‘Thor: Ragnarok': Why (and How) the Sequel Pivots Away from the Previous ‘Thor’ Movies

It’s been nearly two years since Thor graced the big screen in Avengers: Age of Ultron and over four year since his last solo outing in the rather ‘lukewarmly’ received Thor: The Dark World. On the set of the franchise’s third feature – Thor: Ragnarok, the key creatives really stressed getting away from the tone of these previous Thor films.

“When I saw [Thor: The Dark World], I was happy with it but I thought the next one’s got to be more fun,” star Chris Hemsworth stated, “In the second film, the story didn’t lend itself to many opportunities to have moments of humor and I’ve missed that.”

Image via Marvel Studios

There were two mandates, right from the outset, on Thor: Ragnarok. a) Make it funnier and b) Embrace the action-adventure aspects of the universe. Per producer Brad Winderbaum: “There were certain things that Kevin [Feige] wanted… [He] definitely wanted [to bring out] the comedic side of Chris, who’s an awesome comedy actor. And [he also wanted] a big fun space epic that’s not married to Earth. Just a fun adventure film that has big stakes, but also has a breakneck speed and takes you on a crazy adventure.”

On Avengers: Age of Ultron, Winderbaum & Feige noted how Thor stole the biggest laughs in the film. “He won scenes even with Tony Stark,” Winderbaum stated, “We wanted to base a movie around that empowered, smart Thor – who the other cosmic figures in his mythology would maybe be a little bit unprepared for.”

Knowing that Thor: Ragnarok needed a far lighter touch, the producers turned to an unusual directorial hire – the New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, fresh off the indie What We Do in Shadows [Hunt for Wilderpeople was still in post-production at the time]. “When I saw Boy, [Taika] became my number one pick,” Winderbaum revealed “It had a combination that we always are striving for at Marvel, which is a great sense of humor but also moments of real drama and melancholy that the characters had to deal with… His movies deal with real serious themes, but you always leave feeling uplifted.”

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Adds Chris Hemsworth – “[Taika] strikes this beautiful balance of humor and heart. It’s all grounded in a reality, but it’s fun and enjoyable.  That’s what we’re going to do with [Thor: Ragnarok]. This could be a flat out comedy if we wanted or we could pull it back and meet it in the middle.”

For Waititi transitioning from the indie comedy world into big budget action filmmaking didn’t present too much of a challenge. Instead the filmmaker stressed his main difficulty was pulling away from the other two Thor films. “For me this is my ‘Thor One’” he stated, “I’ve seen the other films and I respect them, but I can’t spend too much time thinking about this as a three-quel because then I’ll get tied up too much in respecting what went before and respecting what’s to come after. [Thor: Ragnarok] has to be a standalone film because this could be the only time I do this. I just want to make it [my] version of a Marvel film in the best way possible.”

So what does a Taika Waititi Marvel film look like? A whole lot of improv. Waititi will often stand just off-camera, shouting new lines at actors, encouraging them to go off-book and mess with the material. “I’ve never improvised so much with this character,” Hemsworth said “Taika will just yell suggestions while rolling. ‘Try this, try that.’ That has really changed the game.”

Image via Marvel Studios

And who better to embody these changes than Thor himself. Having now spent a couple years on Earth with Tony Stark, Thor’s picked up on this thing called ‘humor.’ “He understands sarcasm in a way he didn’t in the first film,” Winderbaum revealed “We’re bringing all of that personality into space with him. It’s a flip on the fish out of water because now he’s not the butt of the jokes, wandering around, 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.”

Waititi actually looked to a completely different character as a reference point for Thor: Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton, joking “What’s the version of Thor just wanting to get his truck back?” The most important thing for Waititi was to make sure Thor was the best character in his own franchise and that he was really tested in this upcoming sequel.

Waititi added, “I love heroes that really go through ordeals and then come out the other end completely changed. They come out the other side and they’ve been through the ringer.  We do a lot to [Thor] in the film… To me, Ragnarok means stripping down the establishment and then building it up in a new way. ‘Ragnarok’ is what we’re doing to the character and to the franchise.”

Thor: Ragnarok opens in theaters on November 3rd and advance tickets are now on sale wherever tickets are sold. For more of our set visit coverage, peruse the links below.

Image via Marvel Studios

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