The Marvel movies may not be famous for complicated villains - but Thor: Ragnarok is looking to break that tradition. It doesn't hurt that director Taika Waititi has called upon the talents of Cate Blanchett to bring Ragnarok's villain, Hela, to life. The actress has already spoken about her pride in bringing a female villain to the MCU, but judging by star Chris Hemsworth's descriptions of what Blanchett has in store, the gender barrier won't be the only stereotype she'll be smashing when she joins Marvel's pantheon of 'big bads.'
It's impossible to dismiss the sheer talent that Marvel Studios has gathered in bringing its cinematic universe to life, be they heroes or villains. But over time, fans have made their concerns known: as thrilling as Marvel's heroes may be, the wealth of villains bent on 'taking over the world' or 'destroying the universe' are starting to get old. And when we got the chance to talk Hela with Hemsworth on the set of Thor: Ragnarok, the breath of fresh air Blanchett brings to Marvel villainy was one of the most promising topics of discussion.
A Villain Worthy of The Actress
One could argue that with Marvel's box office track record, concerns over villain development are a bit overblown. Yet even producer Kevin Feige has admitted Marvel's weakness is focusing more on the heroes than the villains, and when the caliber of actors in those roles includes Jeff Bridges and Robert Redford, a weakness can become a major missed opportunity. Cate Blanchett is just the latest Oscar winner to give an Avenger Hell (literally), so it's no surprise to hear Hemsworth heaping praise on her performance.
But aside from her excellence both on-camera and off, Hemsworth also teases the unexpected lesson in villainy that Blanchett taught both him and co-star Tom Hiddleston when she arrived on set:
I’m in love with Cate. And, you know, my wife is too so I can say that [laughter]. She’s just, you know, insanely funny and smart and talented. Sort of too good to be true. You know, like what’s the catch?
When she came on set-- Tom was talking about this yesterday, we were talking about villains. What could people do different, and so on, and what have you seen? I remember thinking ‘I wonder what she’s going to do.’ And I sort of had an image in my head, and she came on and I thought ‘Oh wow, okay. That’s what you do if you’re Cate Blanchett.’ And that’s why she is who she is.
Despite the excitement for Ragnarok's rock and roll attitude in trailers, and the downright psychedelic Ragnarok posters, little has been revealed of Hela's own personality and motivations. Blanchett has revealed which scene with Thor convinced her to sign on, but aside from some unforgettable shots of her in full, ceremonial costume, Hela remains a mystery.
We can vouch for Hemsworth's description after seeing Blanchett's performance for ourselves. Hela's regal costume and identity as 'Queen of Death' in the comics may suggest a typical, ominous, distinctly Asgardian villain - but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Blanchett's villain is one who seems to enjoy herself at every turn, playing with her victims, and taking amusement in her enemies' attempts to stop her. But even if she looks like a mix of a Lord of the Rings character crossed with The Joker, she's after more than just destruction.
A Villain Who's More Than Simply 'Bad'
It's somewhat ironic that the topic of what makes a 'complicated' villain should be brought up in regards to Thor - a franchise that begin with what many still consider to be Marvel's best villain. In the first Thor film, Tom Hiddleston's Loki was given a sympathetic origin story, and motivations so clear and compelling, he remains a main character in the MCU as a whole. Sadly, the Dark World villain who simply wanted to acquire a device to destroy existence (just because) fell into the same Marvel pit as Iron Man, Captain America, and others.
Hemsworth isn't willing to give up any specific details or plot twists that shape Hela's story (fans can put their own theories together based on the trailers), but he calls out past movie villains as the kind of one-note, simple evil that Ragnarok is looking to avoid:
When villains are just bad, you’re like ‘Yeah okay cool, but it’s boring.’ But she has worked really hard. At the start of the film, or sort of pre-production, I was saying ‘Yeah, but what does she really want?’ What is it that Cate can kind of relate to here and say ‘Oh okay, I get what she is and her frustration, what’s driving her'... It’s so far from anything I’ve seen before, and as intimidating and scary as it is interesting. And you have an empathetic view, or feeling toward her a lot of the time from what she’s doing. You go ‘Ahh... she’s got a point maybe’ [laughs]. And then you’ve got to remind yourself ‘No, she’s trying to kill us all.’
Fans will have to decide for themselves if Hela really is the kind of villain who makes a compelling case in a moral sense (the Ragnarok trailers show her killing plenty of Asgardians, if not the entire realm). But if the goal is to craft a villain who can at least tempt the audience, perhaps even the characters to her perspective, then casting an actress of Blanchett's ability is an exciting proposition.
Exciting for the audience, at least. For Thor... it's an enemy he couldn't possibly be prepared for.
Marvel's Best Movie Villain Yet?
These days, no matter how respected the actor or actress, selling a shared universe villain as "the best yet" is hard to take as anything beyond marketing buzz. But Waititi seems convinced that Blanchett's 'Queen of Death' is the most interesting antagonist that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced. For reason we mentioned before, that's not as difficult a title to claim as you might expect. Still, we'll let the director make the case himself:
Kate is the first female villain and if I’m honest, for me, the most interesting villain that [Marvel has] had. Because she’s multidimensional. She's layered. She's troubled. She's really funny. And you know, it's not just like ‘[evil laugh] Now if I can finally get the thing, then this will happen!’ There’s a little bit of that, but there's so many other things going on for her. So I think it's going to be really satisfying for people. And she's amazing. That her character, you know, she is very tough. Amazing powers.
She is Hela, and she wears the cowl, and she has the antlers, and she looks amazing in the concept art and stuff. Thor in the films has never fought anyone tougher than this lady.
In a movie where our hero does battle with another super-evil villain from Thor's world, it's nice to see Hela still claiming the spotlight where fan interest is concerned. Going by the trailers, she's just about the deadliest villain the MCU has created, so we can only hope that with Blanchett and Waititi looking to defy expectations, the finished product lives up to the hype.
Are you hoping Marvel can deliver one of its best villains by combining Blanchett's talents with Waititi's vision? Or are you more interested in how Ragnarok leads into Infinity War and beyond?
Thor: Ragnarok advance tickets are now on sale wherever tickets are sold.
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) release date: Nov 03, 2017