Thor! The Hulk! Valkyrie! Loki! Doctor Strange! It’s the Accrington Stanley All-InWrestling All-Stars! Oh, close enough, isn’t it?
IT'S the end of Thor’s world as he knows it, and he’s feeling… well, a little worse for wear, actually. Asgard and its people are on the brink of obliteration, Mjolnir has been shattered into a million pieces, and Thor has suffered a nasty injury that will likely leave a gnarly scar. Fortunately for the God of Thunder, he has friends (from work).
It’s September 2016, and SFX is on the Queensland set of Thor: Ragnarok, the film putting the ro(c)k ’n’ roll back into the series after the disappointment of The Dark World. At one end of the Bifrost Bridge Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, his hair shorn and one sword in each hand, is standing shoulder to shoulder with his adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), warrior woman Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and a mean, green Avenger. They’re about to throw down with the woman responsible for Thor’s misfortunes – Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). All roads, it seems, lead to the rainbow bridge.
“Thor goes on this grand cosmic adventure [in Ragnorak],” says producer Brad Winterbaum. “And by the time it all wraps up, you have elements from every single place he’s been. Everything coalesces into this grand finale that’s pretty amazing.”
“Pretty amazing” could apply to almost everything SFX sees on the staggering
Ragnarok set. While gods and monsters are on a cigarette break, we’re taken on a whistlestop tour of Asgard. Every inch of the city’s central plaza has been built on the open air backlot. The 100 x 50m set took four months and 450 construction workers to erect, and extends to two floors. There’s even a stream running through the middle of it. It’s here that Ragnarok’s story begins. Picking up two years after Thor set out to track down Thanos and the Infinity Stones at the end of Age Of Ultron, he’s changed by his time on the road. Sensing that something is rotten in the state of Asgard he returns home to find that Loki has replaced Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on the throne – an act with apocalyptic consequences. “It turns out Odin had a lot of strategies in place to keep the universe at ease,” Winterbaum explains. “Hela is the worst problem that Odin had been keeping at bay. She’s from a time long before Loki or Thor were born. And with Odin no longer king of Asgard, she’s able to attack.” The surprise attack leaves countless dead, and the adoptive brothers stranded on a planet that brings something strikingly new, but reassuringly familiar to the MCU: Jack Kirby. It’s no exaggeration to say that stepping onto Ragnarok’s Sakaar set is like stepping into a Jack Kirby illustration. And with good reason:
the Silver Age artist was the key inspiration for the film’s major new location. Patchwork walls burst with colour. All reds, blues, greens and yellows; not a muted magnolia or glum-grey in sight. Ludicrously detailed machines dispensing food line the streets. Every stall in the marketplace is fully stocked. But it’s all rubbish, literally.
“We imagine Sakaar as kind of a toilet universe,” laughs Winterbaum. “It exists in the middle of space, and is surrounded on all sides by wormholes. Basically, if you’re travelling intergalactically and anything goes wrong, you’re going to be spat out on this planet.”
A new planet and a new Thor required a new way of thinking. In response Winterbaum turned to an unlikely source: Taika Waititi, the director of riotously funny indies including
What We Do In The Shadows. The irreverent filmmaker saw an affinity between his sensibilities and the MCU’s most far-out character. “If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll see all the other things like demon armies and giant fire beasts,” says Waititi. “They’re on different planets, and there’s spaceships and there are laser guns and there’s a woman with antlers on her head and there’s a giant wolf. That really crazy mix of things made me feel like this is actually the perfect project for me.”
“What we have is a quintessential Taika Waititi movie that is funny and light-hearted, but also has moments of real gravity and melancholy,” Winterbaum continues. “It’s a very successful idea for Marvel as a studio, because we’re dealing with the end of the world, but the experience is very human and relatable… sorry, I’m just pausing to watch Tessa Thompson be a badass.”
Winterbaum’s momentary lapse is entirely justifiable. Valkyrie is the film’s major new hero, the last surviving member of an ancient race, wiped out by Hela. Thor and Loki idolised her as children, but their first meeting is under unusual circumstances: after crash-landing on Sakaar, Thor is captured by Valkryie. “Valkyrie is one of the most exciting aspects of the movie,” says Winterbaum. “She’s not only a great dramatic actor, but I’m really surprised by how good she is at the comedy and the action. I think we’re really building a future Marvel hero.”
Valkyrie is a “scrapper”. Her job: to deliver combatants worthy of the arena to Sakaar’s ruler, the Grandmaster. Jeff Goldblum’s glam god is an ancient being and the brother of Benicio del Toro’s Collector. Despite his supreme power, the Grandmaster is more interested in gladiatorial combat than galactic domination. Thor is thrown into the arena, and would win on any other day. But to paraphrase Tony Stark, the Grandmaster has a Hulk. And it turns out he couldn’t be happier off world. “He finally feels appreciated on Sakaar for what he is – a big killing machine,” Winterbaum says. But this newfound fame isn’t the only reason Hulk hasn’t transformed back into Banner
in two years. “To get to Sakaar was such a traumatic experience that now his body is frozen in the Hulk position,” Winterbaum explains. “And the one thing that scares Hulk is Bruce Banner.”
Also new for Ragnarok: Hulk speak now. “He’s actually going to talk quite a bit,” Winterbaum confirms. “He certainly knows how to get his point across, and he’s smarter than you would expect him to be.” Rights issues mean Ragnarok may be the closest we get to another solo Hulk film. But Marvel’s done the next best thing by, in part, adapting celebrated comic arc Planet
Hulk. “Really, what we have in this film is a two-hander adventure story broken up into three main sections: Thor and the Hulk; Thor and Bruce Banner; and Thor and Loki.”
Ah, the Trickster. Hela may be Ragnarok’s heart of darkness, but you can never rule out an 11th hour betrayal by Thor’s deceitful adopted brother. “What makes Loki a very interesting character is that he’s very duplicitous,” Winterbaum says. “He’s always in it for himself, playing both angles. But even though he acts selfishly, and he can be murderous, there’s always a glimmer of hope that he’s going to do the right thing. Only time will tell.”
Only time will tell if Ragnarok can live up to the promise of those incredible trailers, as well. And while a cameo from Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange may indicate some major MCU crossovers ahead of next year’s Avengers:
Infinity War, Waititi focused on getting his film right first and foremost.
“Personally, I’ve tried to not have anything to do with what’s outside this film, because I don’t want to think of my job as creating an episode,” Waititi states. “Each film has to be its own standalone piece of cinema.
“At the end of the day Thor is one of the weirder characters in the MCU. And that’s what attracted me to it: the idea of what is essentially an alien who dresses like a Viking. A space Viking on a cosmic adventure with the Incredible Hulk.”
Thor: Ragnarok opens on 24 October.
Stand aside, Thor, and let Valkyrie get things done.
Thor was good with a magic hammer, crap with Sat Nav.
Loki goes fist to fist with warrior woman Valkyrie.
Karl Urban gets some cool head tats for the role of Skurge.