A brief cameo and two short films aside, it’s been two and a half long years since we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in action in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fighting off an army of robots in Avengers: Age of Ultron. And it’s been almost four years since the God of Thunder starred in his own standalone movie, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, in which he battled both the nefarious Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his treacherous adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) for control of an Infinity Stone and the safety of Asgard. Now Thor is back in his third solo outing, Thor: Ragnarok, in a story that could have major repercussions for the future of Asgard, the MCU and our hero himself.
Fandango traveled last year to beautiful Brisbane, Australia to visit the set of Thor: Ragnarok, where we learned who was coming back from Thor: The Dark World, who was new to the Nine Realms and got to talk with some of the veterans and the new faces. We also toured the magnificent, Jack Kirby-inspired sets, learned a bit about the plot (but not too much), and got a few other questions answered from the cast, the crew and director Taika Waititi about the latest entry in the Marvel film mythology.
First, let’s go through the large and impressive cast, starting with the characters we already know, such as our all-powerful leading man:
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
“It’s a whole different energy, look, and feel to any of the Thor films we’ve seen before.” -- Chris Hemsworth
When we last left him… Thor and the Avengers had defeated Ultron at the end of Age of Ultron, but Thor, concerned about the appearance of several Infinity Stones, had taken off to explore the cosmos and learn who was behind it all. He did not know at the time that his adopted brother Loki had usurped the throne in Asgard and was posing as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) -- although a post-credits sequence in Doctor Strange found the two Asgardians visiting Strange’s NYC sanctum to ask for help in searching for dad.
This time around… Plot details are closely guarded, but somehow in the course of his travels, Thor will lose his hammer Mjolnir at the hands of the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett), whose goal is to bring about Ragnarok, “the end of all things,” and destroy Asgard. He finds himself a prisoner on the planet Sakaar, where he must fight in a gladiatorial duel against his fellow Avenger, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Hemsworth on Thor… “He’s on this sort of a personal journey to do his own discovery and find these answers for himself… And then he gets completely torn out of anything familiar and this is totally where the whole film sort of shifts and we’re on different worlds that we haven’t seen before. There’s different looks to all the characters. There are different dynamics and I think the coupling of myself working with Ruffalo as well, brought out a whole new dimension in both of our characters.”
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
“The two of them are placed in such an extraordinary situation where everything is unfamiliar that their familiarity as family members becomes important.” - Tom Hiddleston on Loki and Thor
When we last left him… At the end of Thor: The Dark World, Loki was firmly ensconced on the throne of Asgard, having impersonated Odin, and with Thor busy elsewhere he looked like he was good and ready to stay there for a long time.
This time around… We know that Thor and Loki go off to Earth in search of a not-all-there Odin, but somehow they get separated and Thor ends up on Sakaar. At some point Loki gets there too and ends up fighting Hela alongside Thor, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and his arch-nemesis the Hulk. Will Loki initially be up to his treacherous ways before letting his better instincts prevail?
Hiddleston on Loki… "He's a mercurial spirit, and the minute you try to define him, he changes shape. He is the shape shifter in the pantheon, although events in Ragnarok try and inspire to change him forever, I think. But they change for everyone. The goddess of death shows up, and the stakes are high for everybody, so Loki perhaps more than ever is challenged to define himself in the face of that threat."
The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)
"We just kind of went for it in this and there’s a nice kind of love-hate relationship there.” -- Chris Hemsworth on Thor and Hulk in the movie.
When we last left him… The Hulk was last seen flying off by himself in a Quinjet at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, with Bruce Banner deciding that he could not be around Black Widow -- or anyone for that matter -- for fear of hurting them. He was missing at the end of the movie.
This time around… We don’t know how yet, but somehow the Hulk ends up on Sakaar where he becomes a champion gladiator in the Grandmaster’s arena. That puts him face to face with his latest “challenger,” Thor, who’s happy to see him -- for a moment anyway. The two have to fight at first but undoubtedly will team up again to bust out of Sakaar and save Asgard.
Unit publicist Ernie Malick on the Hulk: "You’re going to see an entirely different Hulk and Bruce Banner in this film, entirely different. Nothing that you’ve ever seen."
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)
When we last left him… The Sorcerer Supreme was last seen settling into the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City, where he was continuing his study of magic and prepping to defend the world against more supernatural excursions.
This time around… In a post-credits scene in Doctor Strange, the good doctor was visited by Thor and recruited to help him and Loki search for their father Odin. How much of Strange we’ll see in Thor: Ragnarok is a mystery -- but he will have a presence.
Producer Brad Winderbaum on Doctor Strange: “There's definitely a puddle-jumping quest element to our story. So we see Thor on a journey through multiple environments. He is on Earth for a brief period of time, where he will see Dr. Strange.”
We also know that Odin (Hopkins), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) all show up in the movie as well, although Odin has lost his mind and is apparently wandering in New York City while Heimdall goes missing. Other holdovers like Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) are absent from this film, which only spends a tiny bit of time on Earth.
Now onto the new additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Starting with our chief villain:
Hela (Cate Blanchett)
“I think she's going to blow people away, put simply. She is a naturally incredible and powerful actor and she's brought all that power and wit to this part." - Tom Hiddleston
Based on the Norse deity Hel, Hela is the goddess of death. Making her debut in the comics way back in 1968, she has been a frequent foe of Thor over the years and makes her MCU debut in this film. Ruler of the realms of Hel and Niflheim, she was imprisoned in eons past but now breaks free to seek her vengeance on Odin and Thor, and destroy Asgard once and for all -- bringing about the “Ragnarok” of the title.
Her powers are like that of all Asgardians -- including incredible strength and stamina -- yet she is even stronger than most and we won’t see their full extent until the film is released.
Cate Blanchett makes her MCU debut in the film as Marvel’s first full-fledged female antagonist. The Oscar-winning actress goes full supervillain, wearing Hela’s classic antler-like headgear and, during the scene we watched being filmed on the day of our visit (a climactic confrontation on the massive Stone Arch bridge between Hela, Thor, Valkyrie, the Hulk and Loki), working extensively on her body language and movement with director Taika Waititi, slithering in serpentine fashion as she turns to face her opponents.
Director Taika Waititi on Cate Blanchett as Hela: "Cate is the first female villain. And for me, the most interesting villain, because she is multi-dimensional. She's layered. She's troubled. She's really funny. And...she is very tough. Thor in the films has never fought anyone tougher than this lady."
Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)
"Valkyrie as we meet her in this film definitely has suffered the trauma of war and we meet her in a really low place.” -- producer Brad Winderbaum
Known in the comics also as Brunnhilde, Valkyrie was chosen by Odin to be the leader of a band of female warriors known as the Valkyrior. She has been an ally and occasional love interest of Thor in print for more than 40 years, but as portrayed in Thor: Ragnarok, she has put her allegiance to Odin and Asgard long behind her and works now as a bounty hunter and scavenger of sorts for the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). It is she, in fact, who finds Thor and brings him to Sakaar as a potential gladiatorial opponent for the Hulk in the Grandmaster’s arena.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Valkyrie is not the “love interest” but an anti-hero of sorts who may ultimately find her redemption fighting alongside the God of Thunder and just being a general bad-ass. “I have a lot of fights in the film so I'm doing as much of it as I can,” says Thompson. “And then there are some things where you just go well, that's not going to happen. There's not that much of it, though. There's a couple of crazy kicks in the air that I'll try my darnedest but I have a really fantastic stunt double named Tara who will do some of that stuff and then it's really kind of a collaboration between the two."
“Our view of the Valkyrie in the MCU is that they were basically Odin’s special ops, you know, his SEAL Team Six,” says producer Brad Winderbaum. “So it's not so much that we're trying to create a one-to-one emulation of Brunnhilde from the comics. But certainly the idea of the Valkyrie and what they mean to Asgard and Odin is something that we're going to be leaning into a lot."
Tessa Thompson on Valkyrie: "From the jump, Marvel and Taika really 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 to a lot of fans that are like, ‘We need more women in the universe that are dynamic and not necessarily tied to male characters.’ So that was something that was inherent in this script to begin with.”
The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum)
The Grandmaster is an Elder of the Universe, one of the oldest beings in the known universe, and like his fellow Elder the Collector (played by Benicio del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World), he is obsessed with one thing -- in this case gaming. In Thor: Ragnarok, the Grandmaster rules the planet Sakaar and presides over gladiatorial games on which the Hulk is the current champion.
The great Jeff Goldblum had not yet shown up on set when Fandango visited, although he was scheduled to arrive soon and work eight days on the movie, shooting in his palace, his office and the gladiatorial arena.
Producer Brad Winderbaum on the Grandmaster: "He's the ringleader of the circus on Sakaar. But he's also like a brutal dictator, although he's completely unaware. To him it's all good all the time."
Skurge (Karl Urban)
An Asgardian warrior who betrays his people to align himself with Hela, Skurge will apparently take the post at the Bifrost Bridge that has been vacated by the missing Heimdall. Skurge is played by Karl Urban, the fan favorite, whose list of impressive credits includes The Lord of the Rings (as Eomer), the title role in Dredd and Dr. McCoy in the rebooted Star Trek series.
Also new to the Thor series and the MCU: Taika Waititi himself is doing the motion capture and voice for Korg, the rocklike creature who’s a gladiator in the Grandmaster’s arena and becomes an ally of Thor: “He’s a Planet Hulk character and he’s a Kronan, so he's a bit bigger than me,” says Waititi. “So that's all mo-cap. For me it's really fun." Waititi has also done the motion capture for Surtur, the fire demon from Muspelheim who is also scheduled to show up in the movie (he’s voiced by Clancy Brown). Longtime Waititi collaborator Rachel House will play the sorceress and Grandmaster ally Topaz, while the legendary Sam Neill is also slated to appear in an undisclosed role.
What sets this film apart from the previous two Thor movies: Thor and Thor: The Dark World don’t make a lot of people’s lists of their favorite Marvel movies. Everyone loves Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Loki is widely considered Marvel’s best villain, and there are a lot of elements that fans respond to. But Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige wanted to take the third movie in a new direction, as producer Brad Winderbaum explains:
"There were certain things that Kevin wanted out of the film. One was definitely the comedic side of Chris who’s an awesome comedy actor, as it turns out. Another was a big fun kind of space epic that's not so married to Earth. And just a really fun adventure film that has big stakes, but also has a breakneck speed and takes you on a crazy adventure."
Want to know more about Thor: Ragnarok? Then check out the second part of our set visit….