COMIC HERO’S SPACE RACE
Thor: Ragnarok is a chance for star Chris Hemsworth to show his funnier side, writes Philippa Hawker
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