A Visit to the Australian Thor: Ragnarok Set

Once upon a time, there was a god.

It was more than seven years ago that SuperHeroHype paid a visit to the set of Marvel Studios‘ Thor. At the time, the Marvel Cinematic universe was nearly two years old, but had produced only two features: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. With the Mighty Thor the next Marvel character to get the big screen treatment, there was serious debate among fans as to how any movie could possibly get it right, let alone one that would bring gods into the big screen canon. It was on that visit to Asgard (which you can read about here) that the MCU truly began to expand with an exponential momentum that has led us here. Seven years later, so much has changed for Marvel Studios and a massive, cosmically-charged franchise now faces the coming of Ragnarok and, perhaps, a twilight for their gods.

“I liken the filmmaking process to going into battle,” deadpans director Taika Waititi, clutching an enormous battle axe on the Australian set of Thor: Ragnarok.

Much of the day has seen a battle sequence involving Thor, Loki, the Hulk and two new characters that comic book fans know very well, the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Ragnarok’s big bad, Hela (Cate Blanchett).

“There’s definitely a challenge with wanting to be true to what the fans want,” says Waititi, “and to the universe itself. But also, I have to keep reminding myself that I was hired for a reason. I think one of those reasons is because of the kind of stories I tell, and the kind of films that I’ve made previously.”

Waititi’s big-screen credits include the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, the coming-of-age drama Boy and, most recently, the comedy adventure Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

“There were already story ideas when I came on board,” Waititi recalls. “A lot of that changed over the first sort of three or four months…. If the movie’s called Thor, then Thor should be the best character.”

“I was a big fan of Taika’s work,” says Chris Hemsworth. “I think that he strikes this beautiful balance of humor and heart. It’s all grounded in a reality we can kind of relate to. But it’s fun and enjoyable and that’s what we’re gonna do with this.”

“[Thor is] perhaps gonna use his brain more,” smiles Hemsworth, “or as much as, his brawn. I think that was a smart thing for the writers to do. He’s up against it the whole way through this. No step he takes is easy when he’s climbing this particular mountain.”

Thor has been missing in action for some time when Ragnarok begins. Outside of a non-canon short, audiences last saw Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was visions of the fall of Asgard that deeply troubled Thor, sending him on a quest to try and prevent the tragedy from occurring. Meanwhile, the end of Thor: The Dark World saw Tom Hiddleston’s Loki secretly take the throne. Unfortunately for the trickster, Asgard now has challenges to face without the true might of Odin. How that leads to Loki and Thor teaming up to head to Earth remains to be seen, but we know from the Doctor Strange post-credit sequence that they eventually wind up on Earth in need of the services of Benedict Cumberbatch’s clever sorcerer.

“That’s what I kind of loved about ‘Ragnarok’ when I first read it,” says Hiddleston. “The two of them are placed in such an extraordinary situation where everything is so unfamiliar that they’re familiarity, literally, as family members, becomes important… I think Loki’s a character who has always tested the limits of his power and has always tested the boundaries placed upon him. He doesn’t just stick his finger in the electrical plug socket, he burns the house down.”

Massive outdoor sets were constructed for Ragnarok that showcase Asgardian civilian life. Because most of what we’ve seen from the planet to date are throne rooms and extravagant palaces, the new film will make an effort to expand Asgardian culture. To that end, a massive outdoor marketplace was built, equipped even with a functional river running through it. Several ginormous outdoor sets later, things get even more exciting.

While Thor: Ragnarok obviously borrows some story details from the 2006 Planet Hulk comics, don’t expect a faithful adaptation of that storyline in any way. While the planet in the film has the same name, Sakaar, it’s actually a massive Jack Kirby world! As hinted in the trailer, the entirety of the planet is based on the colorful artwork of Marvel’s original King, who this year would be celebrating his 100th birthday. Some of Sakaar’s paneling even has its own Kirby Krackle!

As it turns out, Sakaar isn’t even really a planet so much as it is a junkyard. There are plenty of wormholes in the MCU and sometimes things don’t wind up coming out where they’re supposed to. Everything that gets lost winds up getting spit out at the same place. From bits of junk to entire spaceships (maybe even a really familiar spaceship), Sakaar has grown into a thriving artificial world populated by visitors to Sakaar’s gladiatorial matches. The reigning champ for some time now is very large and very green.

Although Mark Ruffalo wasn’t on set during our visit, we did learn that Bruce Banner has been in his Hulk form for some time — maybe even as far back as the last time we saw him in Age of Ultron. It wasn’t revealed what brought him to Sakaar, but ever since he arrived, he’s been in Hulk mode, fighting in the “conquest of champions” set up by Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. Not only does the Hulk battling Thor offer some exciting cinematic spectacle, the gladiatorial arena helps explore a new side of Thor.

“There’s so much room there because you kinda get to start from nothing,” Hemsworth explains. “You’re in that ride. You get to the end of the film and you’re the hero and you’re strong. Then you come to the next film and it’s like, ‘Who are we breaking down again?’ So we’re removing Thor from his environment and his world where he, you know, dominated a lot of the fight scenes and so on, and putting him in a situation where all of sudden he’s fairly equal with everybody.”

Sakaar also brings Thor face to face with an interesting figure from Asgard’s past in Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie. Valkyrie was a bit of a celebrity to Thor and he’s a big fan of hers.

“It’s like Thor’s meeting his hero,” says Hemsworth. “He’s absolutely smitten by her and because of her history being Valkyrie and all that. But she’s also this beautiful woman, so he’s kind of caught off guard. She could have him if she wanted. I think he hasn’t come up against that very often.”

“Valkyrie becomes sort of a part of this team,” says Thompson. “When we meet her, she’s hanging out on another planet called Sakaar and she is sort of this Asgardian expat… She meets Thor and Hulk, and she has sort of a similar goal that they do. They become friends and kind of teammates in a way.”

Valkyrie is said to have two distinct costumes in the movie, but they are inspired by different iterations of the comic book character.

“If you look at her origin in the comics, sometimes she’s on earth, sometimes she’s in Asgard, depending on if she’s with the fearless Defenders or if she appears in Thor, it’s kind of all different… The exciting thing for us was to create a Valkyrie that is kind of a combination of all those things.”

If you didn’t already love Tessa Thompson, just listen to her sympathize with anyone who feels she isn’t the right actress to play the character.

“Part of it, I hope, I want to believe,” she says, “Is people being so invested in these stories that they have read and looked at for ages and wanting to see that reflected in the content that they then will take in. Wanting there to be some sort of seamless relationship between the source material and the films. That, I can’t be upset about necessarily. It’s like when they made an ‘On the Road’ movie, I was just such a nerd for that book as a kid that I was like, ‘I can’t even watch it! Who can capture these characters?!’ So, I get that, having a certain reverence.”

It’s unclear where and when Valkyrie will show up again, but it’s quite possible that she’ll be a player in next summer’s Avengers: Infinity War.

“From the jump, Marvel and Taika really wanted Valkyrie to exist in her own plane,” Thompson continues. “And to offer something really strong and fresh and new. 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!’ [Ones] that are dynamic and not necessarily tied to male characters.”

Whatever follows Ragnarok, though, Taika Waititi promises that the November 3 release will be both self contained and part of a larger whole.

“If it’s the only Marvel film you see, you know, that’s a great film,” he says. “And it’s a great story in and of itself. The lucky thing is, they’re a bunch of geniuses who run Marvel… Even if it’s a standalone piece, it is part of a great thing. A great big jigsaw puzzle.”

“Everybody knows Asgard,” teases Hiddleston. “Everybody knows the rules. That means we can play with archetypes and tropes and expectations in a really fun way. But the god of mischief has always had fun.”

“A lot of people are excited by the idea of what Ragnarok means,” Waititi continues. “To me, it means the stripping down of the establishment. Of what’s already there and then building it up in a new way, which is almost like this cyclic idea of Ragnarok. So there’s my own personal idea of Ragnarok is for what we’re doing to the character and to the franchise, and to the story. But in a way where what comes out the other end is way more exciting and interesting. In a way, you can never go back from that.”

Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters in 2D, 3D and IMAX on November 3. Advance tickets are now on sale wherever tickets are sold.