Behind a Wet N’ Wild Waterpark off the Gold Coast of Australia, filmmaker Taika Waititi sets up the grand climactic battle of Thor: Ragnarok. Thor and his motley crew (Hulk, Loki & Valkyrie) line up, weapons drawn, ready to attack the film’s ‘big bad’: Hela (new-to-the-franchise Cate Blanchett). The scene is so late into the film that when I (along with a number of other press outlets) arrive on set, the first thing Unit Publicist Ernie Malick does is shake his head in chagrin and tell us ‘He can’t believe we’re here on this day of all days.’ The scene is so spoilery that even now over eight months later, Disney sent out an email reminding everyone not to reveal [redacted]. Typically, on sets, the press will sit behind a makeshift video village (complete with monitor and audio headphones); but on Thor: Ragnarok those audio headphones were taken away just in case we overheard any late-game plot twists. This, of course, did little to dissuade endless speculation amongst the press about what Loki could be saying to Thor or what Hela’s saying to Loki… All of the sudden, a bunch of movie geeks became amateur detectives, attempting to read the lips off actors on a monitor. This was, well, less than successful.
Still though – I learned a ton about the latest Thor adventure during my time on set. I’ve already written up separate articles on Thor Ragnarok’s comic book influences, its place in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and how Ragnarok deviates from the prior Thor films. Below, however, is a bullet-point catch-all of everything else I learned on set about Thor: Ragnarok (*that I’m allowed to talk about without fear of Thor slamming Mjolnir down on my head*)
Thor: Ragnarok is set about two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film ‘cold opens’ with Thor held captive at Muspelheim by their ruler Surtur. After Thor defeats the Fire Demon, Thor travels back to Asgard – where Loki (now ruling under the guise of Odin) has brought the realm to the brink of ruin. In this disarray, Asgard becomes vulnerable to Hela, the Goddess of Death, who has been waiting patiently for the opportunity to destroy the realm once and for all. From there, Thor: Ragnarok skips around from planet-to-planet. Thor and Loki travel to Earth to meet Doctor Strange, and later Thor’s taken prisoner on the planet Sakaar, where he’s forced to battle in a gladiatorial ring against his former ally The Hulk.
- Previously Asgard has been depicted as a picturesque, beautiful refuge – shiny, glimmering, spotless… Thor: Ragnarok, however, will show what the ‘slums’ of Asgard look like – which, if I’m being honest, still looks pretty nice. The houses are slightly worn, paint fading with mismatched stones; the benches are rusted; a couple burn marks are on the ground beneath faded candles… But, overall, I’d still live there. Regardless – Hela travels to the ‘poor’ areas of Asgard to corrupt and weaken the realm from the inside out.
- Per producer Brad Winderbaum – “[The planet] Sakaar is like the island of lost souls. 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 wormholes that have been spitting things out into this place for eons and eons. 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.
Sakaar is ruled by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who has built a society based off giant gladiatorial battles. “It’s a very violent, hedonistic culture,” Winderbaum stated “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 ‘seize the day’ aspect to the world there, which is a great contrast to Asgard.”
- At the time of the set-visit, Jeff Goldblum hadn’t shot a scene yet, but was slated to film for eight days later in the month.
- The Grandmaster is an “elusive yet fun character… He’s like the ringleader of the circus on Sakaar, but he’s also a little bit of a brutal dictator – although he’s completely unaware. To him: it’s all-good all the time. “
- In Sakaar, Hulk has been in ‘Hulk-form’ for two years straight, having given up on that puny Bruce Banner; yet still, The Hulk feels miserable. To cheer the big green fella up and keep him as the star attraction in his gladiatorial battles, The Grand Master decorates Sakaar with ‘Hulk piñatas’, posters and memorabilia – all to show how much The Hulk is loved/appreciated there.
Brad Winderbaum revealed that they had the idea of integrating Hulk into a Thor film fairly early on. “In the earliest development of Thor, we were looking at Planet Hulk as an inspiration maybe not even to integrate the Hulk into the franchise, but the idea of a planet where there’s gladiatorial games as a Thor predicament. It was a really cool idea to us. Somewhere in the early conversations, when it looked like it was going that way, it was a no brainer. It started off as like, ‘Could we put Hulk in there too?’ Then as soon as that sparked ignited, [Hulk] was married to the plot.”
- It takes three people to bring The Hulk to life on set. Person One has a backpack connected to a ball above his head. This is done to give the other actors a reference point to where The Hulk’s head is in the shot/scene; Person Two has a Detailed Hulk Bust that approximates the look of The Hulk; and Person Three, known as ‘Green Steve’, is just decked out in green body paint from head to toe.
- The true story behind ‘Green Steve’: “There’s no substitution for human flesh so you like take a guy in really good shape and you put on some good green make-up and you have them walk through the same space that The Hulk could.” VFX Supervisor Jake Morrison revealed, “You collect up all of these bits and pieces. It seems ludicrous when you’re here and you see this stuff. But the crazy thing is by the end of this picture, 1500 Visual Effects Artists will have worked on the show and none of them have been on set. None of them would have seen what it looked like on the day and each one of them generally will see a given shot as a series of flat images. So anything that you can give them that describes the light and the room and how things move and all the rest of it is invaluable later. So ‘Green Steve’ is called Green Steve ‘cause the original guy was called Green Steve. This is actually Green Jordan, but he’s kind of Green Steve Mark 3.”
Cate Blanchett’s stunt double for Thor Ragnarok: none other than Quentin Tarantino go-to star Zoe Bell
- Blanchett, on set, has mo-cap dots all over her forehead to mark where a digital headwear will be placed in post. Per Jake Morrison, the decision to digitally create the helmet instead of practically having one on Blanchett was done to help the actress. “All we’re doing is adding the sprinkles on top. [The actors] are delivering the performances. You’re already working with the best ingredients. So for us we take an actor like Cate Blanchett and then bringing her into Hela, what we wanted to do is not tie her down with a physical costume that was over complicated or weighty.”
- Morrison continued, “Whatever the costume ends up being or whatever approach we end up taking and whatever flourishes we add on later, it’s something that we want to be able to react to whatever Cate does. So if we say the character has a cape for example – the cape could be heavy, it could split into many different pieces. It could behave like it’s underwater. All these things we could experiment with, but the key is we can base it upon Cate’s physical performance. The reason we got the motion capture stuff on her is we’re now recording literally 120 samples per second of where her body is – exactly how her wrist moves or elbow moves… That’s all captured in the system. If she does a pirouette or a turn or anything, we then have the option to make her costume behave in symphony with her action. We don’t have the actors feel in any way like their motion is restricted by the costume. We’re trying to let the performance drive the picture and then we add the fun stuff on afterwards.”
- The Warriors Three will appear in Thor: Ragnarok
Unfortunately it doesn’t appear things have worked out between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). According to Chris Hemsworth: Thor Ragnarok has “some very respectable fun with how that relationship may have come to a mutual end.”
- What’s Thor’s arc in Thor: Ragnarok? Per Winderbaum “The idea of worthiness, what makes somebody worthy, what helps someone find self worth is at the core of Thor as a character. That theme remains central in this film; however in the first film where he was a petulant prince who had to learn humility, in this one he wants to become a better man and learn to accept himself as a leader, as a king, as someone who can lead Asgard.”
Be sure to also look for our on-set interviews with the cast – Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston & Tessa Thompson – and director Taika Waititi to get even more intel on Thor: Ragnarok in the days ahead.