Thor Ragnarok Proves That Marvel Is Not Afraid to Learn from Its Mistakes

Stars Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo explain Thor and the Hulk’s dramatic transformations in Thor Ragnarok full movie.

Marvel Studios’ THOR: RAGNAROK..Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

“I feel like I’m dying here. I feel like I have handcuffs on,” Chris Hemsworth remembers telling his boss, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. The role of Thor, hammer-swinging Norse god of thunder, may have transformed Hemsworth from an Australian TV actor to an international, household name—but the actor describes himself pre-Ragnarok as “frustrated and bored.” After critically-mixed outings in Thor The Dark World and Avengers Age of Ultron, the crimson-caped Avenger had lost his mojo. But at a meeting that some in Hollywood might consider unusual, Feige not only listened to his star’s concerns—he took notes.

“It has to be funnier; it has to be unpredictable,” Hemsworth remembers saying. “Tonally, we’ve just got to wipe the table again.”

That reset for Thor—and a huge infusion of improvisational humor—comes thanks to Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, who has helped transform Marvel’s most stately and straitlaced possession into a zany, no-holds-barred journey that gives Guardians of the Galaxy competition for the oddball crown. Hemsworth’s first two solo flicks, more staid and Shakespearean in tone—marked Bard expert Kenneth Branagh directed Thor’s debut—even inspired in-universe ribbing thanks to Tony Stark: “Uh, Shakespeare in the Park?” Robert Downey Jr.’s character snarked at Thor in The Avengers. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”

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Marvel Studios Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: Topaz (Rachel House), Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)..Photo: Jasin Boland..©Marvel Studios 2017

Implementing the concept of “Ragnarok”—the Norse idea of destroying the world and building it new again—to heart, the third movie in the Thor trilogy actively, and sometimes cheekily, tears apart everything we once knew about Hemsworth’s character.

Feige, for one, was not concerned about Thor’s dramatic Ragnarok makeover. “When we began Hemsworth on Thor,” says Feige, “he has blond hair; he holds a hammer; he wears a cape. These are the things that make Thor Thor. He has now appeared as that character so many times [that] Chris Hemsworth is Thor. So we cut his hair, we got rid of his hammer, and it’s still him.”

It was Hemsworth’s idea to “cut his hair” and “destroy the hammer”—twists that Waititi, whom Hemsworth depicts as also being “sick” of old Thor, wholeheartedly endorsed. Hemsworth thanks Kevin Smith, whom he once heard trashing the Thor saga on a podcast, for inspiring him to speak his mind to Feige. “Hearing someone like Smith, who represents the fanboy world, was such a kick in the ass to change gears,” Hemsworth says. “We sort of had nothing to lose. People didn’t expect what we did with it this time around.”

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Ragnarok takes Hemsworth’s hope for a brand new start to extremes by letting Anthony Hopkins’s Odin die and Asgard crumble to pieces. The love of the God of Thunder’s life, Jane (Natalie Portman), and her human friends Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), don’t show up at all; they are written out of the narrative with a single tossed-off exchange. Thor’s faithful companions, the Warriors Three—a.k.a. Fandral (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson)—are bumped off with not much more screen time and minimal fanfare. The cape is ripped, the bulky armor his face is disfigured, and there’s a new woman in his life: Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie. In essence, the only Thor accessories to survive the original films are his adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and a significantly more rough-and-tumble version of the gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba).

This gamble—on Waititi’s off-kilter style and a wipe-the-slate-clean Thor—has already paid off for Feige and Marvel. The entertaining, out-of-the-box experimentation in Ragnarok has not only helped further bury the studio’s old reputation for stifling the individuality of its directors, but earned the picture a solid $109.1 million at the box office before American audiences even got a peek at it and is estimated to earn another $100 million, domestically, its first weekend.

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Marvel Studios Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston)..Photo: Jasin Boland..©Marvel Studios 2017

While he may be one of the most physically imposing members of the Avengers team, Hemsworth says he’s always felt tremendously unsure about his place in the larger Marvel universe. “I thought maybe I might be in the first Avengers,” he explains. “But I never thought there’d be a second one. I didn’t look that comfortable on my first three films. I gotta say, recently, it felt more concrete. But before, it always felt like any minute, it all might be pulled out from under me.”

Hemsworth continues: Some people come out of the gates with all the confidence in the world, and I think I was always looking for someone to steer me in the right direction. But looking back on films that didn’t work and going, “Uh, I knew it. My instincts said, ‘Don’t do that.’” It’s about trusting yourself, and listening to your gut, and the pure education you receive making these films. I take responsibility for that. I’m not implying at any specific writer or director. But then it became predictable, or overly earnest, self-important, and serious. Nothing that was surprising.

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Marvel Studios Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and Topaz (Rachel House)..Photo: Jasin Boland..©Marvel Studios 2017

In 2015, Thor The Dark World director Alan Taylor described his work on the film as “wrenching,” telling Uproxx: “I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie.” Even Hemsworth’s director on Ultron, Joss Whedon, was frustrated with the state of the Asgardian hero. “Thor is always the hardest guy to integrate,” Whedon admitted in 2015 of his difficulties putting together what, ultimately, wound up being a fairly incomprehensible vision quest in a cave. Marvel fans were particularly worried after Ultron since, in theory, that hard-to-follow cave sequence—in which a shirtless Hemsworth envisions those Marvel-film MacGuffins: the Infinity Stones—was meant to set up what was intended, at the time, as the plot for Thor’s third flick.

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But as Marvel made its future plans, Hemsworth sat out of Captain America: Civil War. With two winning back-to-back appearances on Saturday Night Live in 2015, he started to make a name for himself as a comedic force that defied the expectations set by his handsome, blond, leading-man looks. He cemented that reputation with scene-stealing roles in 2015’s Vacation and 2016’s Ghostbusters.

Even though Thor Ragnarok was in the works, the film had already been delayed once when Waititi entered negotiations in October 2015. Whatever Marvel had planned for Thor in that cave in Ultron, it seemed to have fallen mostly by the wayside by the time Waititi formally came along. Despite all that foreshadowing, only one Infinity Stone very brieflyrears its glimmering, confusing-to-the-audience head in Ragnarok.

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Thor Ragnarok Proves That Marvel Is Not Afraid to Learn from Its Mistakes
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