COMIC HERO’S SPACE RACE

Thor: Rag­narok is a chance for star Chris Hemsworth to show his fun­nier side, writes Philippa Hawker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

As Thor, god of thun­der, Chris Hemsworth looks very im­pres­sive in com­bat mode. Right know, how­ever, he also looks faintly lu­di­crous, stand­ing alone on a movie set on the Gold Coast, bat­tling a gi­ant hand on the end of a large stick.

Pre­sid­ing over it all is direc­tor Taika Waititi, cool as a cu­cum­ber in a light brown linen suit.

By the time the spe­cial-ef­fects team has worked its won­ders, this scene will look very dif­fer­ent as the mar­quee mo­ment in Thor: Rag­narok, the latest in­stal­ment of the Mar­vel jug­ger­naut. It will be the con­fronta­tion be­tween Thor and the Hulk (Mark Ruf­falo) in a glad­i­a­to­rial arena on a dis­tant planet.

Hemsworth, tak­ing a break from the rigours of glad­i­a­to­rial com­bat, says he was more than ready to take Thor in a new di­rec­tion.

What that means is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent. Many of the de­tails of what takes place in the third Thor movie are still un­der wraps, although some bits of in­for­ma­tion are be­ing re­leased piece­meal. What’s clear, how­ever, is that it’s a mix of new vil­lains, old friends, fresh al­liances and un­ex­pected di­rec­tions.

The word “Rag­narok” refers to a col­lapse of or­der — a kind of Twi­light of the Gods. Yet what Waititi pitched to the Mar­vel team, when he came to talk them about di­rect­ing the new movie, was some­thing with plenty of comic mo­ments. He had very clear ideas of the di­rec­tion he thought the film could take.

“I knew that Chris was funny, but I don’t think they’d ex­ploited that enough,” he says. “And my idea of a su­per­hero movie prob­a­bly comes from 80s movie stars like Bruce Wil­lis and [Har­ri­son Ford as] Indiana Jones, even Kurt Russell in his prime. I wanted Thor to be­come more like them, great at the ac­tion, but also funny.

“I wanted to make him the most in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter in the film. There’s no point in call­ing a movie Thor if he’s not the coolest thing in it.”

Waititi brings plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence to the task, even if it’s not on the scale of a Mar­vel film. Af­ter the Os­car-nom­i­nated short film Two Cars, One Night (2004) he made four features in New Zealand: dis­tinc­tive, hi­lar­i­ous, off-kil­ter movies in which light­ness and emo­tional weight are balanced in the most un­ex­pected ways.

A small film and a block­buster have things in com­mon, he says. The dif­fer­ence is “ex­pan­sion of scale and the time it takes to shoot stuff. It’s slower than I’m used to be­cause there are six or seven times as many peo­ple in­volved. The ma­chine is a lot big­ger, and mov­ing that ma­chine around takes a lot longer.”

When he pitched to Mar­vel, he talked about the types of stunts and ac­tion, and the kind of story he’d like to de­velop for Thor: Rag­narok. He was keen, he says, on “a story that’s un­der­stand­able, which seems to be the last thing that a lot of Hol­ly­wood films fo­cus on, when they make big movies”.

“At first I was a lit­tle un­sure of how the stu­dio sys­tem would work with my par­tic­u­lar style ... but when I saw what they’d done with James Gunn (in the Guardians of the Galaxy films) and Scott Der­rick­son (in Doc­tor Strange), I knew Thor: Rag­narok they would at least lis­ten to what I had to say. I was very vo­cal right from the be­gin­ning, and they kept agree­ing.” He wanted the new movie to have a stand-alone qual­ity. “I think you can see this film with­out hav­ing seen any of the other ones. Not to take away any­thing from those films, but I didn’t want to make an episode of some­thing, or the third film,” Waititi says.

As a char­ac­ter, Thor has been part of the Mar­vel world many times over. Ken­neth Branagh di­rected the first Thor movie in 2011, Alan Tay­lor the sec­ond, Thor: The Dark World, two years later. He’s also a mem­ber of the Avengers, the su­per­hero su­perteam, and has turned up in a num­ber of other Mar­vel movies.

Although Waititi wants Thor: Rag­narok to be self-con­tained, he is aware of what his cen­tral char­ac­ter has been through and wants to take his ex­pe­ri­ences into ac­count. The last time we saw Thor in the Mar­vel uni­verse was two years ago, he says, and he’s been hang­ing out on earth with Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. As a result, he’s be­come more worldly, more ex­pres­sive.

“He’s like a po­lite rich kid from outer space,” Waititi says. “But he’s more weath­ered, he’s trav­elled, he’s got more life ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Last year at San Diego Comic-Con, Waititi re­leased a comic short, a sketch that brought au­di­ences up to speed with the new Thor and showed us what he had been up to since his ap­pear­ance in Avengers: Age of Ul­tron — a Thor in need of “me time”.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Brad Win­der­baum has been on hand through­out the mak­ing of Thor:

Chris Hemsworth takes his char­ac­ter in a new di­rec­tion in

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