The story of Thor: Ragnarok sends its hero into Marvel's cosmos - and straight into the coming Infinity War. It's an impressive double-duty being pulled by the so-far-satisfactory Marvel series, charged with restarting the Thor movie series while also explaining how a cosmic villain like Thanos could even begin Infinity War. or the next phase of the MCU's cosmic Infinity War. And nobody will understand the Mad Titan's plan better than Thor, after spending years chasing Thanos and his Infinity Stones - an evolution and maturation of the hero that fans will get to see firsthand in Ragnarok.
While visiting the set of Ragnarok last year, we had the opportunity to speak with producer Brad Winderbaum about the new direction for Thor, Hemsworth, Hulk, and the larger Marvel Universe. It's true that Ragnarok will see Thor become worthy of the throne, but before he can even think about ruling Asgard, he'll need to save it. That's easier said than done, now that we've heard what to expect from Hela, Grandmaster, Hulk, and the many other colorful cosmic characters that may be making an appearance.
Can you tell us about this location [visible in the image above]?
This is the Stone Arch bridge. Which is a really important setting obviously, to the finale of the film but also it represents a conduit to safety for much of the second act. So it's something the characters know they have to strive to get to in this quest that's happening on Asgard throughout the second act of the film. I'm going to talk a lot about the second act, because I think it's the heart of the structure of what makes the film really cool.
What we have is a story about Thor being waylaid on an alien world while everything is going wrong on his home planet. So you have a really cool kind of cross-cutting pattern in the middle of our film. Where things are going wrong over here, and our hero is trapped over here, trying to get there desperately. It's kind of dual quests.
Is he aware of what's going on in Asgard?
He is. He is. That's where all the urgency comes from in the prison break structure of that act.
Kevin Feige has said that this is the film that could be sort of a lynchpin movie. What makes Ragnarok special?
In Winter Soldier we broke down some of the real fundamental ideas about the MCU that you took for granted, specifically S.H.I.E.L.D.. I think that also in phase one, we established this cosmology that involved Asgard and Odin, and certain ideas of things that you just thought were eternal and could never change. And what this film does is it breaks them down in a very similar way that Winter Soldier broke down S.H.I.E.L.D.
It seems like there are a lot of people standing with Thor in this scene.
Again, this is obviously a very spoiler-y scene. She's wearing the classic Valkyrie armor in this scene. For the bulk of the film she's wearing what we're calling her scrapper look, which is a really cool look. You may have seen some concept art of it, I'm not sure. But we find her on Sakaar when Thor gets there.
Sakaar is a place… it's like the island of lost souls. The Isle of Misfit Toys I guess [laughs]. The conception is that, you know, we think about a planet as orbiting a star, and having day and night. This is a planet that's frozen in space between an incredible quantity of worm holes that have just been spitting things out into this place for eons and eons. And essentially if anything goes wrong in your intergalactic travels in the MCU, you're going to get spat out into the toilet of the universe - which is this planet.
And over however long, a society run by the Grandmaster has evolved there that’s based on these giant gladiatorial battles. It's a violent hedonistic culture, but it's also… you're living in a place where anything can fall out of the sky at any moment and crush you, so there's a very kind of ‘seize the day’ aspect to the world there. Which is a really great contrast to Asgard.
We were told that Valkyrie is a bounty hunter. Can you elaborate a little bit on how Thor ends up on Sakaar?
There's any number of ways that one can end up on Sakaar… The idea is that if someone is using a wormhole to travel from point A to point B in the cosmos, but there's some sort of failure and you go off the route, you're going to get spat out here. And Bifrost being essentially a teleportation wormhole mechanism… Without going into great detail, something goes horribly wrong, and in an amazing sequence he gets spat out.
One of the first people he meets there is this bounty hunter. Nameless bounty hunter named SR142 - who is Valkyrie.
That's a real break from the comics where Valkyrie and Thor have a long history. Can you elaborate on the idea of leaving that past out, and how her character plays into this?
Valkyrie in the comics is traditionally the character Brunhilde who comes to be known as Valkyrie... Calling someone ‘Valkyrie’ is like referring to someone as ‘Soldier.’ Our view of the Valkyrie in the MCU is that they were basically Odin’s special ops. His SEAL Team Six. Valkyrie as we meet her in this film has definitely suffered the trauma of war, and we meet her in a really low place.
So it's not so much that we're trying to create a one-to-one emulation of Brunhilde from the comics. But certainly, the idea of the Valkyrie and what they mean to Asgard and to Odin is something that we're going to be leaning into a lot and draft a lot of ideas from the comics.
So why is she on the bridge - for her own reason? Why is she getting into this fight?
She's seeking redemption and she wants to face her fears and, again without giving any spoilers away, it's the basis of her character. And the fact that she's here is due in large part to her story with Thor, and Thor kind of getting her to that emotional place.
What are some unexpected inspirations for Ragnarok?
Unexpected... I'll tell you the three things we look at most. One is the original Jack and Stan stuff, ‘Journey into Mystery.’ I'm sure that you've seen Jack Kirby’s influence a lot in the artwork… So we're leaning into that heavily. And wait until you see the CG augmentation on those physical environments, too. We’re pulling a lot stylistically from Jack, and then we're definitely looking at the Walt Simonson ‘Ragnarok’ arc. There's no way to tell that story, you know, I mean that would take five seasons of a TV show to tell that entire story. But we're certainly cherry picking really fun elements out of that, both stylistically and also narratively.
We’re also looking at ‘God of Thunder,’ the Jason Aaron book. A lot of the design of Hela is a combination of early Jack stuff… We’re also looking at God of Thunder, the Jason Aaron book… especially [Hela’s] power set. The villain Gorr has a very specific power set of being able to manifest an infinite number of weapons. We’ve drafted that idea and are doing a version of that. Not exactly, but a version of that for Hela in our movie. Because in the books Hela can kind of touch people and they die, and sometimes she can do all sorts of different things, and we really tried to specify and narrow into very specific skill sets.
One of the things about walking on these sets is realizing how different this is from the first Thor in a small town. Can you tell us about the evolution of this series?
Absolutely. We find Thor in a drastically different place than we did at the beginning of the first film or even the end of the first film. He's now spent years on Earth living with the Avengers, hanging out with Tony Stark. He understands Earth’s sensibilities, he's got a really quick wit, a great sense of humor, he understands sarcasm in a way he didn't in the first film. And so from a character perspective, we're bringing all of that personality into space with them.
So it is a flip on the fish out of water in a way, because now he's not the butt of the jokes, kind of wandering around, you know, not realizing why things are the way they are. He's the one looking at the world and bringing a certain sarcasm and irony to this cosmic landscape.
The journey he's been on at the beginning of this movie, it's not like five minutes after Ultron ends we start this movie: it's a couple years later. And as we know, at the end of Ultron he's started this quest to find the puppet master, and the Infinity Stones, and all that. What he realized really fast-- I don't think I'm giving too much away because it's right at the top of the film, but basically that one quest, that universe-ending peril that he was trying to figure out dovetailed or branched off into any number of universe ending-perils that he's been adventuring on for the two years leading up to the beginning of this film. So we find him as a lone gunslinger, you know, a guy who’s been adventuring around the cosmos for two years right at the top of our movie. He's a more savvy version of the character. In Dark World he has trouble navigating that Dark Elf spaceship... but that's the Thor of the past. Now he kind of can do any number of things.
We saw this arc in the first movie, a lesson in humility. Here with getting his hair shorn off on Sakaar, how is he affected as a person from these things? It seems like his vanity has been stripped from him.
I think that the idea of worthiness, what makes somebody worthy, what helps someone find self-worth is at the core of Thor as a character. So that theme remains central in this film, as it was in the first one. However in the first one where he was a petulant prince who had to learn humility, in this one he wants to become a better man. Learn to accept himself as a leader, as a king. As someone who can lead Asgard.
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) release date: Nov 03, 2017