah pointed out, referencing the final moments of Avengers: Age of Ultron. "Well, he hit one of those wormholes and he ends up [in Sakaar]."
On Sakaar, Hulk and Thor will have the chance to settle their differences after exchanging a few blows in New York City, aboard a SHIELD Helicarrier, and around Sokovia. It's something the filmmakers are particularly excited about, with unit publicist Ernie Malik emphatically sharing, "Thor will fight the Hulk."
While the two characters have shared the screen in a pair of Avengers films, Hemsworth is quick to point out how crowded many of their scenes often were. As a result, the actors and characters had an opportunity to create something brand new. "It gave us the opportunity to do anything we wanted with our relationship," Hemsworth said. "Me and Mark [Ruffalo] on set said, 'Have we ever even spoken on camera?'"
The Hulk just might border becoming the star of the film with such a heavy dose of "Planet Hulk" being tossed into the Thor movie, but with how much fun the crossing storylines are, no gamma-infused fan will turn green over it.
Valkyrie, who will also seek to steal some spotlight, will have a similar feuding encounter with Thor upon introduction. Tessa Thompson's character will be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a close friend to the Grandmaster, initially, but will be seeking revenge further down the line.
"We do have Hela destroying the Valkyrie's scene which is very surreal and shot in a very different way," Hennah said. "It's a flashback scene that was envisaged as a lot of memory images."
"We get to see Valkyrie in a look in the beginning when she's closer to the Valkyrie fans might know from the comics," Thompson said, pointing out that later in the film fans will see "a classic battle look that is closer to what she would've been in when she was with a Valkyrie and one of those warriors." Approaching production, Thompson had one aspect of Valkyrie she was hungry to bring to the character. "I'm a nerd! I go back to the source material!" Thompson said. "I'm like, 'I have to speak in italics!'" For the cinematic version of Valkyrie, however, there will be no particular accent.
When Thompson was approached for the role, it was important for her character to be more than a stereotypical love interest. "From the jump, Marvel and Taika wanted Valkyrie to exist in her own plane and to offer something really strong and fresh and new, and I think they've been really smart to answer the call of 'We need more women in the universe!'" Thompson said.
"Our view of Valkyrie in the MCU is they were basically Odin’s special ops. Seal Team 6," Winderbaum said. "Valkyrie as we meet her in this film, has definitely suffered the trauma of war and we meet her in a really low place. It’s not so much that we’re trying to create a one-to-one emulation of Brunhilde from the comics, but certainly the idea of the Valkyrie and what they mean to Asgard and to Odin is something that we’re gonna be leaning into a lot and draft a lot of ideas from the comics."prevnext
A Pivotal Film
As much fun as Thor: Ragnarok promises to be, the movie will serve as much more than a stepping stone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, this movie will likely be looked back upon as a gamechanger.
"In Phase One, we establish this cosmology that involved Asgard and Odin and certain ideas and things that you thought were eternal and could never change and what this film does is it breaks them down in a very similar way that [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] broke down SHIELD," Winderbaum said.
Serving as the final cosmic adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ahead of the Marvel Studios biggest film ever, Avengers: Infinity War, it should come as no surprise that Thor: Ragnarok might involve the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thanos.
Hemsworth promises "it's its own film" despite connecting to the larger universe as all others Marvel Studios productions do. "We didn't wanna get bogged down in Infinity Stones," Hemsworth said. "I spoke to the [Avengers: Infinity War directors Anthony & Joe Russo] before I even had the script for this and said, 'How does this link into that? What can we look out for?' And then, 'How do we continue this tone because we want to do something different here,' and so on."0comments
"Without giving anything away, [Thor: Ragnarok] definitely leads nicely into [Avengers: Infinity War], as they all tend to do, but this being called Ragnarok, which everyone knows what that means, this is going to affect the larger universe."
Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters November 3, 2017. Advance tickets are available now wherever tickets are sold.prev