Thor: Ragnarok – the third installment of Marvel’s popular Norse Super Hero

THOR

In 1962, the now-legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced “The Mighty Thor” to readers of Marvel Comics, unleashing a new era of action-adventure with their conception of the hammer-wielding Norse god, who debuted in the sci-fi anthology “Journey Into Mystery,” #83 in August of that year.

Despite the Nordic-sounding names, the story was rooted in familiar, universal conflicts that have driven human drama since the beginning of time. To this day, 55 years later, Marvel Comics continues publishing new adventures depicting the God of Thunder, the most recent being 2016’s “The Unworthy Thor” from writer Jason Aaron and artist Olivier Coipel.

The newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Thor” franchise, Thor Ragnarok, continues the lineage of epic adventures chronicled in the franchise’s two prior big screen successes: 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World,” which, collectively, earned over $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office.

When an ancient evil, lurking for eons, is released from its shackles, Thor finds himself in a serious situation. The Asgardian prince is imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his mighty hammer just as Asgard needs him now more than ever.

With his kingdom shattered, Thor’s only hope is to summon the warrior within, and fight his way back against impossible odds to save his people from Ragnarok.

He finds himself in a race against time to get back to Asgard to stop Ragnarok—the destruction of his homeworld and the end of Asgardian civilization—at the hands of an all-powerful new threat, the ruthless Hela.

But first he must survive a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against his former ally and fellow Avenger—the Incredible Hulk!  

Chris Hemsworth returns to the title role of the hammer-wielding hero of Asgard. He is joined by Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s duplicitous adopted brother, Loki; Cate Blanchett as the villainous Hela; Idris Elba as the Asgardian sentry, Heimdall; Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric dictator, Grandmaster, ruler of Sakaar; Tessa Thompson as the fierce warrior, Valkyrie; Karl Urban as Skurge, one of Asgard’s  strongest warriors; Mark Ruffalo reprising his role of Bruce Banner/The Hulk from “The Avengers” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”; and Anthony Hopkins again portraying Odin, King of Asgard.

The film is directed by Taika Waititi from a screenplay by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost.

Finding A New Story

Finding the new story to fuel Thor’s next exploits began with a look at the character’s history. As producer Kevin Feige explains, “Thor’s supporting characters, his villain roster and the family drama that comes between Loki and Odin really gives us some of the richest story lines with any of the Marvel characters.”

“With a third Thor adventure, we wanted to do something very, very different from ‘Thor: The Dark World,’ with new characters, new villains and new locations for this new adventure. We love surprising audiences with how the tone of a franchise can change.”

Feige notes that Lee and Kirby made an inspired move by looking to Norse mythology when deciding to create a god as a comic book Super Hero.  “A lot of people were familiar with the Greek and Roman mythologies, but not so much with the Norse,” he offers.  “In this new movie, we subtitled it ‘Ragnarok,’ which means end of days in Norse mythology.”

“Part of Marvel’s success is the fact that we lay really strong foundations for our characters and story ideas,” executive producer Brad Winderbaum chimes in. “And ‘Ragnarok’ is precisely that.  With the third movie, we wanted it to be the ultimate Thor installment. When we chose Ragnarok, we had to think about what that meant to our story.  The end of the universe?  The end of the nine realms?  The end of Asgard itself?  And it led to the idea of the destruction of one’s place of origin.”

The Marvel team recruited the talents of “Thor” veterans Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost to kickstart this new adventure on the page, and also turned to another of their talented in-house writers, big-screen newcomer Eric Pearson.

Pearson looked to two Marvel comic book series for inspiration—Thor: God of Thunder” (2012) and “Planet Hulk“(2006-07). “For research, these were fun comics to read,” Pearson admits.  “In ‘God of Thunder,’ there was a character named Gorr going around killing gods. We infused the character of Hela with the visual aspect of Gorr’s powers. The other series was ‘Planet Hulk,’ where Hulk ends up on the planet Sakaar, and is forced to be a gladiator and then become king.  This was not going to be a ‘Planet Hulk’ movie, but we used elements from it.”

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Director Taika Waititi during the filming of Thor Ragnarok

At The Helm— Talent And A Sense Of Fun

When producer Feige hired Taika Waititi, a native New Zealander, to guide the third installment of “Thor,” he was looking at Waititi’s particular style of filmmaking and what that could potentially bring to the franchise. “We were looking for a filmmaker to really help us redefine the tone for what a Thor film could be,” Feige explains. “When it came time to figure out what filmmaker could carry on the franchise, we thought about movies we liked.  Taika has done such incredibly funny, incredibly deft directorial outings. ‘Boy.’ ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople.’ He’s an amazing talent. He’s never done anything on this scale before, but that’s okay because we wanted his unique vision.”

Adds executive producer Brad Winderbaum, “What Marvel wanted to bring to the new Thor film was a real sense of pathos with the characters. Even when it’s funny and humorous, with great moments of levity, there are also deep moments of melancholy.  ‘Ragnarok,’ which is this fun, breakneck, fast-paced space adventure, also has the gravity of the end of a civilization story.  You have all these amazing, fun sequences, but you also have these big, powerful, character-driven emotional moments as well.  We felt that Taika was going to be able to do that just based on his other work.  He’s got the comedy.  He’s got the drama. He understands character.”

Continuing, Winderbaum adds, “Taika came in and pitched a kind of cosmic space race rock opera, a heavy metal version of Thor. He had such an unexpected fun vision for what the Thor franchise could be that really resonated with the craziness of the comic books.”

Waititi is a national New Zealand treasure, having carved out a diverse and highly successful career in his homeland as an Oscar®-nominated film director, writer, painter, comedian and actor. Among many triumphs, he has directed the two highest-grossing native feature film releases in New Zealand history:  “Boy” (2010) and his most recent release, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” which earned almost NZ$7.5 million in ticket sales in its first month of domestic release (March 2016).

He was drawn to the project because, “It was the chance to immerse myself in another world, in another culture. Obviously, being the Asgardian culture of which I’ve been a huge fan for many years. Since I was a child, I always dreamed and fantasized about being from outer space, being a space Viking, being an Asgardian. I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also the Marvel Comic Universe.”

In addition to casting himself in several of his own projects, Waititi (named as one of ten new talents to watch in the influential entertainment trade magazine Variety in 2010) made his Hollywood motion picture debut in 2011 in the Super Hero epic “Green Lantern,” based on the iconic DC Comics character portrayed in the film by Ryan Reynolds, and appears in ”Thor: Ragnarok” as the effortlessly charismatic Korg.

Not only was Waititi inspired from a fan perspective, his creative side was also up for the challenge to do something new and different. “I come from a humble background, and I am more known for independent storytelling or storytelling on a budget,” the director comments. “I’ve made my mark in that world, and I thought it was time for me to expand. As the universe expands so does the Marvel Universe and so does my need as a creative, as a director and as a storyteller.”

Waititi’s approach to the film was not only to bring his signature comedic sensibility but to “have a balance or a mix that’s hopefully very funny but also hopefully something that has heart and resonance and connects with an audience on some sort of deeper level.”

Continuing, the director says, “I thought that the way that I would approach this film would be very different to the first two films. And Marvel was down for that. One of the things that also attracted me to the project was when Marvel told me that they wanted to really change up the franchise. They wanted to take Thor in a new direction and put him into outer space with as little time on Earth as possible. They wanted to make him fun and have an adventure.”

Explaining what Ragnarok means to him in terms of his approach to the film, Waititi says, “I think what Ragnarok really signifies is a rebirth. It’s the start of a new cycle in the life of the world or the realms of the universe. It’s the destruction of the old and the rebirth of the new.”

During the 85-day shoot, Waititi set a relaxed, energized and fun tone on the set each and every day. Remarks Chris Hemsworth,  “There’s lots of music and usually some dancing, lots of jokes, lots of craziness, lots of insanity and lots of fun.”

For Tessa Thompson, a day on set “involves some hijinks and dancing.”  She adds, “He really likes to work with music on set to keep the energy up. He has such a sense of play and is so spirited but he is also very specific about what he wants and also incredibly collaborative.”

To that note, Hemsworth adds, “There was lots of just trying things and then seeing where we could push it. I’ve got to say it’s definitely the most lighthearted, fun set I’ve been on. The tone of the film is responsible for the environment that Taika created. It makes you feel okay about trying something you might not have tried before or taken outside the box. You feel in safe hands.”

Working with Taika Waititi proved to be a very positive experience for acclaimed actress Cate Blanchett as well.  “What’s great about Taika is his humor––it’s so particular and unique and quirky,” comments Blanchett. “But there’s just this natural buoyancy with the way that he thinks. He has a little irreverence. With Taika, I think it’s probably the happiest film set I have ever been on. It’s so free and playful. There’s a sense that there’s no judgment. You feel like he’s really gathered everyone into the same boat.”

Waititi is well-known for casting himself in his own movies. He has appeared in all four previous New Zealand-based feature films that he wrote and directed. “When we were writing the story, I asked myself, ‘Who do I want to play?’” Waititi relates. “What kind of character have I not done yet? What would be interesting to me? What would be fun? I like playing characters who sort of provide a little texture and make it a bit more interesting to watch. I knew I had never played a guy who was made of rocks.

“So, when we started developing the character of Korg, I started thinking maybe there’s an angle there,” Waititi elaborates on his choice of featured role in the film. “That seemed like a character that I could play around with while getting to do some stuff with Chris Hemsworth. I was an actor before I was a filmmaker.  So, I still enjoy that part of it.”

Speaking to what makes Thor a Super Hero that fans love, director Waititi says, “Let’s get straight to the point…he’s good looking. And he’s got a fantastic body. But that’s not all. Thor stands for all that is good. He has very strong moral conviction. He knows the right thing to do. But in this film, you’re also going to see Thor in a way that no one’s ever seen him before. He’s brash. He’s adventurous. He’s all the things we’ve come to love. But then we’ve also added more. We’ve expanded him.”

Summing up what he wants audiences to experience, Taika Waititi says, “I want this film to be a fantastic cosmic adventure that is a fun ride but also has high stakes and emotional truth. When films have an emotional authenticity that is when an audience invests emotionally. An audience wants to be part of the journey, and they want to see it through.

“That’s what I want to bring to this film. I want to really engage the audience and give them a thrill ride, which is both dramatic and emotional but also funny and exciting. And by the end of the film you feel like you’ve have been to different worlds and had many crazy experiences. And you will have really gone through the fire with Thor,” the director concludes.

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The Screenwriters

Eric Pearson began his professional career at Marvel Studios in their writers program. Along with several screenplays, he wrote a majority of the short films from the Marvel “One Shot” series, including “Agent Carter,” which went on to become a TV series of the same name on ABC.  Pearson wrote on both seasons of the ABC series

 Continuing his relationship with Marvel Studios, Pearson contributed pre-production and/or post-production writing on “Ant-Man,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and the Untitled Avengers 4.

At the moment, Pearson is writing an original script for Imagine Entertainment & Universal Pictures and another project for Legendary Entertainment. He has also twice been on Hollywood’s Black List:  once for his script “Perfect Match” (co-written with Morgan Schechter) and again for his script “Out of State.”

 Pearson graduated from New York University where he studied screenwriting at the Dramatic Writing Department in their Tisch School of the Arts.

Craig Kyle began his entertainment industry career at DreamWorks Animation, working under Harve Bennett of “Star Trek” fame on Steven Spielberg’s primetime series “Invasion America.” In 2001 Kyle was recruited by Marvel Studios to take on the role of creative lead for the company’s animation division. Shortly after joining the company, Kyle, a lifelong comic book fan, was asked to write for the publishing division on the X-Men line. In 2003 Kyle created “X-23,” an adolescent female clone of Marvel’s popular character Wolverine. X-23 was introduced into the comic book mainstream, quickly gaining recognition as the best new character from Marvel in the last 20 years. In March of this year, X-23, aka Laura Kinney, made her live-action feature film debut in “Logan.”

Kyle has developed, produced and written numerous animated series for Marvel Studios and was executive producer on the eight Marvel/Lionsgate Direct-to-DVD films, including “Ultimate Avengers: I &
II,” “The Invincible Iron Man,” “Hulk Vs.,” “Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow,” “Doctor Strange,” “Planet Hulk” and “Thor: Tales of Asgard.” During his time as vice president of animation, Kyle continued to work in comics, co-writing a series of top-selling comics, including “New X-Men,” “X-23: Innocence Lost,” “X-23: Target X” and “X-Force” with his longtime friend and frequent collaborator, Christopher Yost. Nine years ago, Kyle was promoted to senior vice president of production and development of Marvel Studios’ live-action division, where he produced “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World.”

Kyle has also written “Blue Thunder,” a remake of the 1983 Roy Scheider classic for Sony, and entered into the world of videogames. His most recent projects include Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise and Bungie Studios’ “Destiny.”

Kyle is currently working with James Mangold on the untitled sequel to “Logan,” while adapting and developing the wildly popular Japanese Manga Ga-Rei for live-action TV at his new production company, Yūgen Entertainment.

Christopher L. Yost began working for Marvel in comic books and animation, where he wrote for “Spider-Man,” X-Men,” “Fantastic Four” and “The Avengers” before joining Marvel’s feature writers program in 2009. While in the program, Yost developed several properties for the studio and also worked on the original “Thor” for director Kenneth Branagh before finally co-writing the screenplay for “Thor: The Dark World.”

He most recently wrote the live action television adaptation of the legendary Japanese anime series “Cowboy Bebop” for Midnight Radio and Tomorrow Studios as well as the feature “Silver & Black,” based on the Marvel characters Black Cat and Silver Sable, for Sony Pictures’ producers Amy Pascal and Matt Tolmach and director Gina Prince-Bythewood.  Yost is currently writing a feature for Paramount Pictures and Bruckheimer Films from an original pitch, and continues to work in animation for Lucasfilm’s Star Wars universe.

The Detroit native attended the University of Michigan, then worked in advertising in Detroit, producing TV and radio commercials before moving to California where he enrolled in the Peter Stark producing program at USC. While at USC, Yost contacted Marvel Studios, landing an internship for newly hired executive Kevin Feige.

The Characters

Thor

When an ancient evil, lurking for eons, is released from its shackles, Thor finds himself in a serious situation. The Asgardian prince is imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his mighty hammer just as Asgard needs him now more than ever. With his kingdom shattered, Thor’s only hope is to summon the warrior within, and fight his way back against impossible odds to save his people from Ragnarok.

Thor endures some changes in the story. As Hemsworth explains, “There are a few physical changes with the character in this film. The first one is he loses his hair. He’s in a gladiator world where part of their processing is to chop the hair off, which happens off screen. And he turns up with his hair hacked off. It certainly gave me a different attitude. Different costumes, different weapons, a different cast of characters to work off give you a different energy. And so as simple as having a different haircut can affect the way you move.

“Then he also loses his hammer. It’s destroyed by Hela, the villain in this film. That forces him to question everything in existence and his own strength and his own history and past, and sends him again on a different journey. It was about stripping him back physically, but also emotionally, in order to rebuild him in some way or have him have to rediscover something.  So that is a great way to break him down,” the actor concludes.

Loki

Disguised as his father, Odin, Loki has taken over Asgard as its king. However, when Hela makes her terrifying grand entrance, Loki must use his silver tongue and skill with a blade to battle for his own survival.

Tom Hiddleston admits that he was excited to jump back into the character of Loki. “Every time I play Loki, the challenge is to find new ways of playing him,” Hiddleston says. “It is a source of constant surprise to me that I’m still here. I never expected that when I started playing him. I feel a huge responsibility to deliver the character people know, even though it’s been four years since I last played him, and also to try to take him in new directions.”

Hiddleston describes Loki as a “mercurial character” and goes on to say, “I’ve spent six or seven years of my life trying to get to the bottom of what exactly it is that he wants. When he seems to get close to what he wants—power, acceptance, belonging—he changes direction. I think that is the thing that keeps him interesting in a way. He’s cunning and transformative and changeable, and will do everything he can to survive. He’s the trickster. He’s the God of Mischief.”

Offering some insight on the relationship between Loki and Thor in “Thor: Ragnarok,” Hiddleston says, “For Thor and Loki the stakes are so high in this story. All of the things that have anchored them to their own reality are gone. They are completely out of their depth, out of their element. I like the idea that Thor and Loki, the protagonist and the antagonist, these eternally warring brothers, are thrown into hot water together and have to somehow overcome their differences, or at least acknowledge their differences, to try to save Asgard.”

Bruce Banner / Hulk

Last seen rocketing into outer space aboard the auto-piloted Quinjet after the Battle of Sokovia, the Incredible Hulk has been missing without a trace. His whereabouts are finally uncovered when Thor stumbles upon his powerful ally in the unlikeliest of locales—a cosmic gladiatorial arena on the other side of the galaxy. Reveling in the people of Sakaar accepting him as their champion of the arena, Hulk is reluctant to relinquish control to Bruce Banner, who will undoubtedly return him to his former existence on Earth. With a cosmic threat looming, the Incredible Hulk and Bruce Banner will clash over who is needed most in the fight for the fate of the universe.

When Mark Ruffalo returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to reprise the role of Bruce Banner/Hulk, he found some interesting changes with his dual characters. “In this story Banner’s been basically inside the Hulk for two years when we find him,” Ruffalo explains. “During this time all of the traumatic things in his life that have been making him afraid, making him doubtful, making him unable to enjoy his life, have been erased. His neurotransmitters and neuropathways have been completely rewired. So when he comes awake he’s like an eight-year-old or 12-year-old boy. He has the same exuberance and curiosity and wonder. He finally also realizes that he’s free of the Hulk.”

Describing Hulk’s changes, Ruffalo adds, “Hulk can be sad or happy. He’s speaking. He’s not only alive because of rage, so we can start to have more geography in the character’s emotional life, his intelligence, what he does, what he eats, if he sleeps—all the questions I’ve been dying to ask for years since playing this part. It’s a different Banner and a different Hulk. So I get to play two totally different characters in this movie, which is really fun.”

Ruffalo calls the relationship between Banner and Hulk “contentious as hell.” “They’re inextricably bound to each other. There’s no one without the other, and yet they’re in absolute opposition to each other. It’s funny, but we keep hearing Banner repeating a slightly different version of the same line that Hulk has in his personality.

Continuing, Ruffalo says, “Although they seem to be completely on the opposites, they still meet somewhere. There is that thin edge of the coin where they meet. And that’s the key to the future of Hulk and Banner’s relationship.”

Offering some insight to where we find Hulk at the beginning of the film, Ruffalo says, “Hulk has become the champion of this planet Sakaar as a gladiator. He doesn’t turn into Banner anymore because he’s always fighting and raging. Thor ends up on Sakaar when he is captured and has to fight in the gladiator stadium against the champion, but when the champion comes out he realizes he’s fighting Hulk. Thor thinks he has a friend in Hulk, but it’s much more complicated than he thinks.”

Hela

A creature from a sinister and long-forgotten era of the universe, Hela’s power is unlike anything else in the Nine Realms.  Armed with the ability to unleash unlimited weapons in astounding and deadly ways, Hela is now back to seek vengeance on those who cast her out. With a mysterious and savage army at her side, Hela intends to usher in a new era of cold brutality for Asgard and the universe at large.

Academy Award®–winning Blanchett entered new territory when she signed on to play Hela. “I got a call from my agent who said that Kevin Feige wanted to send me a package,” recalls Blanchett about being approached to do the film. “I was trying to play cool but I was so excited because you don’t get offered these things very often. Then after doing a little bit of research, I realized that there hadn’t yet been a female villainess in one of the Marvel movies before. I felt the role could be really exciting.”

She adds, “I felt like it was going to be a really interesting collaboration. I’m very visual in the way I respond to material. What I love about all the characters in the Marvel Universe, if you look at them over time each decade or each year, and depending on who has drawn them, they change. Hela has changed over time and her origin story has been changed too. I found it really fascinating.”

With regard to playing such a fantastical character, Blanchett says, “It’s a different challenge because you still want to believe the character is real. And particularly with a character like Hela, who comes out of nowhere. It’s not like she’s appeared quietly in a couple of other films. Some people have knowledge of her. Some people won’t actually know her at all. So you have to strike a balance between those fans who do know her and those who do not.”

Continuing, she says, “You can be mysterious for them but also give enough information of back story so that you understand why the character does what she or he does because I think the best villains are always those that you kind of love but hate what they do. You sort of understand it. There’s a logic to it. They’re just not completely nuts. There’s an incredible, fantastic element to Hela but you still want there to be an outline of a person in there that people can grasp onto.”