It’s almost funny to think back to 2011 when the first Thor film was arriving, and the box office pundits and movie bloggers were wondering if Marvel Studios could turn this “unknown” fantasy-based hero into a hit. With Thor, Marvel Studios proved early on that the right cast with the right concept, set within the expanding cinematic Marvel Universe, was all the formula they needed for success. It didn’t matter if Thor wasn’t as recognizable as Spider-Man back then; Marvel Studios would make sure he was.
Now, we’re four films deep into Thor’s adventures, with Chris Hemsworth bringing the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby character to life in Thor, Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Anticipation for the latest outing, Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, is at an all-time high, and is currently Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Save for that time in history when Vikings actually worshipped Thor as a god, he’s more popular than ever.
So, you’ve seen the trailer. Maybe you’ve even bought your tickets, but you can’t quite remember where we last left our thunder god or who some of the new faces in the cast are…and what the heck is the Hulk doing in there? But…you also don’t want any real spoilers, because November 3 is right around the corner and you’re patient; just not that patient. Hey, we get it – we’re as excited as you are! We got you covered.
When We Last Saw Our Heroes…
During Age of Ultron, Thor’s mind is disrupted by Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and he sees a vision of his fellow Asgardians in the afterlife, with the gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba) blaming Thor for leading them all to Hell. Thor seeks to learn more about this vision and enlists Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to lead him to the fabled Waters of Sight. Once there, Thor experiences another vision – this time of the Infinity Stones and the cataclysm that will eventually unfold in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.
After the Avengers defeat Ultron at the end of the film, Thor tells Captain America and Iron Man that he’s going back to Asgard to learn as much as he can about his impending revelation of doom. It’s safe to assume that this investigation, and the events of Ragnarok, are what was keeping Thor out of the mix during Captain America: Civil War.
Also during the Age of Ultron finale, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) boards an Avengers Quinjet to nowhere, leaving the Earth behind so that he live a life uncomplicated by the large-scale destruction he regularly causes. We can guess from the Ragnarok ads that Hulk ends up “lost in space,” participating in intergalactic gladiator games when Thor finds him (also providing a reason for why he’s not in Civil War).
When We Last Saw Our Villain…
There’s no way we’d skip over Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor assumed Loki died in the battle against Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, but we saw at the end of the film that Loki was alive and well and posing as the ruler of Asgard, Odin. Loki is the god of lies after all, so there’s no question he faked his death to be brought back to Asgard where he could slip into the role of Odin with relative ease.
What does this mean for the “real” Odin and at what point is this trickery discovered, since we clearly see Loki working alongside our heroes to hold back the apocalypse in the Ragnarok trailers?
Who Are These New Characters?
We’ll miss Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and especially Darcy (Kat Dennings), but the loss is cushioned by the addition of Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum, and Tessa Thompson to Thor’s supporting cast.
Blanchett is the antagonist of the new film – Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death (check out the featurette on Hela below). While the Norse version of Ragnarok is viewed as a natural cycle of world-ending death and rebirth, that doesn’t mean the heroes of the Marvel Universe want it to happen. She has some assistance in destroying all of creation from Skurge the Executioner (Karl Urban) and a universe-shattering fire demon known as Surtur.
Remember Benicio Del Toro as the Collector from the first Guardians of the Galaxy? Jeff Goldblum is playing his “brother,” the Grandmaster, another member of the eternal race of aliens known as the Elders of the Universe. The Elders sort of live above morality as we know it, so like the Collector, the Grandmaster is neither hero nor villain – just a cosmic player defined entirely by his job. Where the Collector was fixated on collecting, the Grandmaster is fixated on gaming. It’s his arena where Thor and Hulk are reunited in combat for the first time since Age of Ultron.
Tessa Thompson is the most significant addition to the cast. She’s playing long-time Marvel superhero Valkyrie. The character’s comic book history is a bit convoluted (she’s a villain in disguise! No, wait, she’s a spirit who possesses human hosts! No, wait, she’s the imprisoned power of Brunnhilde!), but for the purposes of this film, her origin has been streamlined simply into an Asgardian warrior who is also a bit of an outsider. We’re already hoping Valkyrie, with her sword skills and flying horse, gets to be a part of the larger Marvel U outside of the Thor movies.
Are There Any Comics I Need to Read First?
Reading isn’t mandatory! That’s the great thing about the Marvel Studios movies. If you do read the comics, it’s fun to see those elements brought to life, but you don’t have to come armed with any prior knowledge either. Just sit back and enjoy.
For the curious though, we recommend the Ragnarok of Walt Simonson’s “Surtur Saga,” which played out during Thor #349-354 (collected in Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson Vol. 2 and available individually through Comixology and Marvel Unlimited). You’ll see the blueprint for the film, though the movie deviates greatly from the source. Thor, Loki, and others team up to stop an apocalypse that will be inevitable if Surtur is able to get to Asgard and light his doom sword Twilight with an enchanted flame that Odin has hidden away. It’s considered by many fans to be a highlight in Thor’s fifty-five year publishing history.
“Planet Hulk,” which ran through The Incredible Hulk monthly comics from 2006-2007, is also an obvious inspiration for the film and can be found collected in one volume under the same name as the popular storyline. Writer Greg Pak and primary artist Carlo Pagulayan moved Hulk to an unknown planet, far away from Earth, where Hulk put his strength to the test in gladiatorial games. There’s no Thor in the mix, but the storyline provided a satisfying and creative break from Bruce Banner’s endless cycle of devastation followed by self-pity.
Am I Ready Now?
Do you have your popcorn and soda? Is your cell phone silenced and in your pocket? Did you bring clean socks to change into once yours get blown off? Look, we’re not going to make you a checklist, but you’re as ready as we are, and wow, are we ready. November 3 can’t get here fast enough – get your tickets to see Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok now!