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What We Learned on the Set of Thor: Ragnarok: From Jack Kirby to Planet Hulk

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Hulk Chris Hemsworth Mark Ruffalo

It was just about one year ago exactly that Fandango jetted out to Brisbane, Australia to tour the magnificent sets of Thor: Ragnarok, the third and possibly wildest standalone movie for the God of Thunder yet. You can read our guide to all the characters old and new here, but below is where we’ll answer some of the most pressing questions about the movie, its plot and production.

We last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) soaring off into the cosmos to investigate certain disturbances in the Force — whoops, wrong Disney franchise. Actually, at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, he was going to try to find out why more of the Infinity Stones were suddenly surfacing and who was behind it. In Thor: Ragnarok, he’s been missing for two years and is imprisoned on Muspelheim, where he must fight the fire demon Surtur to escape.

Thor: Ragnarok Loki Valkyrie Tom Hiddleston Tessa Thompson

He finds his way back to Asgard, where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been ruling in place of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and through a series of events that somehow detour to New York City, Thor ends up on the planet Sakaar, where he’s forced into gladiatorial combat at the behest of an Elder known as the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Little does he know that the reigning champion is his old pal, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Meanwhile, the goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), has been unleashed and seeks to destroy Asgard — not too difficult a task with Loki running things there. If Hela can bring about Ragnarok — the “end of all things” — what will that mean for Thor, Loki, the Earth and the rest of the Nine Realms?

Here are some of the things we learned in Brisbane:

Thor: Ragnarok Heimdall Idris Elba

Where in the timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe does Thor: Ragnarok fall?

The events of the movie will reportedly lay down even more groundwork for the arrival of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, so clearly it takes place before next year’s all-in showdown with the Mad Titan. “In the timeline of the MCU, things kind of happen on top of each other, especially now in Phase 3,” said producer Brad Winderbaum. “They’re not as interlocked as they were in Phase 1…so (this) kind of happens maybe on top of Captain America: Civil War, maybe on top of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Somewhere in that ball park.”

Thor: Ragnarok Hulk Mark Ruffalo

The popular Planet Hulk storyline from the comics was heavily mined for material for the story.

The planet Sakaar, the gladiatorial battles presided over by a dictator-like character (the Red King in the comics, the Grandmaster in the movie), secondary characters like Korg, the Hulk getting transported to Sakaar through a wormhole and becoming a champion…all of those elements are from the 2006 Planet Hulk story in Marvel Comics, which fans have wanted to see in a movie for years. As with many of the Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok borrows from that story and weaves it into something new that echoes the comics without replicating them.

“In the earliest development of Thor: Ragnarok, we were looking at Planet Hulk as inspiration,” admits Winderbaum. “Maybe not even to integrate the Hulk into the franchise, but the idea of a planet where there’s gladiatorial games as being a Thor predicament. It really was a cool idea to us. Somewhere in the early conversations, when it looked like it was going that way, it was like a no-brainer. It started off as, well, maybe we put Hulk in there too? And then as soon as that spark kind of ignited, it became kind of an idea machine and suddenly he was married to the plot.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Bruce Banner Chris Hemsworth Mark Ruffalo

Thor is a different person than he was in his earlier adventures.

“We find Thor in a drastically different place,” says Winderbaum. “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 him.”

The character also finds himself in a situation on Sakaar where he is no longer the physically dominant and powerful God of Thunder of the earlier films. “Removing Thor from his environment and his world where he 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…was a smart thing for the writers to do,” says Chris Hemsworth. “He’s perhaps gonna use his brain more, or as much as, his brawn. He’s up against it the whole way through this and no step he takes is easy when he’s climbing this particular mountain.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Loki Chris Hemsworth Tom Hiddleston

The relationship between Thor and Loki has evolved as well.

Hemsworth did not want a repeat of the Thor/Loki dynamic from the previous two Thor movies and the first Avengers. “In the first films, you know, a lot of the time you’re seeing Thor kind of going, ‘Come back, Loki…’” the actor says. “I think there’s a feeling from Thor now that’s just like, ‘You know what, kid, do what you want. You can’t hurt for trying. You’re a screw up, so whatever, do your thing.’ There’s a bit of that, which is fun, but also something we haven’t sort of played with as much.”

“I’ve said this about Loki before, but the opposite of love is not hate but indifference,” says Tom Hiddleston. “The idea that Thor might be indifferent to Loki is troubling for him, because that’s a defining feature of his character: I don’t belong in the family; my brother doesn’t love me; I hate my brother. And the idea his brother’s like, yeah, whatever…it’s an interesting development.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Chris Hemsworth Taika Waititi

There is a lot more comedy in this film, which also brings out a different side of Thor and Hemsworth.

“I think it’s fantastic,” enthuses Hiddleston. “I think Chris is hilarious, and I’ve always known him as a hilarious man, even making the first film when we first met. So I love that his comedy chops are being flexed and I think it’s great for the tone; it’s great for the film.”

Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston loved that director Taika Waititi had them do a lot of improv on set: “I’ve never improvised so much with this character, which has been really exciting,” says Hemsworth. “Taika will just yell suggestions while rolling — ‘Try this, try that,’ and so on. That has, I think, really come to change the game for myself or for the film.

“Taika is extraordinary in his invention,” agrees Hiddleston. “There are so many moving parts (on these big movie sets) and his quickness and the speed of his invention is really inspiring. Even with the sort of weight of this production, he’s able to keep the atmosphere light and keep it feeling free and playful.”

Thor: Ragnarok Hela Cate Blanchett

At the same time, Cate Blanchett’s Hela may be Marvel’s greatest villain yet.

“Obviously we always think about the movies as standalones, even if they do set up a movie down the road or pay off something from a previous film,” says Winderbaum. “What we hope if we do our jobs right is that Hela is one of the best villains we’ve had — maybe the best. Cate has been delivering an incredible performance. She’s really scary and really charming.”

“It’s so far from anything I’ve seen before,” says Hemsworth about Blanchett’s work in the movie. “And as intimidating and scary as it is, you have an empathetic feeling toward her a lot of time from what she’s doing. You’re kind of like, ‘Ah, she’s got a point maybe.’ And then you’ve got to remind yourself that she’s trying to kill us all.”

Thor: Ragnarok Tessa Thompson Valkyrie

Valkyrie is not exactly as you remember her from the comics.

The comic book Valkyrie was known as Brunnhilde, an Asgardian being and the leader of Odin’s army of female warriors, the Valkyrior. But the movie Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) has put all that behind her in Thor: Ragnarok. She works now as a hunter for the Grandmaster…and in fact it is she who captures Thor to use as fodder for her employer’s gladiator games.

“We’re not trying to create a one-to-one emulation of Brunnhilde from the comics,” says Winderbaum. “But certainly the idea of the Valkyrie and what they mean to Asgard and Odin is something that we’re going to be leaning into a lot.”

For Thompson, she was eager to dive headlong into her first major role in a film utilizing extensive visual effects. “It’s a challenge that I was really wanting to take on, a year before this movie was even a conversation,” says the actress. “I kept saying to myself and anyone that would listen, I want to do something that’s blue and green screen because I think working in the space of such imagination is such an interesting job. And then I just had no trouble asking my cohorts, ‘How do you do that?’ And they were like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s weird. You just do it.’”

Thor: Ragnarok The Grandmaster Jeff Goldblum

For the first time in a Thor film, we’ll get to see how the “common folk” in Asgard live.

Fandango also toured the outdoor set of an Asgardian village — sort of a first for the Thor films, which have previously stayed relegated to Odin’s palace or the Bifrost for the most part. Not unlike something out of The Lord of the Rings or even resembling a place like Naboo a little, the village has a feel that’s both medieval and futuristic at the same time. It’s also where Hela will wreak havoc on the poor people of Asgard. “This is for the first time in a Thor movie that we’ve embraced this sort of human style of living quarters as opposed to the great big palace itself,” says production designer Dan Hannah. “We do spend some time in the palace, but we also spend quite a lot of time in different parts of the city…partly because of Hela, who as queen of death, needs some people to kill, as you would.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Muspelheim Chris Hemsworth

Oh yeah — the movie also visits Muspelheim, the realm of Surtur.

Dan Hannah: “Muspelheim is essentially a Dyson sphere, which is an enormous structure around a dying star. The premise is this has been here for a long time and it’s coated in residue of the dying star and drawing energy out of the dying star. It’s populated by demons and dragons and all sorts of amazing creatures who live on the energy that’s coming out of the star. It has internal spaces that are vast holes which are just really like being inside a bicycle frame. If you imagine a bicycle frame stretched around a star, some of Muspelheim is inside, some of it when Thor tries to get away is outside on the surface of the Dyson sphere.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Chris Hemsworth

The design of the planet Sakaar is influenced by the groundbreaking art of the legendary Jack Kirby.

It’s only fitting that on the 100th anniversary of his birth, the work of the late Kirby (who invented the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee) should have a massive presence in the design of Thor: Ragnarok. Touring the outside of the gates that lead into the arena on Sakaar, the bold colors and weird geometric shapes signal the influence of the master. The streets surrounding the gates are also quite colorful and crazily configured, with sharp turns and unpredictable curves.

“Yes, Jack Kirby, 1960s Jack Kirby,” confirmed Hannah as we toured the crazily shifting streets of Sakaar. “That was our inspiration. I’ve read Jack Kirby comics since I was 15 years old. So for me it was fantastic…of course, it doesn’t look anything like Jack Kirby, but it does have the influence and it’s different from anything I’ve seen before.”

“The amazing thing about Jack Kirby is his artwork is dense,” says visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison. “One of the anecdotes about Kirby is that he never erased anything. He only continued to draw forward. So you see characters with six fingers and stuff like that just ‘cause he was like, ‘Right, okay, I’ll just fill the page and just continue drawing’…what he’s doing is really just filling the frame. So for us what that means is we can be very dense with the visuals.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Chris Hemsworth

Speaking of Sakaar, it’s basically a giant garbage dump.

Sakaar is the endpoint of a series of wormholes that dump whatever gets caught in them — from different parts of the universe — onto the planet, which is apparently how Thor and the Hulk both end up there (Hulk’s Quinjet gets trapped in a wormhole, as does Thor).

“It’s a bit of a sewer,” says Hannah about the planet ruled by the Grandmaster. “There’s no vegetation in Sakaar. It’s purely made up of space waste. All the food is made from space waste.” What Hannah refers to as “scrappers” — which may include Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie — work in the dangerous areas outside the main city where things are constantly falling out of the sky. “It’s basically an accumulation of space debris that’s grown,” continues Hannah. “That’s how I think if it anyway . . . It’s like a landfill, basically. “

As for the city where the Grandmaster rules, it’s populated by aliens who have also come to the planet from all over the cosmos. Hannah describes it as “space Vegas.”

Producer Brad Winderbaum delved further into the development of Sakaar: “This is a planet that’s like frozen in space between an incredible quantity of wormholes that have 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.”

Thor: Ragnarok Hela Valkyrior Cate Blanchett

The visual effects in the film are among the most intensive of any Marvel production.

Jake Morrison was asked which of the movie’s scenes or effects was the most challenging to create. “All of them,” the visual effects supervisor replied immediately. “It’s literally one of the most involved pictures I have ever been on. It’s visual effects heavy. All Marvel pictures do rely on visual effects to help tell the stories. But this one is absolutely enormous. The scope of the picture and the amount of elements in it is incredible.”

Thor: Ragnarok Hela Cate Blanchett

Even Hela’s famous antlers are created through visual effects.

During our day on the set, we saw a scene set on the Stone Arch Bridge in which Thor, Hulk, Valkyrie and Loki all confront Hela. Cate Blanchett was not in full costume, but Morrison assured us that we will see Hela in all her majesty in the final film: “The look of the headdress and all that kind of stuff is very, very iconic,” he explains. “When you have an actor like Cate, what we wanted to do is not tie her down with a physical costume that was overly complicated or weighty…if you’re making this film in the 80s or the 90s you would actually have to put the big headdress on and you know exactly what that looks like. You’ve seen actors do this and they basically have a candelabra on there.

“The key is we can base it upon Cate’s physical performance,” continues Morrison about the CG parts of the costume, adding that they now capture 120 samples per second of Blanchett’s body. “We then have the option to make her costume behave in sympathy with her action completely and not have the actor feel in any way like her motion is restricted by the costume. So we’re trying to let the performance drive the picture and then we just add the fun stuff on afterwards.”

Thor: Ragnarok Thor Valkyrie Bruce Banner Chris Hemsworth Tessa Thompson Mark Ruffalo

Finally, the big question…how does Thor: Ragnarok lead into Avengers: Infinity War?

“Without giving anything away, this definitely bleeds nicely into that,” hints Chris Hemsworth. “As they all tend to do. But this being called Ragnarok — everyone knows what that means. So obviously it is going to affect the larger universe.”

Thor: Ragnarok is out in theaters November 3.

Get your tickets to Thor: Ragnarok now!

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